This section provides an introduction to the cathedrals and liturgy at Salisbury – the Use of Sarum.

The organisation of the clerical body at Salisbury Cathedral, and the pattern and practice of liturgy that body followed were remarkably influential in the later Middle Ages. Salisbury provided an institutional model for a number of other cathedrals, and its liturgy was followed in a very large number of parish, collegiate and conventual churches throughout the southern half of England and the whole of Wales as well as parts of Scotland and Ireland and even on the Continent. Not later than 1542 it became the normative liturgical Use in the province of Canterbury, and in the reign of Mary I throughout England and Wales.

Quite why Salisbury became so influential is not entirely clear. Its early bishops were well connected to the king and to government; there was an important royal palace nearby at Clarendon where monarchs spent a significant amount of time when in England; a number of other cathedrals in southern England were monastic foundations with different organisation and liturgy. All these were factors. However, perhaps most important of all was the codification of both its constitution and its liturgy in forms that were readily transferable and adaptable to other institutions, especially after the hiatus of the Papal Interdict at the beginning of the thirteenth century.

The Use of Sarum has long been singled out by English liturgical historians and practitioners. This emphasis can be attributed in part at least to those members of the Church of England who in the nineteenth century took a new interest in the pre-Reformation English church and its liturgy. In adapting medieval elements to the services of the Book of Common Prayer, they were eager to emphasise the differences between medieval English and Roman Catholic practices tending therefore to stress what was distinct rather than the great majority of liturgical forms, texts and ritual which were shared.

For the most part the Use of Sarum, whose earliest surviving texts date from the first half of thirteenth century, has been associated with the second cathedral at Salisbury, planned and built at much the same time. However, an examination of the Old Customary makes it quite apparent that this description of ritual practices related to the first cathedral, located at Old Sarum. It is with that cathedral that the narrative of the Customary needs to begin.