Medieval Writing
Paleography Exercises
Appeal to the Holy See of 1281 from the collection of Rob Schäfer. All images © Rob Schäfer.
This notarial document is an appeal by the prior and convent of Holy Trinity, York to the Holy See, against the archbishop of York. The archbishop had refused to appoint as rector to the church of St Helen in Fishergate, in the suburbs of York, the candidate recommended by the prior, despite the priory believing it held the right to appoint.
There are a number of interesting features of the document. The use of notaries was not the normal procedure in England, and is used here because this is papal business. The form of the document, including the use of the notary's mark, the elaborate dating clause and certain aspects of the calligraphy, has more in common with generic ecclesiastical documents than with specifically English documents. The script is a Gothic minuscule, but with neat, spaced, rounded letters which retain much in common with Caroline minuscule. The use of rather tall and elaborate ascenders and descenders is also a feature of ecclesiastical documents. This is not the most formal grade of document, so those particular features are moderate.
Historically, it demonstrates the autonomy of the church in regulating its affairs, wherever they might reside. One little difference of opinion with the archbishop over a small matter involving a relatively insignificant urban parish church, and the whole dispute goes straight off to Rome. No secular authority in England intervenes.
Holy Trinity church Very little survives of the priory of Holy Trinity. Part of the church was converted to parish use at the Reformation and can be seen along the fine street of Micklegate. All the conventual buildings have disappeared. As an alien priory, or cell of a Benedictine mother church in France, it was always the lesser Benedictine institution in York, taking second place to the great St Mary's Abbey.
Interior of Holy Trinity church.
St Helen's church in Fishergate was demolished in the 16th century, along with many other churches in York, which had something of an excess for its needs. It is recorded as having been presented to the priory at its foundation. One might think of the term suburb as having a modern connotation, but in York, as in other medieval towns, it was used to describe the permanently inhabited areas outside the town walls. In York, these were quite extensive.
York Minster chapter house The document claims to have been "enacted in the greater church of York in the place where justice is accustomed to be delivered". This presumably refers to the chapter house of York Minster, right in the territory of the archbishop who is being complained about.
The chapter house of York Minster.
So with all the circumstantial preliminaries out of the way, let's look at the document.

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Click on each of the above to walk your way through the text. The transcript will appear in a separate window so that you can use it for reference at any time. These exercises are designed to guide you through the text, not test you, so you can cheat as much as you like.
Script sample for this example
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