Pre-pub records from Durham Priory: the Feretrar’s Accounts

REED: Durham editors John McKinnell and Mark Chambers are pleased to announce the launch of the latest collection of records from Durham: the Durham Priory Feretrars’ Accounts.

The ‘Feretrar’ (Medieval Latin feretrarius, from feretrum) was the officer-monk in charge of the shrine of St. Cuthbert and relics related to the saint – for their upkeep and maintenance, their proper display and veneration and for the collection of donations.

The incorrupt body of Cuthbert from Bede’s Life of Cuthbert, c. 1180, British Library MS 39943. Public domain. stcuth/lifestcuth/

The medieval shrine of St. Cuthbert was apparently thirty-seven feet long and twenty-three broad, and it’s described in The Rites of Durham as being adjacent to the Quire (were the current shrine is located):

having the High Altar on the west, and reaching towards the Nine Altars on the east, and towards the north and south, containing the breadth of the quire in quadrant form, in the midst whereof his sacred shrine was exalted with most curious workmanship, of fine and costly green marble, all lined and gilt with gold, having four seats or places, convenient underneath the shrine, for the Pilgrims or lame men, sitting on their knees, to lean and rest on in the time of their devout offerings and fervent prayers to God and holy St. Cuthbert , for his miraculous relief and succour , which being never wanting, made the shrine to be so richly invested, that it was esteemed to be one of the most sumptuous monuments in all England, so great were the Offerings and Jewels bestowed upon it, even in these latter days, as is more apparent in the History of the Church at large.*

St. Cuthbert’s Tomb, Durham Cathedal. By John Hamilton – Photo taken by J B A Hamilton in Durham Cathedral, 11 September 2010, Public Domain,

One of the feretrar’s jobs was to make sure the shrine’s cover was raised and lowered at the appropriate times:

[He] brought the keys of the shrine, and gave them to the Clerk to open it. His office then was to stand by and see it drawn up. It was always drawn up in Matins time, when Te Deum was singing, or High Mass time, or at Evensong time, when Magnificat was sung, and when they had made their prayers, and offered any thing at it, if it were either gold, silver, or jewels, it was instantly hung on the shrine. And if it were any other thing, as unicorn’s horn, elephant’s tooth, or such like, it was hung within the Feretory, at the end of the shrine. And when their prayers were ended, the Clerk let down the cover thereof, and locked it at every corner, returning the keys to the Vice Prior.*

More information about St. Cuthbert’s shrine may be found at the Durham World Heritage Site’s webpages:

The boy bishop leads the parade away. ‘Sacred and Profane’ performance, Palace Green, Durham, July 2016. Photo credit: Michael Baker

Regarding the records, the accounts of the Feretrar record payments for processions, including, for example, the annual Boy Bishop ceremony (although these payments may be merely customary – see our introduction to the collection). They also record expenses for the upkeep and carrying of St. Cuthbert’s Banner. This relic was highly prised by the monastery and played an important role in British history:  it was carried in battle by the English on several occasions following its debut in 1296; it was credited with the success of the Battle of Neville’s Cross in 1346 and apparently made an appearance at Flodden in 1513.** There are also the usual payments to minstrels and musicians.

St Cuthbert’s Banner:

*Adapted from The Rites of Durham, ed. J. T. Fowler, G. Bates and J. Mickleton, Surtees Soc. 107 (Durham, London and Edinburgh, 1903), pp. 3-4.

**See Ranald Nicholson Edward III and the Scots: The Formative Years of a Military Career 1327 to 1335 (London: OUP, 1965)201ff.


⇒ The records are offered in a ‘pre-pub’ format, meaning they have not yet been through REED’s vigorous editorial procedures. Permission to use, share or quote the records must be sought from the REED: Durham editors John McKinnell and Mark Chambers.

The Records from the Durham Priory Feretrar’s Accounts may be accessed here: 

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