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THE BRUS CENOTAPH' AT GUISBROUGH.
BEFORE we come to describe in detail this interesting and unique memorial it will be desirable to consider briefly the relative position of the monastic as distinct from the parish churches during the middle ages; and the causes which led to the former being so frequently chosen as the favourite places of sepulture amongst the more wealthy laity generally, and especially by the great lords who owned the soil.
The monastic character of the ecclesiastical foundations of the pioneers of Christianity at the time of the conversion of the English was the direct result of the missionary nature of their labours amongst the people. This character of monasticism continued to be a conspicuous feature of a large number of the earliest churches up to the time of the general overthrow of the Anglian settlements by the Northmen in the ninth and tenth centuries. Before the close of the eleventh century the churches had been generally repaired and rebuilt, and although the ravages of the Northmen had resulted in the total extinction of many which had formerly existed, the aggregate number had been largely augmented, not by the increase of monastic establishments, but, as the people became gradually converted to Christianity, by providing each parish with its parish church, however humble,
1 Suetonius, in his account of the funeral of Drusus, states in Philemon Holland's translation (p. 153), published in 1606: "Howbeit the armie reared in honour of him an honorarie tombe (or stately herse) about the which every yeare afterwards upon a certain set day, the souldiers should runne at tilt, keepe jousting and turnament." To which in the margin is given this explanation of an "honorarie tombe, which the Greeks call Cenotaphium, i. an empty tomb."
Some other instances of mediæval cenotaphs may be quoted. In the cloister at Durham was a tomb of stone, a yard high, with a painted stone effigy of St. Cuthbert, to mark the place where his body had lain when taken out of the "White Church," until in 1104 the
present church was ready to receive it. This tomb was protected by a wooden railing and roof covered with lead. Chester-le-Street. church is an effigy of a bishop, which is also most probably a portion of a cenotaph tomb of St. Cuthbert, erected there to commemorate the sojourn of his body at that place from 883 to 995. Again at St. John Lee, near Hexham, some portions of a fine effigy of a bishop have been found. There can
be little doubt that these represent a cenotaph tomb and effigy of St. John of Beverley, who by tradition resided at that place, and who was very likely to be commemorated during the middle ages by a similar tomb to those of St. Cuthbert,
or however imperfect its structural character might be. The subsequent secularisation of the priesthood and their disregard of celibacy also led to the extension of the parochial over the monastic system, and the tendency of the times was towards a complete independence of character and life in both church and priest.
The Norman William's conquest was the cause of great and important changes being made. The rigid rule of the earlier Benedictines was, when brought into comparison with them, the death-blow to that hereditary priesthood which was fast gaining ground in England, and which would certainly, by the formation of a sacerdotal caste, have produced a condition of things disastrous alike to the work of the church and the liberties of the people had it not been checked.
The conquest was immediately followed by a rapid growth of important monastic houses; the Benedictines, the Augustinian, or Regular Canons, and the Cistercians, or Reformed Benedictines, being the leading orders. This sudden and rapid extension could only have been caused by a great political and social upheaval, such as the introduction of the feudal system. But even this great change added to other causes did not at once, and never to any large extent, alter the position of the parish church and the parish priest, in their relation to the people.
William and William's followers were aliens, alike in their religious as in their secular lives and sympathies. The monastic system was the ecclesiastical phase of the feudal system, and it was William's policy, as it was that of the Pope, to propagate it by every means in his power; and thus we see the Norman lords who had been put in possession of the English soil founding monastic houses on their lands on very slight encouragement or pretext. But notwithstanding this increase of a novel phase of religious life, as it was to a large extent, and the great increase of conventual churches, the parochial system, and the parish churches generally, were not affected to any great degree at once, and only during the succeeding two centuries but partially, by the monastic policy of absorbing parishes, livings, and advowsons, and severing the parochial from the monastic churches. The reason of this is not far to seek. The Norman lords and their ecclesiastical followers were aliens to the soil. Their
monastic foundations and many of those who filled them were also alien, and the system and its adherents never gained the hearts of the English people. They maintained their parish church and loved it. It was their hereditary right, and a part of their social life, and though the great minster might overshadow it, and attract the royal and noble families, the pilgrim and the hermit within its walls, it was to the more humble parish church that the great bulk of the people went to worship, and for all other ecclesiastical functions.
It was during the last two decades of the eleventh and the whole of the twelfth century that the great bulk of the monastic houses were founded. In by far the larger number of cases their foundation was directly due to the patronage of the feudal lords, who gave lands, and either built the churches and domestic offices, or provided the major portion of the means required to build them. The monasteries therefore were looked upon by their founders as their special property, and were fostered by them, and received all sorts of benefits and privileges. Their inmates, observing a strict rule, were regarded as possessing a much higher degree of sanctity than the parish priests; and as time went on the conventual churches came to be endowed with a large number of private chantries, assigned to their various altars, where masses were continually said by monks or canons for the benefit of the souls of their patrons and beneficiaries.
As a necessary consequence the conventual churches became the favourite places of interment amongst the founders themselves and their descendants, and among those who could afford by suitable gifts to secure the privilege of burial within walls which were considered specially sacred. The buildings themselves also offered greater facilities and afforded more accommodation for the noble altar-tombs which the wealthy families loved to indulge in, than did the parish churches. Though many of these found their way into the latter class, where they still remain, there is abundant evidence to show that the monastic churches contained a very large number of them, and their almost total disappearance is one of the most disastrous results of the destruction of the monastic buildings after the dissolution of the monastic houses. To the historian, the herald, and the genealogist, amongst the many losses which art and history