The New Customary

The two earliest surviving copies of the New Customary date from the second half of the fourteenth century: these are the copies found in Salisbury Cathedral, MS 175 (identified as NCS), and Corpus Christi College, Oxford, MS 44 (identified as NCC), both included in the website. NCC includes a reference to the tomb of Bishop Roger Martival, which suggests that it must be based on an exemplar written after his death in 1330. It was Martival who oversaw the building of the exceptional and audacious spire.

The details of both NCS and NCC suggest that the originals of both texts date from after the completion of the cloister in 1266. The common core of the contents may perhaps date from the episcopacy of Roger Martival (1315-1330). It may seem surprising to suggest so long a gap between the completion of the cathedral and the preparation of a new version of the Customary. However, Customaries generally represent retrospective codification of accumulated custom, rather than innovative documentation imposing changes of custom. Moreover, during the later decades of the thirteenth century, many of the prebends of Salisbury Cathedral – including those of the four dignitaries (dean, precentor, chancellor, treasurer) – were held by men who were largely or entirely absent. A number of the prebends had been granted by the papacy to men living on the Continent, including Italians.

It was Roger Martival who tried to address this situation when he became bishop. He was, however, hampered, by the fact that he did not have authority over the dean and chapter, and his status in the chapter was that of a canon, not of bishop. Nevertheless, he drew up a long code which represents the most comprehensive regulatory document of the medieval cathedral. Notwithstanding the requirements of Institutio Osmundi, which expected all four dignitaries to be resident in Salisbury, Martival’s code was endorsed by the most junior of the dignitaries, the treasurer, who acted in place of the dean: dean, precentor and chancellor were resident abroad. The code deals very fully with the residence of the canons, and for the first time addresses the regulation of the vicars choral who served as their substitutes (and must by this time have formed the backbone of the resident cathedral community). Martival also reformed the arrangement for the boy choristers, bringing them to live together in a single house, and seeking better provision for their care and funding, a matter he addressed in a letter to the pope in 1322.

It is possible to regard the New Customary as a document which indirectly complements Martival’s code. Whether or not it was compiled during Martival’s episcopacy, it bears the hallmarks of systematic organisation and classification of ritual practice, as well as dealing with a number of practicalities.