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Cathedral treasures brought to light

by Michael Ford last modified 02 Oct, 2020 11:26 PM

As part of our Cathedral's 800th anniversary celebrations, a set of mid-13th century household accounts that extend 19ft, a letter from the Pope permitting the Cathedral move, and a medieval bishop’s ring have gone on display for the first time.

An historic medieval document granting permission for Salisbury Cathedral to move from Old Sarum to its current site went on open public display for the first time on Thursday 24th September.

The papal bull or letter sent to the Cathedral by Pope Honorius III is bound into The Register of St Osmund, which contains documents from the Cathedral’s earliest history including the 1091 foundation charter for the first cathedral at Old Sarum, and a description of the laying of the present Cathedral’s first foundation stones on 28 April 1220, 8 centuries ago.

Originally conceived to celebrate Cathedral’s 800th birthday back in April, the exhibition has been delayed until now. Among the treasures that are being shared is a book from the scriptorium at Old Sarum, written in the early 1100s. The book is just one of over 60 manuscripts that survive today and are held in the Cathedral Archive and Library.

Emily Naish, Salisbury Cathedral archivist, who put the exhibition together, said:

"The Cathedral’s anniversary year is a marvellous opportunity for us to display some of the greatest treasures from our collections – one of which, the book written at the first Salisbury Cathedral at Old Sarum, is older than the building itself! These documents give us an insight into the life of our medieval ancestors who worked and worshipped here: forming a unique link between the past and the present.”

Exhibited alongside The Register of St Osmund and the Old Sarum book is an Indulgence issued by Archbishop Stephen Langton around the time building commenced on the Cathedral’s present site. It grants forgiveness for 30 days of sin to anyone who contributes towards the cost of construction. Indulgences were a common way to raise funds in medieval times.

However, probably the most intriguing item on show is a remarkable 19ft scroll that lists all the food bought for the household of Robert de Cardeville, Salisbury Cathedral’s Canon Treasurer in the year 1256-1257. This humungous list details how much everything cost, where it was eaten and on what day. The menu is extensive including carne grossa or great meat, in other words beef, mutton or pork, gallinis or chickens and, on Fridays, fish listed as herring, plaice, and ling, a kind of cod. For feasts there were spiced sauces, pies and pasties. The Canon Treasurer’s clerk, Colin, was responsible for keeping the account.

Commenting on his medieval predecessor’s groceries, the current Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral, Robert Titley, said:

“I suspect our supermarket receipts for a year, laid end to end, would be even longer then my namesake’s parchment. With climate breakdown we are trying to be less ‘gross’ with our ‘carne’. Train tickets, bike bits and (some) petrol have replaced the horse fodder, though I eat nearly ten kilos of oats a year myself. And we too enjoy the skills of someone called Colin – he helps us with the garden.”

The Library and Archive displays form part of a mini exhibition entitled 'The Cathedral that moved', which were brought in after lockdown to enhance the visitor experience, particularly after all guided tours were suspended. It can be found in the North Transept.

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