The Old Customary 1

The oldest text

Salisbury Cathedral has an almost unequalled library of later eleventh and earlier twelfth century manuscripts of theological works, many copied by the cathedral community in the early decades of the cathedral’s history. Some seem to have been inspected and corrected by Bishop Osmund himself. However, in spite of Salisbury’s fame and influence as a centre of liturgical excellence, scarcely any of the medieval liturgical manuscripts from the cathedral have survived. The few that are found in the cathedral library have come at a later date from other places. The version of the New Customary (Salisbury Cathedral, MS 175) is one of a very few exceptions.

The reason for this contrast can be accounted principally to the location of and responsibility for the liturgical books. The theological library was the responsibility of the canon chancellor, who had charge of education in the cathedral. It has been kept in the present location of the cathedral library since its construction in the mid fifteenth century (though now a smaller building than first built – part was taken down in 1758). The liturgical library was the responsibility of the precentor and his assistant, the succentor. Some books (e.g. Missals) would have been kept at the altar where they were used; some of the stone cupboards for books and vessels can still be seen, set in cathedral walls. Others would have been in quire, for daily use at Office and Mass, or in a book cupboard (whose location is not known).The most precious would have been kept secure in the treasury with other precious artefacts and ritual objects. All were vulnerable during the decades of the long Reformation, and appear to have been destroyed.

In this context, the early-thirteenth-century copy of the Old Customary is all the more precious as a record of the liturgy and ritual at the first cathedral at Old Sarum. It is bound in at the beginning of the Register of St Osmund, who as bishop drew up the foundation document for the cathedral in 1091. In spite of the fact that it claims authority from Bishop Osmund himself, and the Institutio Osmundi is copied almost complete in the opening sections, it represents the practice of the cathedral as the building stood in an enlarged state, after the additions made in the time of Bishop Roger and Bishop Jocelin in the twelfth century.

There are internal indications in the text that the copy of the Old Customary found in the Register of St Osmund, here identified as OCO, was based on an exemplar to which additions and amendments had already been made. While the text of OCO may have been copied in the first quarter of the thirteenth century, it may be based on an exemplar whose origins date back to the later twelfth century.

Two other documents date from the period at the end of the Papal Interdict, when the cathedral was preparing to resume daily services after a long period of suspension: the new constitution and the inventory of goods which both date from 1214. It is possible that the copy of the Old Customary at the beginning of the Register belongs to this period when the cathedral had to resume its normal pattern of life and worship, disrupted for as much as six years. Each of these three documents, together with Carta Osmundi, is placed at the beginning of a new gathering, signalling their importance in the structure of the manuscript.

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The Register of St Osmund

The Register of St Osmund contains the earliest extant copy of the Sarum Customary.

The manuscript was part of the archive kept in the bishop’s palace before being transferred (with other archives) to Wren Hall in the 1950s, and then deposited in 1980 with other diocesan records first in the Wiltshire Record Office, Trowbridge, and subsequently in the Wiltshire and Swindon Archive, Chippenham, call number D/1/1. On the face of it, however, this appears to be a manuscript more appropriate to the dean or dean and chapter rather than to the bishop, in whose archive it has been kept.

Frere divided the manuscript into eight sections. In simplified form, the main contents can be summarised as:

  1. The Old Customary [OCO]
  2. Charters, beginning with Carta Osmundi
  3. Visitation of prebends by the dean, William de Wanda (1220-26)
  4. Grants etc confirmed by the dean and chapter
  5. Charters etc
  6. The new constitution (1214) and further charters etc
  7. Narrative related to the building of the second cathedral, and removal from Old Sarum in two separate sections (1218-20, pp. 119-124; and 1225-30, pp. 133-166)
  8. Inventory of the first cathedral (1214), followed by copies of letters

The latest dated document is 1295.

The complete register was edited by W. H. Rich Jones in two volumes (Rolls Series, 78, 1883-84). It is a compilation of documents dated from 1091 to 1295, and mostly copied in the first half of the thirteenth century.

The Old Customary, the first item in the manuscript, occupies the first 37 pages. These pages consist of three gatherings. The first and second gathering each consist of four leaves of parchment, which when folded in half each make eight folios. The third gathering required only two leaves, making four folios. This part of the manuscript therefore consists of twenty folios (40 pages), about one fifth of the whole compilation.

The last part of the Customary only used five of the eight pages in the third gathering, leaving three pages spare. Into these pages (pp. 38 to 40) were copied six other documents a little later, using a different page format. Before these pages were filled there would have been a gap before the next main item:  a copy of the cathedral’s foundation charter, as drawn up in 1091. This was copied at the beginning of the fourth gathering of the manuscript, page 41.

The Customary is written carefully in a very neat, formal hand. Each page is set out with a consistent text block with generous outer and lower margins, and ruled for 32, 33 or 34 lines. The text is written in black, but the heading of each section and its initial letter are written in red. Many of the red initial letters were never entered, suggesting that this was a copy intended for reference but never quite finished.

The document has no heading, but is described in the first sentence as ‘tractatus’, a work based on the institution of the founder, Bishop Osmund. Of all the versions of the Customary (new and old) it is the most systematic in its ordering.

Scholars have generally agreed that this copy of the Customary dates from the first quarter of the thirteenth century. Both Frere and  Diana Greenway suggest c. 1220 (i.e. a few years after its compilation). The date of copying is not necessarily the same as the date of compilation. What is quite unambiguous from the text of the Customary is that, in the form presented, it was intended for the first cathedral at Old Sarum after the addition of the south porch in the mid twelfth century It is impossible to say which sections might represent earlier ritual practice, but there are some signs that this text is based on an ealier version to which additions had been made.

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