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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
suffered at this time, none perhaps is more to be deplored than the wreck which was made of the sepulchral memorials with which the conventual churches were so richly adorned. In support of the reasons already given it can be shown from the Testamenta Eboracensia, and other authentic sources, that most persons of the higher rank were buried within the walls of the monastic houses rather than in their parish churches. At the time of the Dissolution one or other of the neighbouring families could generally count the founder of the house amongst their ancestors, and show a long line of memorials which represented in stone, alabaster, or brass, the effigies of their fore-elders, reaching back to the days of the Norman lords.
It may not be out of place to give here a few instances of salvage from the general wreck. Of the total number of monastic houses originally standing more than half have entirely disappeared; in some cases, and in those of important houses, too, even the site is either unknown or only vaguely indicated in the surviving name of some field, lane, or country house. Of the rest, the most part are in ruins, indicating in a greater or lesser degree the original grandeur of the structures. It is amongst these fragmentary ruins, and amongst the conventual churches which, either as a whole or a part, are still in use, that we must seek for any vestiges of that noble array of memorials of the dead which they once contained.
Westminster Abbey, as the Royal burial place, has fortunately retained most of its mediæval tombs, though now shorn of some of their ornaments and accessories. Tewkesbury Abbey comes next, as still containing a larger number of high tombs than any other conventual church in England not of cathedral rank, excepting Westminster alone. These are ranged between the piers of the choir, round the apse, and in the choir-aisles; the grandest of them occupying the most favoured positions in front of the altar, and between it and the stalls. Some few important tombs also remain in situ at St. Albans, Gloucester, Hexham, Cartmel, and other churches formerly monastic. In other cases tombs, and more often the effigies from them, were moved into parish churches at the time of the Dissolution. The monument of Sir Martin de la See now in the chancel of Barmston Church, on the authority of a MS. in the Bodleian, came out
of the choir of Bridlington Priory Church.2 At Coverham Abbey are to be seen two complete effigies and some fragments of a third belonging to the Nevill tombs formerly there.3 An immense tomb formerly in Egglestone Abbey, now removed to Mortham Tower, is thus described by Dr. Whitaker.4 "To a close adjoining to Mortham it has already been hinted that Mr. Morritt has removed from Egglestone Abbey one of the tombs mentioned by Leland; and when I have given the dimensions it will be granted perhaps that it was the larger of the two, and therefore not belonging to a Rokeby but a Bowes. The vast slab, which must have contained the inscription, is unfortunately gone, but the length of the sides is eleven feet, the width of the ends five feet eight inches, the depth two feet five inches, and the thickness one foot. The shields which surround it are perfectly plain, though it is probable they were intended to be charged with armorial bearings."
Fountains Abbey affords an instance of lay burial in the well-preserved and very beautiful effigy, of the time of Edward I., probably that of Roger de Mowbray, who died at Ghent, in 1298, and was buried at Fountains. Between the second and third columns to the west of the high altar is an empty stone coffin in situ, which represents some important burial in the choir.
In the Museum at St. Mary's Abbey, York, is a mailed effigy which came from the Abbey Church.
Three other great Yorkshire monastic churches now in ruins, Whitby, Byland, Rievaulx, have yet to be cleared of a vast accumulation of fallen stones and rubbish before the evidences as to tombs can be seen. Jervaulx and Roche have yielded indications of having had handsome tombs within their choirs. Bridlington has lost its choir, and Selby has of late been singularly unfortunate in that its only altartomb can no longer be regarded as a tomb. Only last year the excavations at Watton Abbey produced the fragments of a knightly effigy of the 14th century, and some pieces of the arched canopy that covered it, but little inferior in detail, if it was in size, to the magnificent Percy shrine in Beverley Minster.
2 Prickett's Priory Church of Bridling. ton, p. 125.
3 Whittaker's Richmondshire, vol. i.,
4 Ibid. p. 187.