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Excommunication was the commonest punishment in church courts

Shropshire Archives

Excommunication was the commonest punishment in church courts. It took two
forms: lesser, merely excluded the individual from church services; greater,
theoretically imposed social death. The punishment was rarely meant to punish
but to enforce the judgment of the court and acceptance of the church’s
jurisdiction. The Great Curse was read four times a year in every parish church,
reciting a list of offences incurring automatic excommunication. Contracts made
before ecclesiastical authorities also made non-fulfilment result in automatic
excommunication. In the case in 972/1/3/4 a priest is excommunicated for failure
to pay a debt. In 972/1/3/11 the dean of Lichfield cathedral, for failing to come
before the high court of the archbishop of Canterbury has also been
excommunicated. A local ecclesiastical officer, the archdeacon of Shrewsbury,
has ascertained that the sentence has been published throughout the churches
of his archdeaconry so that all should know that for the present, the dean is a
non-person as far as the church is concerned. In 972/1/3/12 excommunication is
being used to force those who ought to have paid fees due to two cardinals to do
so. In 972/1/3/4 the excommunication of the rector of Pitchford is ordered for
non-payment of a debt. However, the efficacy of excommunication was dubious.
There were no physical constraints. Probably it was most effective against
merchants and landowners who were thereby deprived of use of the courts. In
most cases there is no evidence of the effects of excommunication. In that
respect this document is a rarity in that the rector of Pitchford promised to pay
up, and so would be able to carry on his clerkly duties. However, he may not
have done so.
Piety. In so far as chantries established a memorial, they also might establish
social status. A chantry was a declaration of social position. Arrangements were
usually made before death to ensure compliance. Some were temporary, using a
priest for several months to provide masses and additional prayers. They might
involve the congregation in prayers for the object of the chantry. Masses and
prayers could not be bought as that would be simony but there was clearly a
going rate for masses. By 1400 blocks of prayers were available for purchase
especially the trental, 30 masses on consecutive days.
Chancel repairs. The division of the responsibility for the upkeep of the fabric of
a church was made in the 4th century: the nave was to be business of the lay
congregation; the chancel that of the rector or his vicar. In the 13th centurysometimes local ordinances permitted the burial of laymen in the chancel. Thedivision between the two was often marked by a screen and the rood loft. Thismay have led to fewer donations to the high altar and more to altars and lights inthe aisles. There are only a few references to the incumbent’s responsibility inthe Lilleshall collection: 972/1/1/388, 390, 393, and 395 set out the duties of thechaplains of Preston Gobold chapel in general terms. However, 972/1/1/648contains a rare example of details of the repairs needed at Holme-next-the-Sea,(Norfolk). This indenture was a bargain: Lilleshal was prepared to interfere onlyso far as to offer the value of the tithes in return for the repairs being done. Itindicates the high cost of such repairs. It may also indicate the poor state intowhich the chancel had fallen, probably to the dismay of the lay parishioners. Theroof needed attention and was to be covered with great planks covered withlead. The end gable of five lights was to be glazed with plain glass except for onecontaining a picture of Lilleshal abbey. Associated with the responsibility of thechancel was the rector or vicar’s task of providing books and vestments and allthe furnishings for the services. 972/1/1/555 gives a splendid list of such things inthe church of North Molton in 1340.
Corrodies. All religious houses were in the financial marketplace. They needed
to use their assets, both temporal and spiritual to best advantage. Corrodies
were a common instrument to both gain land and to pay wages and look after old
or infirm servants. What was offered was usually a place in the monastery with
food and clothing. 972/1/1/24 shows the abbey making what seems a profitable
bargain. In return for giving the abbey considerable land, the Lady of Tern, was
to have her son cared for. This is a document which raises the question ‘Why did
she seek this arrangement?’. He may have been a problem to her in some way.
The terms of the corrody are such that Richard will be properly looked after. He
is to be a free servant with the food and clothing of an esquire. When he
becomes incapable of carrying out the duty of a free servant he is to be given a
corrody of alms. 972/1/1/26 later shows the abbey using a corrody to pay its new
thresher. The terms seem generous as the thresher is to receive a stipend into
the bargain. Monasteries were all too often accused at visitation of selling
corrodies to get short term gain, thereby rendering the provision of hospitality
difficult, and putting the financial stability of the house in jeopardy. 972/1/1/27 is
an example of the straight sale of a corrody for cash. It was not uncommon for
the monastic house to find itself ordered to provide a corrody for one of the
king’s servants. In 972/1/1/40 such a corrody is nothing less than a compulsory
Death. 972/1/3/6 contains two interesting features. The first is the complaint by
Agnes Gough that the wife of Thomas Dunfowe has removed the bones of her
mother from its tomb in St Chad’s cemetery: the second is that she appealed
directly to the top of the diocese, the Bishop of Coventry and Lichfield. Why was
she so angry? Medieval people believed that the dead were in some sense alive,
and could help the living. If they were not kindly treated they might be angry or
even dangerous. Thomas Aquinas argued that care for the dead body was
correct, as a continuation of the loving relationship between the dead and the
living. The rites of unction, the preparation of the body and the provision ofmasses for the soul of the dead are part of this view, and were well developed bythe 13th century. The wil was in an important sense a religious document andAgnes’s mother’s will may have specified that she be buried in St Chad’scemetery. The woman was regarded as the principal griever, mourner, so it is notsurprising that a woman should be the plaintiff here. It is, however, surprisingthat this complaint was being made. Though it is likely, from the high socialstatus of the Gough family that she would have been taken in procession in acoffin, she would have been laid out in her shroud. It was thereafter normal toexhume the bones and transfer them to a charnel house. Perhaps the complaintthere is that the Gough family had been deprived of their right to perform theexhumation. Agnes’s mother’s bones were being hurried into the charnel houseby the Dunfowes. Removal would have also deprived the Goughs of possibleremission of sin themselves by their prayers for the dead. This haste probablyresulted from a constant shortage of space for new interments in St. Chad’scemetery. From the wording of the complaint, i.e. the use of the word ‘tomb’ thebody may have lain in a prepared grave with stone walls and lid, though thisseems unlikely. The site of the grave would have been marked with a cross. Thegreatest security was obtained by burial for the wealthy inside a church, despiteconstant prohibitions against this. The desire to be buried in monks’ or friars’cemeteries is comprehensible. How this document appeared in the LilleshallCollection is a mystery. It seems unlikely that the message ever reached thebishop.
Fires. Fire was a constant threat for townspeople. Apart from the trades which
used fire in one form or another, smiths, bakers, brewers, potters, household
fires were also likely sources of a conflagration. Buildings, constructed as they
often were of timber and thatch, and packed together in many parts of a town,
might be destroyed over a wide area. A Shrewsbury coroner’s rol of 1299
records the death of a woman burnt in her sleep by a fire caused by the hearth.
In the same roll a woman who left her son and daughter sitting before the fire
while she went to wash clothes in the Severn, returned to find the house
accidentally burned down and both children dead. Earlier in the century the
whole parish of St Chad’s was affected by a fire caused by a malt kiln in
Candelan Lane. In 1312 it was the turn of whole of St Alkmund’s parish. In
972/1/1/442 of c.1275 the responsibility of the lessees was presumably wholly
theirs if the property were to be destroyed by fire, but if the damage was by fire
from neighbouring property they were absolved from repair. The same covenant
appears in 972/1/1/447 of 1398 and may here be more significant as a kitchen is
in question. However, 972/1/1/448 concerns only rebuilding after fire on the
premises. Other Shropshire towns suffered from widespread fire damage in the
medieval period.
Water. 972/1/1/452: this is a rather rare document. Very little has survived to
indicate how the town was drained. Even the court rolls are silent on this matter
as they are on the disposal of night soil. In 1337 shops were recorded here in
Mercers’ Row. At the date of the agreement it seems that perhaps between each
tenement was a gutter. What its use was is not clear, though it seems to be a
drainage channel to carry away from the properties on each side, eventuallydischarging onto the main street, probably the present High Street. Here it maybe assumed was a larger gutter bearing away the outfall from other propertieslining it. It is unlikely that this was part of a fresh water system, since nothingseems to have been done in this regard until the Tudor period.
Military Service. The abbey sometimes received land that owed military service.
This must have been awkward to provide. If the actual service was demanded,
they must have farmed the duty out. It is hard to see a monk firing the bow in
972/1/1/194. This service was probably performed at Wem. At Wigmore too,
972/1/1/133 and 134, a man had to be found to do guard duty, for a third of a
knight’s fee they held at Shipley. In 972/1/1/130 in consequence of a large grant
of land in Howle, it was necessary for the abbey to find a soldier with his armour
for forty days as guard for John FitzAlan at Oswestry, but only in time of war. In
addition the abbot was also responsible for all services and the special taxes
such as scutage, a payment on a knight’s fee in lieu of the actual service due.
This was perhaps another way in which the abbey may have got round the need
to provide a soldier. When a tenant died it was usual for gift to be made to the
lord. Normally it was an animal or its value, but what did the abbey do with the
bow and barbed arrow, demanded in 972/1/1/189 from a tenement in Tibberton,
or with the arms or armour from Cold Hatton, 972/1/1/225. Doubtless these
terms deriving from charters prior to the actual grant to the abbey were modified
to be more useful.
Pasture Rights of pasture were crucial in the farming year. Many of the land
charters make very specific arrangements. Generally there are provisions to
allow beasts to pasture on the arable after harvest. Sometimes the grants are
detailed. In 972/1/1/7 membrane 1, charter I the abbot of Buildwas is allowed
pasture for a fixed, small number of beasts, 6 cows and six calves. However, in
order to prevent overgrazing, once the calves become yearlings they must be
withdrawn. Most monasteries tried to have large flocks and herds and therefore
there are many land charters which indicate the wish to enlarge pasture rights.
Charter 972/1/1/415, shows that the abbey was prepared to use the courts to
regain its rights of pasture on Sugdon Heath. They allow their tenant to enclose
land for improvement, but retain the right to pasture animals after the crops have
been harvested. A pair of Cold Hatton charters, 972/1/1/253 and 254 contain
clauses which demonstrate the practice of setting down the number of stock
which a holding allowed the owner to graze on the common pasture. 972/1/1/263
John Taylor’s allowance of 60 sheep, may indicate the size of his stint.
972/1/1/254 in addition to indicating a stint also contains the additional and
strange prohibition against the sheep of Cistercian monks. Perhaps it was felt
that they were too commercial in their sheep husbandry, or were known to
overgraze. Though sheep could be damaging to pasture by over-grazing,
972/1/1/264 shows that goats were much worse. This is also emphasized in
972/1/1/363. This charter is concerned with another kind of pasture, pannage, in
the outer wood at Lillehall. Pigs were usually allowed at certain times into the
woods to graze on the beech mast and acorns. Hugh of Haughton can put 29
pigs and 40 piglets into the abbot’s wood.
Pensions The income from a rectory was not necessarily safe from itchy palms.
They were all too tempting as a source of gifts from the abbey. Often this took
the form of a pension. In the worst cases the whole of the parish income could
be devoured by such depredations. In 972/1/1/692 and 693 a canon of Lichfield
acts as the intermediary through which the dean and chapter of Lichfield
receives 5 shillings from the Farnborough rectory or vicarage monies. Was this a
payback for permission to accept the appropriation of Farnborough vide
972/1/1/37? The church of North Molton received a bigger blow when Master
William of Crowthorne successfully sued the abbey in the king’s court for a
pension of £40 to compensate him for the loss of his rectorship by appropriation.
Holme-next-the Sea, Norfolk, 972/1/1/46, also found the change of overlord to be
expensive. The 51s 3d pension to the bishop of Norwich seems likely to be a
payback for permission given for the appropriation, and was so much less
income for the curate. There are other examples of pensions to support
chaplains in the cathedral at Lichfield.
Town property. The value of land in towns like Shrewsbury with a vibrant
economy increased rapidly. Instead of whole tenements changing hands, quite
smal elements were bought and sold. In 972/1/1/449 a shop site is a mere 5ft by
12 ft and the entrance to the tenement is only 4½ft by 12 feet. The fact that the
measurements are down to half a foot indicates the enhanced value of town
Monastic chronicles. Most monasteries kept a chronicle which not only
reported events within the life of the house but also tried to record happenings at
a greater distance. Historians of the medieval period are often grateful for the
efforts of the monastic chroniclers. Dr. Una Rees in her introduction to the
Lilleshall Cartulary suggests that since the ruling of one of the gatherings of
pages was ruled in two columns, this indicates that a chronicle was intended. On
the dorse of 972/1/1/453 appears a line from such a chronicle. It follows the often
related spurious early history of Britain. In translation it reads ‘The 70th year
before Christ King Ludd conquered Britain’.
Mills. Mills, the water powering them and the rights of multure were often the
cause of court cases, and so were careful y defined in charters. The group
972/1/1/378-8 and 383 contains significant detail. 378 grants access to the mill,
the water to drive it. The two parties had been before the royal judges because
the grantee had diverted water to his own mill. In 379 the grantor gives the right
to build a mil and millpond in Muxton and promises not to build a competitor mill
on his own land. Explicit permission is granted to grind corn at three of the great
Christian festivals. In 381 the mill has been built and is now let at rent reserving
the right to multure. At about the same time, in 383, the mill was granted to the
abbey with the right to take timber for the repair of the mill. In 457 because the
abbey has increased the size of the mill pond at Hencott they had to pay a fee
for the loss of the land beneath the extended pool. 972/1/1/7 of about the same
period shows the grantor to Buildwas abbey even more determined to lay down
regulations at the mill at Tern: all his men are to use the mill; the grantor
reserves the right to have his corn milled almost immediately it arrives at the mill.
However, the monks enter their own provisos: if the grantor does not force hismen to use the mill, the abbey will seize their corn and the grantor is to have theanimal on whose back the corn was carried. Later in the same charterpermission is given for the erection of a ful ing mill. The fulling mill appears inEngland around the end of the 12th century, so this grant is quite early.

Source: http://www.search.sutherlandcollection.org.uk/content/files/58/57/353.pdf

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