DCD 2.13.Pont.12.

Indulgence, 1459

The monastic archive contains almost ninety original indulgences dating from the thirteenth century onwards, although the loss of a group for Finchale printed in 1837 (The Priory of Finchale pp. 169-91) is quite the most serious and mysterious known from modern times. A particularly valuable group is that comprising indulgences left in Durham by Scottish bishops, almost in the manner of visiting-cards; they bear fine impressions of the distinctive Scottish style of episcopal seal, with the figure presented in profile, rather than face-on (SEAL Albin of Brechin, MC 799). Indulgences have long been recognized as very important sources for dating the building-work to which they often refer; one of 1235 is invaluable for showing when the plan for building the Nine Altars Chapel on the east end of the cathedral was getting under way (Rites pp. 149-50: Misc. Ch. 1512 ), while those for the building of the new St Peter's in Rome in the early sixteenth century caused a certain amount of controversy in Europe. The example here is the sole surviving evidence for a lightning-strike that damaged the central tower of the cathedral on 25 March 1459. In general terms it is typical, but in certain respects it is set apart by being a very grand document. For a start it is not issued by one bishop alone but by the archbishop of York and his two principal colleagues in the northern province, the bishops of Durham and Carlisle. The greeting is extended in typical fashion for the period: 'Salutem in eo per quem fit Remissio peccatorum' [view]. An extended high-flown preamble or arenga refers to the Redeemer's saving work for sinners: 'Mira redemptoris clemencia homini quem ad suam creauit similitudinem primi lapsu parentis suorumque labe criminum deformato / munera prestat ac beneficia admimicula [!] multa parat' [view], with the scribe putting an extra minim in the word "adminicula". It goes on to opine that alms given for church buildings earn the grace of salvation and then refers to the damage done to the cathedral's nave, campanile, aisles and other buildings, and to the bells by a lightning-strike on Easter day. The subjects of the archbishop and bishop are then mandated that, when the cathedral's proctors and nuncios come to their churches to seek alms, other indulgences should be suspended. To prompt the minds of the faithful to works of piety, confident in the grace of God and the merits and prayers of B.V.M., and various named local saints, to those 'De peccatis suis vere penitentibus contritis et confessis. qui ad reedificacionem seu nouam structuram et reparacionem dicte ecclesie Cathedralis Dunelm- ac pro felici consummacione operis ibidem incepti Aurum argentum anulum Iocale Rem ve aliam preciosam aut valentem quamcumque dicte Cathedrali ecclesie obtulerint aut plumbum ferrum Meremium. arbores lapides vel aliquid aliud ad huiusmodi opus necessarium et requisitum dederint cariagium ve vel labores corporales fecerint aut manus adiutrices quouismodo gratis apposuerint' [view] are granted forty days indulgence; thus the contribution of valuables, materials or of direct labour was made a substitute for the performance of penance which would have freed the duly confessed sinner from 40 days in purgatory.
The very expertly executed script, with very little abbreviation, is an example of a form of bastard secretary close to that associated with the Burgundian court, and hence sometimes called lettre bourguignonne, see Brown (1990) pp. 108-11; it was very popular in de luxe manuscripts, notably Books of Hours, and hence struck a fitting note for this document. The margins are lavish, and the off-setting of the text to the right is balanced by the elaborate pen-work initial at the start of the text. The seals are attached by means of green cords of high quality.