The Parish Church Illuminated

Tom Nickson

Donor figure from an aisle window, St Mary, Waterperry (Oxfordshire) i Fig. 8 Donor figure from an aisle window, St Mary, Waterperry (Oxfordshire). Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Blue sky. A rising tower; sunlit stone. A lush churchyard; trees in blossom. The cover of the HarperCollins edition of Sir John Betjeman’s Guide to English Parish Churches (1993) offers a familiar vision of the English parish church, endlessly reproduced on modern, glossy book covers.1 That vision is nurtured by cherished notions of an English pastoral, by summer church crawls, and—for architectural historians—by the memory of Nikolaus Pevsner’s heroic road trips as he prepared the Buildings of England, visiting southern counties over Easter, northern ones in the summer.2 And those trips, in turn, recall the regular church visitations of the Middle Ages, invariably conducted during summer months.

This vision of a church drenched in light often extends to the interior too, and has venerable roots. The Temple of Venus, ‘ymad of glas’, in Chaucer’s House of Fame (1374×1385) has been described as the ‘literary descendant of ornately glazed buildings like the Sainte-Chapelle’, but its ‘ryche tabernacles’, ‘pynacles’, ‘curious portreytures’, ‘figures / Of olde werk’ and ‘ful eke of wyndowes, / as flakes falle in great snowes’ must also refer to contemporary architecture.3 But would we think differently about parish churches if we only visited them during winter? Or if electric lighting had never been installed? Or if John Piper’s elegant line drawings or new printing technologies made it possible to picture the church from Betjeman’s Lincolnshire Tale, where:

The candles ensconced on each high panelled pew
Brought the caverns of brass-studded baize into view,
But the roof and its rafters were lost to the sight
As they soared to the dark of the Lincolnshire night.4

Studious church visitors are now more likely to reach for Pevsner’s ‘complex deductions drawn from the evidence of masonry breaks and small changes in style’ than for Betjeman’s ‘poetic and personal evocation of the church’, but is something lost in this parochial positivism?5 Such questions cannot be answered satisfactorily in this or any other essay. My aim instead is to approach the parish church from the perspective of its lighting, both in terms of production (which encompasses architectural design, as well as decoration and furnishings) and reception (how were these buildings experienced?), and especially the relationship between the two.6 In addressing this I wish to make two wider points. First, it is often said that there exist few written sources on the English medieval parish church of relevance to historians of art and architecture: we have ‘only’ the buildings themselves, as well as occasional archaeological traces of lighting devices that are otherwise lost. It is certainly true that historians of the period 1200 to 1400 cannot draw on the rich written sources available to those working on parish churches in the fifteenth century or later. Yet as I will show, the thousands of surviving wills, visitation records and churchwardens’ accounts from the earlier period—as well as numerous other written sources—reveal a profound and consistent concern for light, both artificial (lamps, candles, torches and other devices) and natural (usually in relation to windows).

Secondly, I wish to draw attention to the significant role of light and darkness in determining how buildings were designed and decorated, and the ways that this is disguised by our practices as scholarly producers and consumers.7 Despite significant qualification by John Gage, Andreas Speer, Nicholas Reveyron and others, Erwin Panofsky’s identification of ‘an orgy of neo-Platonic light metaphysics’ in Abbot Suger’s writings on Saint-Denis have helped to establish the centrality of (natural) light to the historiography of medieval architecture, partly because Panofsky’s vision of a luminous gothic architecture so effectively dispels Romantic celebration of ‘gothic gloom’ or enduring myths of a ‘Dark Ages’.8 But can this discourse on architecture and light be extended to consider the phenomenological, climatological, liturgical, and social significance of light in the Middle Ages? To what extent can theories of aesthetics or optics developed in universities or other intellectual centres be applied to the study of modest parish churches?9 Has recent scholarship on visuality overlooked questions of visibility?10 And are we all complicit in privileging generously-lit photographs and reproductions of buildings, at times misrepresenting the experience of those spaces? Not all these questions can be answered properly in this short paper, but to recognise the latter, for example, we need only consider the photograph of Chartres Cathedral with its coloured glass removed during the Second World War, reproduced in Jean Bony’s great study of French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th Centuries (1983).11 In light of this, and whether amateur or professional, should we re-examine our own ways of curating the photographs that we take, edit, and archive?


The written evidence

In 1883, the crypto-Catholic cleric, Frederick Lee, provided remarkably precise descriptions of the various chandeliers, lamps, tapers, and candles in Thame (Oxfordshire), based on the extensive churchwardens’ accounts that survive from 1442 onwards.12 His evocative account nonetheless poses a familiar problem: in the absence of evidence from earlier periods, is it safe to assume that artificial lighting in Thame church had changed little since 1400, 1300, or even 1200?13 Certainly not. Norman Tanner’s analysis of 289 wills from medieval Norwich shows that the proportion of testators leaving money for lights rose steadily in the period 1370 to 1532, and this confirms the strong but unquantifiable impression from other sources that artificial lighting in churches increased considerably from the twelfth to the sixteenth century and beyond, notwithstanding changing practices of churchwardens or record keeping.14

For these reasons—and partly to make the evidence more manageable—in this essay I have drawn evidence almost exclusively from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, though occasionally also from the first decade of the fifteenth. The definition of the parish church is a further issue, and I have largely followed Richard Pfaff’s helpful rule-of-thumb:

a parish church is one that serves a community defined more by locality (e.g., “the church of Burford”) than by adherence to a rule (“Tewkesbury abbey”) or a set of statutes (Salisbury cathedral).15

This allows me to include grand churches such as Tideswell in Derbyshire or St. Augustine’s, Hedon (East Riding, Yorkshire), but excludes evidence from monastic foundations, cathedrals and minsters, and even from grand collegiate foundations such as Ottery St Mary, whose founding statutes (1339) provide very detailed instructions about lighting.16 I also exclude cases where parishioners used the nave of churches belonging to larger foundations.17 Of course, such boundaries are partly artificial: laity, clergy, and craftsmen moved regularly between different categories of building, and in almost all cases the lighting types, traditions, and trends that can be identified in parish churches developed at earlier dates in the context of ‘great churches’.18 It is nonetheless broadly the case that there was less artificial lighting in parish churches than in great churches, that their liturgical rituals were more modest (notably with fewer night-time vigils or Masses and offices at Matins and Vespers), and that the educational levels of most priests and parishioners meant that they could understand light in a very different way from friars, monks or canons.19

Even with the limits sketched above, lighting in parish churches is exceedingly well-documented, whether in the buildings and archaeological record, or in the numerous written sources, notably visitation records and churchwardens’ accounts. Visitation records attracted the attention of nineteenth-century clergy and antiquarians and so most are now easily available online.20 They have been published for the dioceses of Salisbury (1220–6, 1300, 1405–17),21 St. Paul’s (1138, 1160×81, 1249×52, 1297),22 Exeter (1281, 1294, 1301, 1328–31, 1342),23 Ely (1278–1390),24 Canterbury (1293–4, 1327–8),25 Bath and Wells (1335),26 York (1362, 1407),27 Hereford (1397),28 and Norwich (1368, 1400).29 James Malcolm also published partial visitation returns for St. Martin’s, Ludgate (1410),30 while those of Bakewell and Tideswell in Derbyshire (1270 and 1345–7 respectively) have been overlooked.31 These visitation records and the inventories they contain by no means offer a complete snapshot of churches and their furnishings, and they typically record only those objects mandated by local diocesan statutes. Pamela Graves’s warning about ‘an eclectic use of decontextualised local data, made to pad out a normative picture derived from centralised ecclesiastical contexts’ must be borne in mind.32 But notwithstanding these cautionary remarks, visitation records provide a wealth of useful but little-exploited information about lighting, images, and altars, albeit often buried amongst tales of negligent priests and adulterous parishioners.33

Churchwardens’ accounts represent another key source, although again it must be remembered that churchwardens had very specific roles and their accounts only provide partial evidence.34 Happily, the provision and management of lights was a key responsibility of churchwardens, and central to the economy of the parish church.35 Accounts have survived from Bridgwater, Somerset (1318 onwards);36 St. Michael’s, Bath (1349 and frequently thereafter);37 St. James, St. Augustine, and St. Nicholas, Hedon, in the East Riding of Yorkshire (beginning in 1350, 1371, and 1379 respectively);38 St. John the Baptist, Glastonbury (1366–1404, 1405–28);39 St. Cuthbert’s, Wells (1393, 1404 and several thereafter);40 St. Margaret’s, Walmgate, York (1394);41 All Saints, Bristol (wardens’ inventory of 1395, accounts from 1401×8, 1408–9 and frequently thereafter);42 St. Mary Magdalen in Launceston, Cornwall (1405);43 St. Lawrence, Reading (1410);44 and St. Michael, St. Mary Magdalen and St. Aldate’s, Oxford (1403, 1404, and 1410 respectively), though of these only St. Michael’s have been published.45 Supplemented with evidence from charters, testamentary bequests, diocesan statutes and other sources, these records offer rich insights into the lighting of parish churches in medieval England.

Natural light

Only rarely can written sources be cross-referenced with other types of documentary evidence, or with surviving buildings. For example, the ‘seemly and suitable window’ that, following a visitation in 1294, was ordered to be made for the church at Wingham (Kent), was destroyed in the sixteenth century.46 One rare case where text and fabric both survive is St. Mary’s (now All Saints), at Sandon in Hertfordshire, its chancel condemned as needing repair and being ‘too dark’ (‘nimis obscurum’) in a visitation of 1297.47 After some delay it was decided that the chancel should be rebuilt, and an agreement with a stone mason from 1348 stipulates that the eastern window should have three lights (‘dayes’), with two lights for two sets of windows in the north and south walls.48 The east window was replaced in the nineteenth century, but otherwise the chancel survives intact (Fig. 1).49 Sandon is the only one of twenty churches in the St. Paul’s visitations of 1297 where lighting conditions in general were recorded, but the provision of lamps commonly merited comment in these visitations: in most cases it was considered ‘sufficiens’, ‘decens’ or ‘competens’, but at Pelham Arsa (Hertfordshire) it was judged ‘insufficiens’.50

East end, St Mary, Sandon (Hertfordshire)
Fig. 1 East end, St Mary, Sandon (Hertfordshire). Photo: Author

Elsewhere, natural lighting was a particular concern. Nestled on a leafy stretch of the river Wye, Dixton church (Monmouthshire, formerly Herefordshire) was said to be so ‘dark and gloomy’ in May 1397 that the clergy could not read.51 A visitation of 1278×1303 records that the church at Horningsea (Cambridgeshire) was missing various lights, an altar veil, and altarpiece, and that the altar was poorly lit.52 It is no coincidence that a new window was made in 1305–6 for the chancel in Hambleton (Rutland) at the same time as a new altarpiece or altar frontal (‘tabula depicta’), sedilia, and piscina.53 In Devon, where many churches may have been thatched, a series of visitations in 1301, 1314, and 1330 found that the churches were too dark. In July 1301, the church of Coffinswille was condemned because ‘all the windows of the chancel are without glass, and too small’.54 During the same summer visits, the nave of Ashburton church was found to be ‘too dark’, and thirteen years later things were no better:55

The windows in the chancel are of wood, except one, which is too small. The chancel is badly roofed … There is no glass in the windows of the nave of the church. The south aisle of the nave of the church is badly roofed. The north aisle of the church is ruinous and is being rebuilt. Therefore the Lord Bishop ordered that windows of sufficient size of stone should be made in the chancel, and that one of good size should be made in the [east] front of the chancel.56

A damning report on Staverton church in the same year prompted the construction of a new church that still survives (albeit heavily restored), replacing one that was too dark and narrow.57 These critiques have to do with architectural design, including the size of windows, but in their visitation of the church of Salcombe Regis (Devon) in July 1330, Bishop Grandisson’s commissioners also criticised the glass, reporting that ‘the glass windows in the chancel, as well as in the nave, are too dark’.58 Such comments are remarkable only because they are unusual: elsewhere commissioners occasionally commented on broken or missing windows or ruined walls, but largely focused their reports on moveable goods.

These sources confirm what is patently obvious from the visual evidence, namely that lighting was an important consideration in the design of buildings and of glass. In some cases extra light seems to have been directed specifically at the high altar: Warwick Rodwell suggested, for example, that the window splays of the Romanesque church at Rivenhall (Essex) might have directed a shaft of light onto the altar at specific moments.59 Concern for the visibility of the high altar (and by extension, the Eucharist) may partly explain why chancels were commonly the brightest part of the church, lit by generously-sized windows on three sides.60 While there is no single factor that explains the increase in window size from the twelfth to the fifteenth century (a phenomenon that was not restricted to parish churches), it was presumably related to the decreasing costs of glass and recognition of its potential for patronal display, the ability of bar tracery to fill large window openings, concerns with visuality (and thus visibility), and changing religious sensibilities and aesthetic tastes.61 It has even been linked to the beginnings of the Little Ice Age around the year 1300, which may have contributed to increasing cloud cover.62

Piecemeal changes of the kind found at Thame speak to the undocumented history of light in the English parish church: built c.1220, its chancel still preserves its original lancet windows on the north side, but in the late-thirteenth century a magnificent five-light window was installed in the east wall, and thereafter large Decorated windows were inserted to the south (Fig. 2). Shortly afterwards the aisles were widened, and at the end of the fourteenth century the nave walls were raised to make a clerestory.63 In each case, the provision of extra light seems to have been a significant motivating factor. The addition or enlargement of aisles—as at Thame—was very common in English medieval parish churches, and invariably allowed more natural light to flood the interior thanks to extra windows at the aisles’ east and west ends, and larger windows to the north or south (where their height was not constrained by a single gable roof over the whole church). Construction of new ‘lantern’ clearstories in the nave was also common in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, as in several churches in eastern England that still preserve Norman or Early English arcades below, including St. Mary’s at Barton-upon-Humber (Lincolnshire), and Long Sutton (Lincolnshire), Walsoken (Norfolk), and Wisbech (Cambridgeshire) (Fig. 3).64 Yet light was only one of many factors that motivated construction and expansion in this period, and such alterations have also been explained in relation to growing populations and wealth, competition, the increasing emphasis on visibility in church rituals (above all the elevation of the Host at Mass), the multiplication of altars, and funerary concerns.65

Chancel. St. Mary, Thame (Oxfordshire)
Fig. 2 Chancel. St. Mary, Thame (Oxfordshire). Photo: Author
Nave, All Saints, Walsoken (Lincolnshire)
Fig. 3 Nave, All Saints, Walsoken (Lincolnshire). Photo: Author

Light was not only regulated through window size: as at Salcombe Regis, it was also recognised that stained glass played a significant role. Surviving glass at Madley (c.1250 and c.1350) and Eaton Bishop (c.1330–5), both in Herefordshire, show that magnificent coloured glass was sometimes installed in parish churches, especially those with access to glaziers from major cathedral workshops (Fig. 4).66 This is confirmed by the scattered fragments of glass that survive in hundreds of parish churches from before 1400. From what survives, and with some exceptions, grisaille—with patterns formed either from painted glass or just from the leading—seems to have been especially common in the late-twelfth century and first half of the thirteenth, in part perhaps because it was cheaper than coloured glass.67 Any coloured glass most commonly took the form of heraldry or single, standing figures of saints or prophets, though more complex narratives were sometimes included in the great banded windows that became more popular in the early-fourteenth century.68 Windows in the fourteenth century were also likely to be larger and lighter (especially thanks to the growing popularity of silver stain), though such magnificent banded windows as those at Selling in Kent (c.1314–7) or Bere Ferrers, in Devon (c.1330) are probably more elaborate than what was found in most parish churches – except perhaps in their east windows (Fig. 5).69

East window, St. Michael and All Angels, Eaton Bishop (Herefordshire)
Fig. 4 East window, St. Michael and All Angels, Eaton Bishop (Herefordshire). Photo: Gordon Plumb
East window, St. Mary, Selling (Kent)
Fig. 5 East window, St. Mary, Selling (Kent). Photo: Chris Parkinson

What is clear is that lay benefactors with significant connections could transform their local parish church into something exceptional, as in the chantry chapel of Sir Miles Stapleton in North Moreton (Oxfordshire). The chapel’s eastern window, which probably dates to the second decade of the fourteenth century, is filled with dark, saturated glass with heraldry and scenes from the life of St. Nicholas, to whom the chapel is dedicated (Fig. 6).70 It serves as a useful reminder that larger windows do not necessarily create lighter interiors, though fragments of grisaille in the nave windows suggest that only the east window was so dark. Fifteen miles away, Waterperry (Oxfordshire) preserves thirteenth-century grisaille windows in its chancel, whilst in the nave small, colourful donor figures float on a bed of fourteenth-century grisaille (Figs. 7 and 8).71 This kind of scheme was probably common in parish churches across medieval England, but is inevitably the subject of fewer scholarly studies.

East window of the Stapleton chantry, All Saints, North Moreton (Oxfordshire)
Fig. 6 East window of the Stapleton chantry, All Saints, North Moreton (Oxfordshire). Photo: Author
Chancel window, St. Mary, Waterperry (Oxfordshire)
Fig. 7 Chancel window, St. Mary, Waterperry (Oxfordshire). Photo: John McNeill
Donor figure from an aisle window, St Mary, Waterperry (Oxfordshire)
Fig. 8 Donor figure from an aisle window, St Mary, Waterperry (Oxfordshire). Photo: Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Visitation records imply that glass was often missing, anyway.72 Scattered evidence shows that some windows were covered simply by linen cloth, iron grilles, and shutters.73 Internal screens, curtains, and furnishings might block or filter the light further. But natural light could also be regulated or enhanced by other means: when Thomas Grey provided a five-light window for the Lady Chapel at Haddenham (Buckinghamshire) in 1395, he not only provided money for the glass, but also for shiny new floor tiles.74 Internal whitewashing was quite common (even if it has attracted little scholarly interest), and must have also helped to brighten a gloomy interior, especially important if there were extensive murals or sculpture.75 Indeed, Anya Heilpern has suggested that the wall paintings at Selling (Kent) formed part of the same decorative scheme as its east window, while a sculpture of St. Nicholas presumably stood on one of the corbels that flank the east window in Stapleton’s chantry chapel (Fig. 6).76 Even where the original glass has been lost, as at Great Canfield (Essex) or Harlington (Bedfordshire), it is clear that windows—and hence light—played an integral role in the staging of paintings or sculpture above the main altar.77

The profusion of glass in fourteenth-century England attracted moral commentaries. The glass temples in Chaucer’s House of Fame (1374×1385) and John Lydgate’s Temple of Glas (late 1420s) are described in overwhelmingly positive terms, and in his 1398 translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus’ De Proprietatibus Rerum, John Trevisa, vicar of Berkely (Gloucestershire), explained that ‘glas … is ycleped vitrum for by his vertu he is bright and cleere, and light schyneþ þerþorugh’.78 Not everyone was so keen, however. In the C version of Piers Plowman (c.1382×1387), William Langland criticised the pride of those who would ‘glase þe gable and graue ther name’, and a long-standing critique of extravagant building surfaces in the condemnation of ‘curious windows’ in the dialogue between Dives and Pauper, penned sometime between 1405 and 1410.79 But the most compelling document of changing sensibilities and the anxieties they provoked is found in the anonymous Roman de Perceforest, a vast mythical history of Britain, completed c.1340. Written in French for Guillaume I, count of Hainault and father-in-law of Edward III, the Roman was certainly known in fourteenth-century England, though of course it cannot be read as a ‘reflection’ of contemporary attitudes.80 In the third part, the Temple of the Supreme God is compared with ancient churches:

And there are no windows [in the Temple of the Supreme God] except as are necessary to give enough light to see to move around the temple, and also that the image of the God might be seen and recognised. For the wise men used to say that a place for devotion ought not to have light or wall paintings so that those who are there to worship the gods are not distracted by them, for then their devotion would be less valuable.

This is contrasted with modern churches, built by men of vanity, who

by creating a view of the countryside hindered devotion and concentration [simplesse]. Moreover, now temples are so opened up and well lit that vanity has got what she wanted, for it is her nature to want to be seen and be looked at, and to see and look at [others] … when you go into a temple you have to look up like other people, and say, ‘Look at the beautiful stained glass, the beautiful painting, the beautiful vault, the beautiful statue!’ That is what some people say when they come into a temple.81

Darkness concentrates the mind, it might be said.82 But it also has other advantages. In a study of a group of exceptionally-dark pilgrimage churches in Italy, Paul Davies suggested that ‘the interiors of these shrines were intended to be dark so as to enhance the radiance of the honorific lights that burned before the miraculous image’.83 The same might be said of dark crypts. And although few parish churches in medieval England could boast of a crypt or miraculous images, all contained lights of some kind that would be near-invisible in bright, natural light. As I will show, however, the introduction of more and more natural light in England’s parish churches by no means discouraged the provision of extra artificial lights, more than matching the proliferation of devotional images in the same period.84


Artificial lights

Diocesan statutes from across thirteenth-century England—developed, for the most part, independently from the new legislation of the universal Church—imply that in every parish church a lamp was supposed to burn continuously day and night.85 At Mass at least one candle was to burn on the altar, accompanied either by a lantern or another candle. Statutes for the diocese of Winchester (1247?) stipulate what size, form, and position those candles should take, and those of Bishop Quinel of Exeter (1287) specified that churches should also have hearses (multi-branched triangular candleholders for Holy Week), a Paschal candle and candlestick, a lantern, and two processional candles, round or square.86 ‘Without fire, that is without light, celebration should not take place’, summarised William de Pagula in his hugely-popular Oculus sacerdotis, from the 1320s.87 That this mentality encouraged the accumulation of candles on parish church altars is suggested by bishop Grandisson’s statutes for Ottery St Mary (1339), in which he stipulated that the priest was ‘not to allow odd images or candles to be placed or festooned around the altar in a disorderly fashion, as happens in country chapels’.88

Many churches had several lights, their variety especially clear from the visitation records of churches belonging to St Paul’s Cathedral in 1297, or in the records of over three hundred and fifty churches visited in the archdeaconry of Norwich in 1368.89 These describe oil lamps, usually burning before the high altar or the Host (reserved in a hanging pyx or aumbry), and considered less susceptible to drafts than candles;90 candlesticks of pewter, bronze, iron, wood, latten, silver, copper, and lead (in decreasing order of popularity); paschal candlesticks, lit by a long taper or serpens from Holy Saturday till Ascension Day; hearses, which could be the triangular multi-branched candlesticks of Easter Week or iron structures (also feretra) that supported candles for funerals;91 rowel lights (rotundale or rota), wheel-shaped chandeliers suspended from the roof; candles and tapers, usually round, sometimes square, and occasionally painted or perfumed; torches (made of wax mixed with resin, hence slow burning but smoky), as well as lanterns, used when carrying the Host to visit the sick.92 The ‘ij trostel’ cum candelabris’ recorded in 1368 in St Peter Hungate, Norwich, are probably equivalent to trendells (or trendles/trendals): coiled tapers, sometimes attached to the outer rim of a wheel and suspended.93 They are only recorded in significant numbers in parish churches from the 1430s onwards.94 Rushlights—made from rushes dipped in fat—were reserved for domestic contexts (except perhaps for the poorest churches), while cresset stones of various sizes, which held lamps with floating wicks, seem to have been used almost exclusively in monastic contexts and especially dormitories, though many were moved to parish churches during the Reformation.95

Before considering how, where and when these lights were used, it is important to understand their intimate relationship with the parish economy. The Canons of Edgar (1005×1008) stipulated that ‘there is always to be a light burning in the church when mass is being sung’ and that this should be funded by the lightscot, a tax provided by parishioners three times a year.96 This practice continued in many places into the fifteenth century and beyond, but other methods of raising funds were also increasingly employed.97 For example, visitations of churches in the gift of St. Paul’s of c.1249×1252 record that the church at Alderbury (Hertfordshire) had three lamps before the high altar, one of which was maintained by parishioners. Levies on houses and households helped to provide wax for lights at Easter and for the rowel light, but other lights depended on offerings.98 At the other end of the period under study, the churchwardens’ accounts of St. Michael’s, Oxford, record that an annual collection for oil was still taking place in 1404–5.99 Indeed, responsibility for managing lights was commonly delegated to churchwardens or lightwardens (first documented in 1260), partly in order to ensure that donations were not diverted elsewhere, a practice regularly forbidden in thirteenth-century diocesan statutes.100 In the diocese of Salisbury (1228×1256), clergy were responsible for the lantern and candlesticks for the altar, but parishioners had to provide wax for Easter, candles in the chancel, and sufficient light for the whole year, ‘for Matins, Vespers and for mass’.101 In most parish churches that wax probably came from local hives, but bigger institutions commonly imported wax, especially from the Baltic, though occasionally from Portugal too.102

If parishioners paid for the fuel, what of the candlesticks and lamps in which it burned? Visitation records for the diocese of Ely (1278×1390) record the donors of numerous liturgical books, vestments and occasionally chalices, but only rarely of candlesticks and other devices. One exception is recorded at the church at Linton (Cambridgeshire), where a visitation of 1365×1390 records ‘ii candelabra enea ex dono parochianorum’.103 The same hand records that the church at Shingay (Cambridgeshire) had a rowell with ten lamps hanging in the chancel, donated by the former vicar, and that Elm (Cambridgeshire) had been given two brass and two wooden candlesticks.104 Candles or lamps for the high altar were normally the responsibility of the rector or vicar, and are hence only recorded in visitation records if missing.105 For example, at a visitation to the now-ruined Well chapel in Kent (1327×1329) it was reported that:

The Rectors in times past, and the present Rector, were wont to find two wax lights with their candlesticks on the high altar, and the present Rector has taken them away, and does not find lights at celebrations on week days in church. On the 19th March the Rector appeared as above, and said that he does and provides, as his predecessors have done, and as he by law is bound to do.106

At Erdesely (Herefordshire) in 1397, the shortcomings of the deeply-unpopular vicar included his failure to provide a lamp burning night and day.107 The vicar of Worley was equally disliked: the two candles he provided to burn during Mass on Sundays and feast days were apparently too small.108

Maintaining income for lights was a constant preoccupation. In the dioceses of Winchester and Wells, gifts for lighting were supported by indulgences of ten days.109 Elsewhere, reliable income was ensured by leasing out livestock to local parishioners.110 For example, at Kirby-le-Soken (Essex), the lease of no less than 121 sheep provided wax or oil for multiple lights in the church in the mid-thirteenth century.111 More common—and affordable even for lesser benefactors—was the assignment of rental income.112 In his valuable study of lighting before the Black Death, David Postles describes an unusually-generous donation by Matthew de Columbariis, who in the mid-thirteenth century attorned service and rent to the parish church of Tytherley (Hampshire) to pay for twelve candles, each of one pound, to burn every day at Mass.113 Their residue was to be divided and burnt before the Cross and before the Lady altar for the antiphony after Mass. Donations in the fourteenth century were more commonly made post-mortem, however, as in the 1335 testament of Richard Gubb, fishmonger, in which he gave two tenements and a brewhouse to maintain a lamp burning from sunset to sunrise in the parish church of St. Mary Somerset in the City of London.114

The establishment of guilds and fraternities meant that lesser benefactors could also contribute via collective donations.115 Detailed and extensive guild returns from 1389 suggest that in many merchant communities guilds had assumed significant responsibilities for providing extra candles on altars, for funerals, and before images.116 Thus in a will proved in London in 1332, John Potyn, girdler, left money to the fraternity that provided wax tapers before the cross in St. Lawrence, Jewry. He further stipulated that one large taper be placed near the Easter Sepulchre on Good Friday and that it should be lit from after the antiphon Caro mea requiescet in spe until the end of the Easter octave; any leftover wax could be used to make other tapers.117 Some years later (1368), the fraternity of St. Stephen was founded to provide the thirty-one lbs of wax required to maintain five candles burning before an image of the Virgin in St. Stephen’s, Coleman Street in London.118 Members paid five shillings and one pound of wax to enter the guild of St. Mary, founded in Beverley (East Riding, Yorkshire) in 1355, and for Candlemas each year dressed up for a procession through the town with Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and angels, accompanied by a candlestick with twenty-four thick wax lights ‘and other great lights’.119 Other guild members marched in pairs to the church, where they presented a half-pound wax light at the altar: a version of the Candlemas ceremonies that took place in every church and village.120

These donations and institutions formed part of a much larger economy of wax in both ecclesiastical and domestic contexts.121 Wax was often used for payments in kind, and in 1297 a London tailor, Gilbert de Chippestede, left a tenement to John Fader, chandler, on condition that he provide a wax torch each year in the church of St. Nicholas Acon at the elevation of the Host.122 Huge quantities of wax from Poland and Lubeck (214 and 252 lbs respectively) were recorded as pledges in London in 1353, while the wardens of the chantry of St. Mary in Bridgwater (Somerset) kept seventy-two lbs of wax in storage, and made extra money from the sale of candles for various burials.123 An inventory from 1373 of the house of house of Emma Hatfield, a London chandler’s daughter, includes multiple tubs of ‘Seville oil’ (olive oil), wax, fat, cords, and ‘green candles’.124 Meanwhile, the London waxchandlers’ ordinances of 1358 and 1371 forbade them from mixing wax with resin or fat when making ‘cierges, torchyes, priketz, great candles or any other manner of wax-chandlery’.125 Tallow candles, sometimes known as Paris candles, were easily made at home with reduced animal fat, and were significantly cheaper than wax candles, but were more susceptible to guttering, sagging, and dripping, and burnt with a greasy odour.126 Torches—made of wax mixed with resin—were slow burning and were especially used for funerary processions, although their tendency to sputter and smoke meant they were best avoided according to John Mirk’s Instructions for Parish Priests, probably written in the late 1380s.127 Archaeological evidence from domestic contexts in Winchester and London suggests that between the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, candles, tapers, and torches increasingly displaced lamps as the preferred method of lighting, probably because wax was becoming cheaper.128 This seems to be corroborated by the visitation records: although they often merely record payments ‘ad luminare’ or ‘ad lumen’, the St. Paul’s visitations of 1249×1252 describe several churches with multiple lamps, whilst those of 1297 and 1458 usually record just one.129 Only fourteen of over three hundred and fifty churches in the archdeaconry of Norwich had more than one lamp in 1368; at All Saint’s, Bristol, churchwardens spent twenty-four shillings and five and a half pence on wax in 1408–9, but just twenty-one and a half pence on oil.130

Where were these lights? Lamps burned perpetually before the high altar or the reserved Host, and were renewed at Easter.131 At Kirby-le-Soken (Essex) in 1249×52, lights are recorded on the altars (or before the images) of the Virgin, St. Peter and St. Michael, before the cross, in the chancel, and on the rowel.132 They were especially common on the Rood, and on the Easter sepulchre.133 Additional lighting—usually in the form of torches—was common during special moments of the liturgy, especially at the elevation of the Host, but also for the Mary Mass, and during the Salve Regina or other antiphons sung in the Marian offices.134 Then there were extra lights for Sundays and great feast days (especially Christmas, Candlemas, and Easter), and candles and tapers played a significant role in church consecrations, for penitential ceremonies, at the blessing of the font, at baptism, and for lighting funerals and marriage services.135 Lamps were sometimes lit in cemeteries, while a large stone monument in the graveyard of All Saints, Bisley (Gloucs) may have housed funerary lights, and probably dates to the thirteenth century.136 The most spectacular light of all was the Paschal candle, sometimes painted, and of impressive size. Charles Cox estimated that these commonly weighed as much as fifteen pounds, though this applies better to the fifteenth century than the thirteenth or fourteenth; in the 1380s the Paschal candle in wealthy Bridgwater, Somerset, weighed eight and a half pounds.137 In any case, the candle was made to look more impressive by being placed on a ‘Judas’ or candlestock, painted to resemble a candle; fourteenth-century examples survive in the British Museum and in Jesus College, Cambridge (Fig. 9).138 Paschal candles were theoretically paid for by parishioners and occasionally appear in testamentary provisions, hence any wax that still remained after Trinity Sunday could be fashioned into candles for funerals for the poor.139

Candlestock or ‘Judas’, now in the British Museum, inv. 1965,0403.1. Painted wax, first half of the fourteenth century
Fig. 9 Candlestock or ‘Judas’, now in the British Museum, inv. 1965,0403.1. Painted wax, first half of the fourteenth century Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

All this confirms that artificial lights played an important role in parish economies and in the experience of parish church interiors, but it is important not to over emphasise their effects. Except when the sun was out, medieval churches would almost certainly look dark to modern eyes, so accustomed are we to electric light. Just one traditional sixty-watt light bulb gives approximately seventy times more light than a candle, and in most cases lamps and candles probably provided little more than localised glimmer, even on the best-lit feast days.140 Yet the significance of artificial lights depended on much more than their effects on vision. Light has always played an important role in Christian commemoration, and was specifically emphasised in the Office for the Dead.141 ‘Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon them’, implored participants in the funerary Mass, grant them ‘a place of relief, the blessing of rest, and the brightness of your light’, they repeated during anniversaries.142

Numerous fourteenth-century wills show that lesser benefactors aped the lavish lighting provisions of the aristocracy. For example, between 1330 and 1361 testators gave between two and twenty-four pounds of wax to the church of Ludlow (Shropshire), to burn around their bodies during their funerals.143 In 1335 John of Clevedon left one hundred lbs of wax, to be fashioned into five candles to burn on the day of his burial in Clevedon (Somerset).144 In 1345 Master John de Woodhouse left thirty shillings for lights at his funeral in Sutton (East Riding, Yorkshire).145 In London, provision for torches to burn during funerals became markedly more popular from March 1348 onwards, symptomatic, perhaps, of a kind of commemorative competitiveness as funerals multiplied in the wake of the Black Death.146 Funerary torches were also commonly put to other uses.147 For example, in 1376 Sir Marmaduke Constable left money for fifteen candles to burn around his body on the day of his burial in Flamborough (East Riding, Yorkshire), together with twelve torches, borne by twelve paupers. After the funeral four torches were to be left at the high altar ‘pro reverencia corpore christi’, with two each at the altars of the Virgin and St. Katherine, with the other four distributed in the nearby church of Holme.148 Such lights were also displayed around tombs, and hearses for candles survive at the tombs of St. John Swinfield (d. 1371) in Spratton (Northamptonshire) and of Sir John Marmion (d. 1387) and his wife Elizabeth (d. 1400), in West Tanfield (North Riding, Yorkshire) (Fig. 10).

Tomb and hearse of Sir John Marmion
Fig. 10 Tomb and hearse of Sir John Marmion (d. 1387) and his wife, Elizabeth (d. 1400), St. Nicholas, West Tanfield (North Riding, Yorkshire). Photo: Author

The striking effects of such torches and tapers are partly captured in several contemporary Books of Hours.149 An initial in Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B. 11. 7, folio 80 (England, c.1415–20) shows two mourners carrying torches next to a draped coffin (Fig. 11), whilst an early-fourteenth-century English Book of Hours from the Huntington Library in San Marino, California (MS HM 1346, folio 119), shows candles on a hearse (Fig. 12).150 A taper lights the elevation of the Host in a full page miniature in the Butler Hours (Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W. 105, folio 15) of c.1350, opposite an excerpt from Psalm 4:7 in the Office of the Holy Face, ‘Signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine’ (‘The light of thy countenance is signed upon us, Lord’) (Fig. 13).151 The slender taper is shown raised perilously close to the Host, a reminder that candlelight is not directed, and only illuminates objects in very close proximity.

Torches at a funeral. Detail of an initial from a Book of Hours.
Fig. 11 Torches at a funeral. Detail of an initial from a Book of Hours. Trinity College, Cambridge, MS B. 11. 7, fol. 80. England, late fourteen or early fifteenth century. Image: © Trinity College, Cambridge (CC BY-NC 4.0)
Tapers and hearse at a funeral. Detail of an initial from a Book of Hours.
Fig. 12 Tapers and hearse at a funeral. Detail of an initial from a Book of Hours. Huntington Library, San Marino, California, MS HM 1346, fol. 119. England, first quarter of the fourteenth century. Image: © Huntington Library, San Marino (CC by 1.0)
Tapers at the Elevation of the Host. Full page miniature from the Butler Hours.
Fig. 13 Tapers at the Elevation of the Host. Full page miniature from the Butler Hours. Baltimore, Walters Art Museum, MS W. 105, fol. 15. England, c. 1350. Image: © The Walters Museum (CC0)
Detail of a rowel pulley over the rood screen, St. John the Baptist, Tideswell (Derbyshire)
Fig. 14 Detail of a rowel pulley over the rood screen, St. John the Baptist, Tideswell (Derbyshire) Photo: © Bernard O’Sullivan

Albeit refracted through the lens of manuscript conventions, these images provide valuable evidence for the use of torches and tapers, long since burned to nothing. Lighting devices from English parish churches from this period have survived little better: if not destroyed at the Reformation, many were replaced by gas or electric lights in the last two centuries, or have been lost, stolen or stored away.152 For example, in 1908 Charles Cox recorded that the church of Weston (Norfolk) preserved a Limoges enamel candlestick, but this cannot now be located.153 He also mentioned examples of pulleys for rowels in the churches of Ubbeston and Wissett in Suffolk, but the latter has since disappeared, whilst the ‘squirrel-cage’ pulley in Warsop church (Nottinghamshire), was replaced with a replica in 1957.154 A double pulley—presumably for a rowel and lamp below it—remains attached to the easternmost beam in the nave of Tideswell church (Derbyshire), and was probably installed not long after the mid-fourteenth-century wooden roof (Fig. 14). Medieval roof pulleys for lights (rather than font covers, which commonly survive) can also be found at Trunch (Norfolk), Kirkby Malham (West Riding), and Sandford-on-Avon (Northamptonshire): one for the rood and one for the rowel (Fig. 15). Overlooked by Pevsner and others, such objects urgently need to be recorded and catalogued before they disappear entirely. Only the lead plugs for a light fixing survive below a fourteenth-century image niche in Edlesborough (Buckinghamshire) (Fig. 16).155 A pair and two single Limoges candlesticks, probably donated to the church of St. Thomas the Martyr in Bristol (dedicated 1232), survive in the Bristol City Museum, but otherwise few remaining examples have secure parish provenances (Fig. 17).156 Medieval lamps, pricket candlesticks, and rushlight holders have survived better in archaeological contexts, however, and have been excavated in London and Winchester (largely in domestic contexts): the Museum of London holds a particularly fine copper-alloy lantern punctured by trefoils, for example (Fig. 18).157 It also preserves an exceptional twelfth-century bronze chandelier excavated near St Martin-le-Grand, London. Thirty-one centimetres tall and eighteen centimetres across, the chandelier resembles Jewish ‘Sabbath lamps’, but whether it comes from a Jewish or Christian context, it offers a glimpse of the elaboration of the lighting devices known otherwise only through the written record (Fig. 19).158

Rowell pulleys, St. Nicholas, Sandford-on-Avon. One for the rood, and one for the centre of the nave
Fig. 15 Rowell pulleys, St. Nicholas, Sandford-on-Avon. One for the rood, and one for the centre of the nave. Photo: Author
Image niche with plug holes for a light below in the nave north aisle, St. Mary, Edlesborough (Buckinghamshire)
Fig. 16 Image niche with plug holes for a light below in the nave north aisle, St. Mary, Edlesborough (Buckinghamshire). Photo: Richard Marks
Limoges candlesticks, from the church of St. Thomas the Martyr in Bristol
Fig. 17 Limoges candlesticks, from the church of St. Thomas the Martyr in Bristol, inv. CP37.1-4. Photo: ©Bristol City Museum
Lantern, found in Smithfield.
Fig. 18 Lantern, found in Smithfield. Height: 29.2cm. Museum of London, inv. A1366. Photo: © Museum of London
Brass hanging lamp consisting of a container for oil with six spouts to hold wicks, and an openwork 'tower'. Its decoration includs three lions and a small dish, to catch oil drips, hangs underneath. The suspension hook at the top is a modern addition and is used for display purposes. The lamp may have hung above the church's high altar. This lamp is similar to the traditional shape of a Jewish 'Sabbath lamp', lit in Jewish homes on Friday evenings and on the eve of festivals. A number of medieval lamps of this type have been found in England – all in towns that had Jewish communities before 1290 – and elsewhere in Europe. It is not certain that they are all Jewish – similar lamps may also have been used in Christian buildings.
Fig. 19 Brass lamp, resembling a ‘Sabbath Lamp’, found near St Martin-le-Grand, London. Height: 310cm, width 180cm. Museum of London, inv. 1374, probably late twelfth century. Photo: © Museum of London

Fortunately, one spectacular testimony to lighting objects and their significance came onto the market in the early 1970s. Bought by Francis Wormald, after whom it takes its name, this Processional of c.1400 was later given to the British Library (Additional MS. 57534), and offers a striking vision of candles and other devices in the liturgy. Perhaps made for the church of the Hospital of St. Giles in Norwich, the nave of which was reserved for parochial use, the Wormald Processional’s unique diagrams show in abbreviated form the correct disposition of clergy, acolytes, candles, and other liturgical objects for particular rituals or feasts according to the Sarum rite (in most cases at least).159 Folio 54v, for example, shows the Blessing of the Paschal Fire on Easter Saturday, outside the church: a deeply symbolic moment that marked the renewal of lights and hearths throughout the parish (Fig. 20).160 At the top, a candle and candlestick represent the acolyte or taperer who leads the procession. Next comes the deacon (represented by the open gospels), followed by the celebrant (with a grey tonsured head and green cope). He is flanked by two deacons to the left (with brown tonsures); to his right two acolytes are represented by an aspergillum and a thurible, and beyond is the Paschal fire. At the procession’s rear a candle and candlestick stand in for another acolyte or taperer, and at the bottom is the Paschal or Lenten candle, formed with twisted green and yellow strands and supported by a hasta or candlestick, around which a dragon or serpens is coiled.161 Other folios show an array of candles, tapers, altarpieces and other liturgical objects disposed on or before altars, fonts, and chancel steps. As Aden Kumler has recently argued, these diagrams underline the special significance of sacra and ornamenta in the medieval church, and their intimate connection with the ecclesiastical orders, exemplified by the ordination rites for acolytes:162

And then from the bishop let them receive the candlestick with a candle [cerofarium cum cereo], one in one hand, the other in the other hand, with the bishop saying to them, in the manner as above: “Receive the candlestick with the candle, so that you should know yourselves to be dedicated to the kindling of the church’s lights [ad accenda ecclesiae luminaria mancipari]”.163

Sacred office and sacred object were thus collapsed together, a phenomenon of special significance at a time when Wycliffites and Lollards challenged the status of such objects.164

The Blessing of the Paschal Fire on Easter Saturday, full page miniature from the Wormald Processional
Fig. 20 The Blessing of the Paschal Fire on Easter Saturday, full page miniature from the Wormald Processional, British Library Additional MS. 57534, fol. 54, c. 1400. Photo: © British Library Board, Additional MS. 57534

Beyond the rejoinder to a dissenting minority, what kind of symbolic freight did these lighting objects carry? Of course, light has long been the subject of symbolic and scientific speculation, but how much of this trickled down to parishioners in thirteenth- and fourteenth-century England?165 A sense of this can be glimpsed in John Mirk’s Festial. Written in Shropshire in the late 1380s and closely modelled on the Golden Legend, it contains a series of sermons for parish priests and was widely disseminated.166 As might be expected, sermons for Candlemas and Easter Week are particularly rich in light imagery. Opening with a pseudo-Roman pre-history for the feast, the sermon for Candlemas describes a series of miracles involving candles, and offers pick-and-mix symbolic interpretations of the candles borne by participants:

a candel brenyng bytokeneth oure Lady and hure Sone [and] a monvs self. For a candel ys mad of weke and of wax brenny[ng] wyth fere. Þus Crystes swete soule was hude wyth hys monhed and [brende] wyth þe fyre of hys Godhed. Hyt bytokeneth also oure Ladyes modurhed and maydonhed lyghtod wyth þe fyre of loue. Hyt bytokeneth also vch god mon and womon þat doth dedus wyth good entent and in ful loue and charyte.167

Sermons for the dramatic, darkened tenebrae services of Holy Week—attended in silence, and without the ringing of bells—cite the precedent of night-time Passion events: the Agony in the Garden, Betrayal of Judas, and darkening of the sky at Christ’s death.168 On Good Friday, when a ‘herce wyth candulles brennyng’ was brought into the church, all but one candle was extinguished,

þe whyche betokeneth þe wymmen þat madon waymentac[i]on t Crystus sepulcur. Þan aftur þis, þe candul is browte aȝeyne, and alle oþur at hit bene lyȝte, þe whyche betokenyth Crist, þat was for a qwyle dede and hyd in hys sepulcur, but sone aftur he ros frome deth to lyue and ȝaff lyȝte of lyue to alle of hem þat weron quenched be dispayre.169

Mirk’s explanation of the Paschal candle and Easter tapers was similarly straightforward:

On Astur Eve þe paschal is makud, þat betokenyth Cryste. For as þe paschal is c[h]e[f]e ta[pur] þat is in þe chirche, so is Criste þe chef seynte þat is in Haly Chirche. Also þis paschal betokyneth þe pyler of fure þat ȝode before þe schildron of Israel … Þus is þe paskal holowd and lyȝte with ne[w]e fure, and of hit alle oþur taperers bene lyȝte. For all holynesse and lyȝte of goode worchinge cometh of Crystes lore, and Holy Chirche is lyȝte wyth brennynge charite of his behestus.170

Similar tropes could be found in other sermons, homilies, and pastoral manuals, and suggest that the symbolic potential of light was widely recognised in the medieval parish church, but also that it was fairly conventional.171

Towards a conclusion

I have shown, I hope, that light was of central importance to the design and use of medieval parish churches, and its provision, regulation, and absence are surely significant for anyone concerned with changing artistic, religious, and social sensibilities in this or any period. That said, no technology could measure the ever-changing lighting conditions in a modern church, and it would be foolhardy to imagine that we could recover them in medieval parish churches. Nor is it wise to make generalisations about parish churches in medieval England when the written evidence is so significantly skewed towards parish churches in the South and East, especially from the 1320s onwards. It can nonetheless be concluded with some certainty that parish churches between 1200 and 1400 were, on the whole, considerably darker than we experience them today, but that many were lighter in 1400 than they had been in 1300 or 1200. On the whole, they had larger and lighter windows, and more artificial lights, clustered before a greater number of images. The same is almost certainly true of ‘great churches’, and of parish churches outside England, although this is yet to be tested. More specific observations on lighting in individual churches could be offered through re-appraisal of the written evidence, much of it published in the nineteenth century and now readily available online. But we also need to re-examine the churches and their contents: evidence of roof pulleys, light fittings, scorch marks, and smoke damage; the contents of parish church treasuries and the provenance of museum objects; the position, size, and glazing of windows, and changing light effects throughout the day and the year. This kind of study could extend ‘the factual and objective discipline of the catalogue’, associated with Pevsner, but it also helps to understand ‘the poetics of place and the aesthetics of religious experience’, evoked so memorably by Betjeman.172 In short, investigating light offers stimulating new ways to re-examine and reconcile material and written histories, and to bring together positivistic and experiential approaches to the study of parish churches. Light is good to think with.


I am immensely grateful to Richard Marks, Nigel Morgan and the anonymous reviewers for their exceedingly helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Paul Crossley offered insightful advice on an early version of this paper, and I dedicate it to his memory, with warm affection and in recognition of his inspirational scholarship.

[1] John Betjeman and Nigel Kerr, Sir John Betjeman’s Guide to English Parish Churches (London: HarperCollins, 1993). The glossy covers are a relatively recent phenomenon, however, and Betjeman’s original Collins guide of 1958 had a much more sober cover.
[2] Susie Harries, Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life (London: Chatto & Windus, 2011), p. 399. On the parish church and the English pastoral tradition see Paul Crossley, ‘Anglia Perdita. English Medieval Architecture and Neo-Romanticism’, in Susan L’Engle and Gerald B. Guest (eds.), Tributes to Jonathan J. G. Alexander: The Making and Meaning of Illuminated Medieval & Renaissance Manuscripts, Art & Architecture (London: Harvey Miller, 2006).
[3] David K. Coley, ‘“Withyn a temple ymad of glas”: Glazing, Glossing, and Patronage in Chaucer’s House of Fame’, The Chaucer Review 45:1 (2010): p. 76. See, however, the cautionary remarks in Paul Binski, Gothic Wonder: Art, Artifice and the Decorated Style, 1290–1350 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), pp. 345–8.
[4] John Betjeman, Church Poems (with illustrations by John Piper) (London: John Murray, 1980).
[5] For this contrast see Crossley, ‘Anglia Perdita’, p. 479.
[6] I am partly inspired by Paul Binski, ‘The English Parish Church and its Art in the Later Middle Ages: A Review of the Problem’, Studies in Iconography 20 (1999): p. 3.
[7] On light and architecture I am especially inspired by Liz James, Light and Colour in Byzantine Art (Oxford: Clarendon, 1996); Nadine Schibille, Hagia Sophia and the Byzantine Aesthetic Experience (Burlington: Ashgate, 2014); Catherine Vincent, Fiat lux: lumière et luminaires dans la vie religieuse en Occident du XIIIe siècle au début du XVIe siècle (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 2004).
[8] Erwin Panofsky, Abbot Suger on the Abbey Church of St. Denis and its Art Treasures (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1946), especially p. 21. From the same year, see also Edgar de Bruyne, Études d’esthétique médiévale (Bruges: De Tempel, 1946). For qualification of these ideas, see especially John Gage, ‘Gothic Glass: Two aspects of a Dionysian aesthetic’, Art History 5:1 (1982): pp. 36–58; John Gage, Colour and Culture: Practice and Meaning from Antiquity to Abstraction (London: Thames and Hudson, 1995); Andreas Speer, ‘Art as Liturgy: Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis and the Question of Medieval Aesthetics’, in Jacqueline Hamesse and Leonard Boyle (eds.), Roma, magistra mundi: itineraria culturae medievalis. Mélanges offerts au Père L.E. Boyle (Louvain-la-Neuve: Fédération Internationale des Instituts d’Études Médiévales, 1998); Andreas Speer, ‘Lux mirabilis et continua. Remarques sur les rapports entre la spéculation médievale sur la lumière et l’art du vitrail’, Revue d’Auvergne 118 (2004): pp. 85–98; Nicholas Reveyron, ‘Lumière et architecture au Moyen Age: la transcendance incarnée’, in Mihaela Voicu, Anca Oroveanu, Stéphanie Daussy, Cătalina Gîrbea and Brîndușa Grigoriu (eds.), Matérialité et immatérialité dans l’église au Moyen Âge (Bucharest: Editura Universitatii din Bucuresti, 2012). For useful summaries of the early historiography on light and Gothic architecture, see Roland Recht, Believing and Seeing: The Art of Gothic Cathedrals (London: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 19–30; Paul Crossley, ‘The Integrated Cathedral: Thoughts on “Holism” and Gothic Architecture’, in Evelyn Staudinger Lane, Elizabeth Carson Pastan, and Ellen Shortell (eds.), The Four Modes of Seeing: Approaches to Medieval Imagery in Honor of Madeline Harrison Caviness (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2008), pp. 163–4.
[9] See, for instance, Mary J. Carruthers, The Experience of Beauty in the Middle Ages (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013); Stella Panayotova, ‘Colour Theory, Optics and Manuscript Illumination’, in Stella Panayotova, Deirdre Jackson, and Paola Ricciardi (eds.), Colour: The Art & Science of Illuminated Manuscripts (London: Harvey Miller, 2016). These questions have rarely been treated by art historians, but for parish churches and light, see David Postles, ‘Lamps, Lights and Layfolk: “Popular” devotion before the Black Death’, Journal of Medieval History 25:2 (1999): pp. 97–114; J. Charles Cox, ‘The Lights of a Medieval Church’, in William Andrews (ed.), Curious Church Gleanings (Hull: The Hull Press, 1896); David R. Dendy, The Use of Lights in Christian Worship (London: S.P.C.K., 1959). For light in medieval domestic contexts, see Janet S. Loengard, ‘Common Law and Custom: Windows, Light, and Privacy in Late Medieval England’, in Susanne Jenks, Jonathan Rose, and Christopher Whittick (eds.), Laws, Lawyers and Texts. Studies in Medieval Legal History in Honour of Paul Brand (Leiden: Brill, 2012).
[10] Alexa Sand, ‘Visuality’, Studies in Iconography 33 (2012): pp. 89–95 provides a useful summary.
[11] Jean Bony, French Gothic Architecture of the 12th and 13th Centuries (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), figure 214. The most extensive set of images of Chartres with its stained glass removed is found in Emile Mâle, Notre-Dame de Chartres(Paris: P. Hartmann, 1948).
[12] Frederick George Lee, The History, Description, and Antiquities of the Prebendal Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Thame(London: Mitchell & Hughes, 1883), pp. 19–25.
[13] For glaziers in fourteenth-century Thame see Tim Ayers, The Medieval Stained Glass of Merton College, Oxford (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. lxxviii, 76.
[14] Norman P. Tanner, The Church in Late Medieval Norwich (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1984), pp. 118, 222. The increase in lights from 1366 onwards can also be clearly seen in W. E. Daniel, St John the Baptist, Glastonbury, Churchwardens’ Accounts, 1366–1587 (Sherborne: J. C. & A. T. Sawtell, 1895), volume four, especially pp. 89–96, 137–44.
[15] Richard W. Pfaff, The Liturgy in Medieval England: A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), p. 509.
[16] John Neale Dalton, The Collegiate Church of Ottery St Mary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1917), especially pp. 228–59, with extensive notes. Early churchwardens’ accounts survive for the Minsters of Ripon (1354 onwards) and Wimborne (1403 onwards): J. T. Fowler, Memorials of the Church of SS. Peter and Wilfrid, Ripon (Durham: Andrews & Co.,1888), pp. 88–196; E. Kaye le Fleming, ‘Wimborne Minster Church Wardens’ Accounts’, Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset 15 (1917); J. M. J. Fletcher, ‘The Churchwardens’ accounts of Wimborne Minster’, Notes and Queries for Somerset and Dorset 22 (1938).
[17] For which see Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 106.
[18] For a definition of ‘the great church’ see Christopher Wilson, The Gothic Cathedral. The Architecture of the Great Church 1130–1530 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1996), pp. 7–8.
[19] I have explored lighting at one great church in ‘Light, Canterbury and the Cult of St Thomas’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 173 (2020).
[20] The list that follows is a slightly expanded version of that in Nigel J. Morgan, ‘Books for the Liturgy and Private Prayer’, in Nigel J. Morgan and Rodney M. Thomson (eds.), The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, vol. 2: 1100–1400 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), p. 294.
[21] William Henry Jones, Vetus Registrum Sarisberiense alias dictum S. Osmundi Episcopi. The Register of S. Osmund (London: G. Bell and Son Ltd, 1883–4), volume one, pp. 275–83; William Henry Rich-Jones and William Dunn Macray, Charters and Documents Illustrating the History of the Cathedral, City, and Diocese of Salisbury, in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries(London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1891), pp. 369–70; T. C. B. Timmins, The Register of John Chandler, Dean of Salisbury 1404–17 (Devizes: Alan Sutton Publishing, 1984).
[22] William Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations of Certain Churches [in the cathedral’s patronage] in the City of London … between … 1138 and 1250’, Archaeologia 55, part 2 (1897); William Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations of Churches [in Middlesex, Essex and Hertfordshire] belonging to St Paul’s Cathedral, 1249–52’, Camden Miscellany 9 (1895); William Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations of Churches Belonging to St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1297 and in 1458’, Camden Society, New Series 55 (1895).
[23] George Oliver, Monasticon Dioecesis Exoniensis (Exeter: P. A. Hannaford, 1846); Francis C. Hingeston-Randolph, The Register of Walter de Stapeldon, Bishop of Exeter (A.D. 1307–1326) (London: George Bell & Sons, 1892); Francis C. Hingeston-Randolph, The Register of John de Grandisson, Bishop of Exeter, A.D. 1327–1369 (London: George Bell & Sons, 1897); G. G. Coulton, ‘A Visitation of the Archdeaconry of Totnes in 1342’, The English Historical Review 26:101 (1911): pp. 108–24; H. Michell Whitley, ‘Visitations of Devon Churches’, Reports and Transactions of the Devonshire Association 42 (1910): p. 446–74.
[24] C. L. Feltoe and Ellis H. Minns, Vetus liber Archidiaconi Eliensis (London: G. Bell, 1917), pp. 19–147.
[25] C. Eveleigh Woodruff, ‘Some early visitation rolls preserved at Canterbury’, Archaeologia Cantiana 32 (1917): pp. 143–80, and 33 (1918): pp. 71–90.
[26] Thomas Scott Holmes, The Register of Ralph of Shrewsbury, Bishop of Bath and Wells, 1329–1363 (London: Harrison and Sons, 1896), albeit not very informative.
[27] James Raine, The Fabric Rolls of York Minster (London: Mitchell and Son, 1859), pp. 243–4. Alexander Hamilton Thomson, ‘Documents Relating to Visitations of the Diocese and Province of York, 1407, 1423’, Miscellanea Vol II (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1916), provides a schedule only.
[28] Thomas Bannister, ‘Visitation Returns of the Diocese of Hereford’, English Historical Review 44:174 (April 1929): pp. 279–89, and 45:179 (July 1930): pp. 444–63.
[29] Henry Harrod, ‘Goods and Ornaments in Norwich Churches in the Fourteenth Century’, Norfolk Archaeology 2 (1849); A. Watkins, ‘Archdeaconry of Norwich: Inventory of Church Goods temp. Edward III’, Norfolk Record Society 19:i and 19:ii (1947–8).
[30] James Peller Malcolm, Londinium Redivivum; Or, an Antient History and Modern Description of London (London: John Nichols and Son, 1807), pp. 361–3.
[31] They are kept in Staffordshire Records Office (formerly Lichfield Record Office) LD30/9/3/2/1 and LD30/9/3/2/10-11: Collections for a History of Staffordshire (London: Harrison and Sons, 1886), volume two, part six, p. 59.
[32] Binski, ‘English parish church’, p. 8, citing C. Pamela Graves, ‘Social Space in the English Medieval Parish Church’,Economy and Society 18:3 (2006): p. 303.
[33] So much so that the Rev. C. E. Woodruff (‘Early visitation rolls’, p. 143) chose to translate only the inventories, leaving descriptions of ‘sexual irregularities’ in the original Latin!
[34] See the useful discussion in Gabriel Byng, Church Building and Society in the Later Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017), pp. 136–9.
[35] For later accounts see Beat A. Kümin, The Shaping of a Community: The Rise and Reformation of the English Parish, c.1400–1560 (Brookfield: Scolar Press 1996), pp. 265–9; Ronald Hutton, The Rise and Fall of Merry England: The Ritual Year 1400–1700 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994), pp. 263–93.
[36] T. B. Dilks, Bridgwater Borough Archives, 1200–1377 (Frome: Somerset Record Society, 1933); T. B. Dilks, Bridgwater Borough Archives, 1377–1399 (Frome: Somerset Record Society, 1938).
[37] C. B. Pearson, ‘The Churchwardens’ Accounts of the Church and Parish of St Michael without the North Gate, Bath, 1349–1575’, Somerset Archaeological and Natural History Society’s Proceedings 23–26 (1877–80).
[38] John Roberts Boyle, The Early History of the Town and Port of Hedon, in the East Riding of the County of York (Hull: A. Brown & Sons, 1895).
[39] Daniel, St John, volume 4, pp. 89–96, 137–44.
[40] Thomas Serel, Historical Notes on the Church of Saint Cuthbert in Wells (Wells: J. M. Atkins, 1875), pp. 97–104.
[41] Philippa Hoskin, ‘Some Late Fourteenth-Century Gild and Fabric Wardens’ Accounts from the Church of St Margaret’s, Walmgate, York’, in David Smith (ed.), The Church in Medieval York: Records Edited in Honour of Professor Barrie Dobson(York: The Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 1999).
[42] Clive Burgess, The Pre-Reformation Records of All Saints’, Bristol (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1995–2000), volume one, pp. 31–4, 49-135.
[43] Richard Peter and Otho Bathurst Peter, The Histories of Launceston and Dunheved, in the County of Cornwall (Plymouth: W. Brendon and Son, 1885), pp. 113–14.
[44] Charles Kerry, A History of the Municipal Church of St. Lawrence, Reading (Edinburgh: Ballantyne Press, 1883).
[45] H. E. Salter, ‘The Churchwardens’ Accounts of St. Michael’s Church, Oxford’, Transactions of the Oxfordshire Archaeological Society 78 (1933). For St. Mary Magdalen see County Record Office Par Oxford St. Mary Magdalen, c. 64, d. 8. For St Aldate’s see Oxford History Centre, Par St. Aldate c. 15.
[46] Woodruff, ‘Early visitation rolls’, p. 167.
[47] Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1297 and 1458’, p. 48.
[48] Rose Graham, ‘A Contract to Rebuild the Chancel of Sandon Church, Hertfordshire’, Archaeological Journal 87:1 (1930): pp. 21–3.
[49] William Page (ed.), A History of the County of Hertford (London: Constable, 1912), volume three, pp. 270–6; Nikolaus Pevsner, Hertfordshire (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1953), pp. 230–1.
[50] Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1297 and 1458’, pp. 5, 17, 22, 25–7, 29, 34–5, 37, 40, 41, 43–8, 55–6.
[51] Bannister, ‘Visitation’, volume forty-four, p. 288 : ‘cancellus est obscurus et tenebrosus, ita quod clerici non possunt legere propter defectum luminis, in defectu Rectoris’. At a nearby church the chancel was said to be so dark that Mass could not be celebrated without a candle, a problem exacerbated by the failure to provide torches for the elevation of the Host: Bannister, ‘Visitation’, vol. 44, pp. 288 and 447.
[52] Feltoe and Minns, Vetus liber, pp. 40–1: ‘defic. candelabra process[ionalia] et lanterna et celatura ultra altare et tabula retro altar[e] nec est ibi lumen competens’.
[53] I am grateful to Nigel Morgan, who pointed out to me that ‘tabula’ could also refer to a frontal. The chancel was replaced in the nineteenth century, but the fourteenth-century sedilia and piscina survive: William Page, The Victoria History of the County of Rutland (London: Archibald Constable, 1935), volume two, pp. 66–72. Payments for the window and altarpiece are recorded in the archives of Lincoln Cathedral, Dean & Chapter, Common Fund, Bj.2.4, folio 15v. I am grateful to Lesley Milner for drawing my attention to these accounts.
[54] Whitley, ‘Visitations’, p. 457; Hingeston-Randolph, Stapeldon Register, p. 338.
[55] Whitley, ‘Visitations’, p. 453.
[56] Whitley, ‘Visitations’, p. 465; Hingeston-Randolph, Stapeldon Register, p. 34.
[57] Whitley, ‘Visitations’, p. 454; Nikolaus Pevsner, South Devon (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1952), pp. 269–70.
[58] Whitley, ‘Visitations’, p. 471; Pevsner, South Devon, pp. 253–4.
[59] Warwick Rodwell and Kirsty Rodwell, Rivenhall: Investigations of a Villa, Church, and Village, 1950–1977 (London: Council for British Archaeology, 1985–1993), 1986, p. 133; Richard Keith Morris, Churches in the Landscape (London: Dent and Sons, 1989), p. 297. Assuming that this is more than fortuitous, it is hard to believe that it was planned from the beginning: it seems more likely that internal furnishings were moved or extant openings modified so as to capitalise on effects that were already partially visible. See the cautionary remarks in Ian Hinton, ‘Church Alignment and Patronal Saint’s Days’, The Antiquaries Journal 86 (2006): pp. 206–26; Anne Sassin Allen, ‘Church Orientation in the Landscape: a Perspective from Medieval Wales’, Archaeological Journal 173:1 (2016): pp. 154–87.
[60] See, for example, Alixe Bovey, ‘Communion and Community: Eucharistic Narratives and their Audience in the Smithfield Decretals (BL, Royal MS 10 E IV)’, in Joyce Coleman, Mark Cruse, and Kathryn Smith (eds.), The Social Life of Illumination: Manuscripts, Images and Communities in the Late Middle Ages (Turnhout: Brepols, 2013).
[61] Peter Draper, The Formation of English Gothic: Architecture and Identity (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), p. 191; Morris, Churches, pp. 296–8.
[62] Christopher T. Simmons, ‘Fiat Lux: Climatic Considerations in Medieval Stained Glass Aesthetics’ (PhD diss., McGill University, Montréal, 2008).
[63] Jennifer Sherwood and Nikolaus Pevsner, Oxfordshire (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979), pp. 806–7; Mary Lobel (ed.), A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 7, Dorchester and Thame Hundreds (London: Oxford University Press, 1962), pp. 199–219.
[64] Nikolaus Pevsner and John F. Harris, Lincolnshire (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1964), pp. 182–3, 597–9; Nikolaus Pevsner, North-west and South Norfolk (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1962), pp. 364–6; Nikolaus Pevsner, Cambridgeshire (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1954), pp. 406–8.
[65] Morris, Churches, p. 293; V. L. Kennedy, ‘The Moment of Consecration and the Elevation of the Host’, Mediaeval Studies 6 (1944): pp. 121–50; Aden Kumler, Translating Truth: Ambitious Images and Religious Knowledge in Late Medieval France and England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011), pp. 103–38.
[66] Alan Brooks and Nikolaus Pevsner, Herefordshire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012), pp. 497–501; Sarah Brown, ‘The Fourteenth-Century Stained Glass of Madley’, in David Whitehead (ed.), Hereford: Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology (Leeds: Maney Publishing, 1995); Heather Gilderdale, ‘Panel of the Month’, Vidimus 4, accessed 1 June 2021,
[67] Richard Marks, Stained Glass in England During the Middle Ages (London: Routledge, 1993), pp. 127–9; Nigel J. Morgan, The Medieval Painted Glass of Lincoln cathedral (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), pp. 27, 38–40.
[68] Examples include glass in St. Peter’s, East Tytherley, Hampshire (c.1230–50), or the prophets in All Saint’s, Bale, in Norfolk (c.1360–80). See ‘Medieval Glass at Salisbury Cathedral’, Vidimus 23, accessed 1 June 2021,; ‘Norfolk: Bale, Parish Church of All Saints’, Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi, accessed 1 June 2021,
[69] Anya Heilpern, ‘The East Window of St Mary’s Church, Selling, Kent: A Royal Window in the Shadow of Canterbury, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 165:1 (2012), p. 149, note 48. More broadly, see Ayers, Merton, pp. 27–9; Marks, Stained Glass, pp. 137–8, 141–53; Morgan, Lincoln Cathedral, pp. 27, 38–40; Christopher T. Simmons and Lawrence A. Mysak, ‘Transmissive Properties of Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in European Churches’, Architectural Science Review 53:2 (2010), pp. 263–5.
[70] See John McNeill, ‘A Prehistory of the Chantry’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association 164:1 (2011): p. 36, note 106; Anna Eavis, ‘St Nicholas, Charles Winston and Conservation at North Moreton’, Vidimus 25, accessed 1 June 2021,
[71] Peter A. Newton and Jill Kerr, The County of Oxford: A Catalogue of Medieval Stained Glass (London: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 201–7.
[72] For example, in 1220 the chancel of St. James at Ruscombe was missing glass in its windows; eighty years later the glass was recorded as broken: Jones, Vetus Registrum, volume one, p. 279; Rich-Jones and Macray, Charters, p. 369.
[73] L. F. Salzman, Building in England Down to 1540: A Documentary History (New York: Kraus Reprint Co., 1979), pp. 173–4; John Charles Cox, Churchwardens’ Accounts from the Fourteenth Century to the Close of the Seventeenth Century (London: Methuen & Co., 1913), p. 87.
[74] Richard Marks, ‘Wills and Windows: Documentary Evidence for the Commissioning of Stained Glass Windows in Late Medieval England’, in Richard Marks (ed.), Studies in the Art and Imagery of the Middle Ages (London: Pindar Press, 2012), pp. 201–2, citing the Register of Bishop Braybrooke: London, Guildhall MS 9531/3, folios 447r-v.
[75] It is recorded internally and externally at St. Michael’s, Bath, in 1394, for example: Pearson, ‘Churchwardens’ Accounts’, volume twenty-three, p. 15.
[76] Heilpern, ‘The East Window’, p. 137.
[77] See Richard Marks, Image and Devotion in Late Medieval England (Stroud: Sutton, 2004), figures 33, 34, 51, and especially 29 and 57.
[78] Coley, “Withyn a temple”, pp. 60–4; Binski, Gothic Wonder, p. 346; M. C. Seymour, On the Properties of Things: John Trevisa’s Translation of Bartholomaeus Anglicus “De proprietatibus rerum”, a Critical Text (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975), volume two, pp. 878–80.
[79] William Langland, Piers Plowman: The C Version (London: Athlone Press, 1997), pp. 245–6; Binski, Gothic Wonder, pp. 348–51; Priscilla Heath Barnum, Dives and Pauper. Vol. 1, part 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976), pp. 189–90.
[80] Julian Munby, Richard W. Barber, and Richard Brown, Edward III’s Round Table at Windsor: The House of the Round Table and the Windsor Festival of 1344 (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2007), chapter eight; Sylvia Huot, Postcolonial Fictions in the Roman de Perceforest: Cultural Identities and Hybridities (Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer, 2007), p. 180.
[81] Gilles Roussineau (ed.), Perceforest. Troisième partie (Geneva: Droz, 1988–93), volume three, pp. 26–7 (translation kindly provided by Mark Spurrell).
[82] See especially Gage, Colour and Culture, p. 69.
[83] Paul Davies, ‘The Lighting of Pilgrimage Shrines in Renaissance Italy’, in Erik Thunø and Gerhard Wolf (eds.), The Miraculous Image in the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance (Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider, 2004), p. 68.
[84] See Marks, Image and Devotion, pp. 87–91, 161–9.
[85] Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 99; Vincent, Fiat Lux, pp. 48–59.
[86] Frederick M. Powicke and Christopher R. Cheney, Councils & Synods, With Other Documents Relating to the English Church: 2: A.D. 1205–1313 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964), pp. 404, 1006.
[87]Sine igne, id est sine lumine, celebrare non licet’: Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), p. 62, citing Dendy, Use, p. 38. See Leonard E. Boyle, ‘The “Oculus Sacerdotis” and Some Other Works of William of Pagula: The Alexander Prize Essay’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5 (1955).
[88]qui eciam non permittat varias ymagines nec cereos apponi nec affigi circa altaria incomposite, ut fit in ecclesiis ruralibus’:Dendy, Use, p. 54; Dalton, Ottery, pp. 170–1.
[89] Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1297 and 1458’, pp. xxxiii–xxxvii; Watkins, ‘Archdeaconry’, part two, pp. lxxxv–lxxxvi, xcii. There is no space here to consider other countries, but lights are also recorded in detail in visitation records of Icelandic churches between 1315 and 1397, for example: Jón Thorkelsson (ed.), Diplomatarium islandicum (Kaupmannahöfn: Möller & Thomson, 1893–7), volumes 2–4.
[90] Powicke and Cheney, Councils & Synods 2, p. 592 (statutes of Bath and Wells, ?1258).
[91] Powicke and Cheney, Councils & Synods 2, p. 296.
[92] The relative value of some of these objects can be gleaned from the 1307–8 inventory of Temple Church, London: Harrod, ‘Goods’, pp. 90–1, note 2. For perfumed candles see Carole Rawcliffe, ‘“Gret Criynge and Joly Chauntynge”: Life, Death, and Liturgy at St. Giles’s Hospital, Norwich, in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries’, in Carole Rawcliffe, Roger Virgoe, and Richard Wilson (eds.), Counties and Communities: Essays on East Anglian History Presented to Hassell Smith (Norwich: Centre of East Anglian Studies, University of East Anglia, 1996), p. 41.
[93] Watkins, ‘Archdeaconry’, part two, p. lxxxvi; Vincent, Fiat lux, p. 447.
[94] Cox, Churchwardens’ Accounts, pp. 165–6.
[95] John Charles Cox, English Church Fittings, Furniture and Accessories (London: B. T. Batsford, 1933), pp. 230–2; F. W. Robins, The Story of the Lamp (and the Candle) (London: Oxford University Press, 1939), p. 89; Martin Biddle (ed.), Object and Economy in Medieval Winchester: Artefacts From Medieval Winchester (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), p. 985. See, however, Dalton, Ottery, pp. 231–2.
[96] Christopher N. L. Brooke, M. Brett, and Dorothy Whitelock, Councils & Synods, With Other Documents Relating to the English Church. 1, A.D. 871–1204 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1981), pp. 328, 332.
[97] Postles, ‘Lamps’, pp. 99, 104.
[98] Postles, ‘Lamps’, pp. 109–10; Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1249–52’, pp. 17–18.
[99] Salter, ‘St. Michael’s Church, Oxford’, p. 2.
[100] Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 104; John Moorman, Church life in England in the thirteenth century (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), p. 143; Carol Davidson Cragoe, ‘The custom of the English Church: parish church maintenance in England before 1300’, Journal of Medieval History 36:1 (2010), especially p. 37.
[101] Powicke and Cheney, Councils & Synods 2, p. 513.
[102] Alexandra Sapoznik, ‘Bees in the Medieval Economy: Religious Observance and the Production, Trade, and Consumption of Wax in England, c.1300–1555’, The Economic History Review 72:4 (2019): p. 16.
[103] Feltoe and Minns, Vetus Liber, pp. 62–3.
[104] Feltoe and Minns, Vetus Liber, pp. 106–7, 116–17.
[105] Watkins, ‘Archdeaconry’, part two, p. lxxxxv.
[106] Woodruff, ‘Early visitation rolls’, volume thirty-three, p. 74.
[107] Bannister, ‘Visitation’, volume forty-five, p. 447 (and again at Aure, p. 450).
[108] Bannister, ‘Visitation’, volume forty-four, p. 286.
[109] Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 105, citing Powicke and Cheney, Councils & Synods 2, pp. 404, 592–3, 704.
[110] Postles, ‘Lamps’, pp. 109–10; Woodruff, ‘Early visitation rolls’, volume thirty-two, p. 178; volume thirty-three, p. 84; C. Eveleigh Woodruff, ‘Some Early Kentish Wills’, Archaeologia Cantiana 46 (1934): pp. 28–9; Andrew Brown, Popular Piety in Late Medieval England: The Diocese of Salisbury, 1250–1550 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 105.
[111] Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1249–52’, pp. 32–3.
[112] Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 105.
[113] Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 105.
[114] Postles, ‘Lamps’, pp. 113–14; Reginald Robinson Sharpe (ed.), Calendar of Wills: Proved and Enrolled in the Court of Husting, London, A.D. 1258–A.D. 1688 (London: John C. Francis, 1889), volume one, p. 404.
[115] See also Carol Davidson Cragoe, ‘Belief and Patronage in the English Parish before 1300: Some Evidence from Roods’, Architectural History 48 (2005): pp. 21–48.
[116] Ben R. McRee, ‘Religious Gilds and Civil Order: The Case of Norwich in the Late Middle Ages’, Speculum 67:1 (1992): pp. 69–97; B. A. Hanawalt, ‘Keepers of the Lights: Late Medieval English Parish Gilds’, Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 14 (1984): p. 28; David J. F. Crouch, Piety, Fraternity and Power: Religious Gilds in Late Medieval Yorkshire, 1389–1547 (Woodbridge: York Medieval Press, 2000), pp. 30–1.
[117] Sharpe, Calendar of Wills, volume one, p. 384.
[118] John Mottley and John Stow, A Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster: Borough of Southwark, and Parts Adjacent(London: T. Read, 1733), volume one, p. 567.
[119] Joshua Toulmin Smith and Lucy Toulmin Smith, English Gilds. The Original Ordinances of More than One Hundred Early English Gilds (London: Oxford University Press, 1870), pp. 149–50.
[120] For Candlemas see Gail McMurray Gibson, ‘Blessing from Sun and Moon. Churching as Women’s Theater’, in Barbara Hanawalt and David Wallace (eds.), Bodies and Disciplines: Intersections of Literature and History in Fifteenth-Century (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1996).
[121] For this economy, see for example, Salter, ‘St. Michael’s Church, Oxford’, p. 3. For lighting in domestic contexts see Jean Verdon, Night in the Middle Ages (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002), pp. 71–9.
[122] Postles, ‘Lamps’, p. 102; Sharpe, Calendar of Wills, volume one, p. 133.
[123] A. H. Thomas, Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London, at the Guildhall, 1323–64 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1926), pp. 162, 244; Dilks, Bridgwater, 1377–1399, pp. 24–5.
[124] A. H. Thomas, Calendar of Plea and Memoranda Rolls Preserved Among the Archives of the Corporation of the City of London, at the Guildhall, 1364–1381 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1929), pp. 158–9. For green torches at St. James’s, Hedon, in 1409–10, see Boyle, Early History, p. clxiv.
[125] Thomas Riley, Memorials of London and London Life in the 13th, 14th and 15th Centuries (London: Longmans, Green, 1868), pp. 162, 358–60; John Dummelow, The Wax Chandlers of London: A Short History of the Worshipful Company of Wax Chandlers, London (Chichester: Phillimore, 1973), pp. 12–14.
[126] Approximately four times cheaper than wax candles in fourteenth-century Winchester (Biddle, Object, p. 984), and six times cheaper in Tavistock and Bridgwater in the 1380s: Richard Nicholls Worth, Calendar of the Tavistock Parish Record (Plymouth: William Brendon and Son, 1887), pp. 1–5; Dilks, Bridgwater, 1377–1399, p. 192.
[127] John Mirk, Instructions for Parish Priests (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co. Ltd, 1902), p. 55; Cox, Churchwardens’ Accounts, p. 160.
[128] Sapoznik, ‘Bees’, p. 13. For the archaeological evidence, see Biddle, Object, pp. 990–1; Geoff Egan, The Medieval Household: Daily Living c.1150–c.1450 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2010), p. 126.
[129] Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1249–52’; Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1297 and 1458’.
[130] Watkins, ‘Archdeaconry’, part two, p. xcii; Burgess, All Saints’, Bristol, volume forty-six, p. 51.
[131] Cox, ‘Lights’, p. 58.
[132] Sparrow Simpson, ‘Visitations in 1249–52’, pp. 31–3. Compare Bannister, ‘Visitation’, vol. 44, pp. 449-50 and vol. 45, pp. 92, 93, 97, 98 and 100.
[133] For example, Pearson, ‘Churchwardens’ Accounts’, volume twenty-three, p. 14; Pamela Sheingorn, The Easter Sepulchre in England (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute, 1987), pp. 52–60.
[134] Cox, Churchwardens’ Accounts, p. 161. See, for example, Sharpe, Calendar of Wills, volume one, p. 538; Dilks, Bridgwater, 1377–1399, pp. 216–20; Lewis Baker, James Raine, and John William Clay, Testamenta Eboracensia (London: J. B. Nichols & Son, 1836), p. 269; Feltoe and Minns, Vetus Liber, p. 125.
[135] Cox, ‘Lights’, p. 52; Cox, Churchwardens’ Accounts, pp. 160–1; Andrew Spicer, ‘“To show that the place is divine”: Consecration Crosses Revisited’, in Krista Kodres and Anu Mänd (eds.), Images and Objects in Ritual Practices in Medieval and Early Modern Northern and Central Europe (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013), pp. 41–2.
[136] Bannister, ‘Visitation’, vol. 45, 96; John Goodall, Parish Church Treasures (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), 69.
[137] Cox, ‘Lights’, p. 59; Vincent, Fiat Lux, pp. 141–4; Dilks, Bridgwater, 1377–1399, p. 192.
[138] Jonathan Alexander and Paul Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry: Art in Plantagenet England 1200–1400 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1987), pp. 243–4. In 1408–9, the churchwardens of All Saints, Bristol, spent 8½ pence on a Judas: Burgess, All Saints’, Bristol, volume forty-five, p. 51.
[139] David Lloyd, Margaret Clark, and Chris Potter, St. Laurence’s Church, Ludlow: The Parish Church and People, 1199–2009 (Little Logaston: Logaston, 2010), p. 23; Powicke and Cheney, Councils & Synods 2, pp. 56, 513, 178, 715–16.
[140] Roughly 850 lumens, as opposed to twelve.
[141] Vincent, Fiat Lux, pp. 33–5, 295–303.
[142] Matthew Cheung Salisbury (ed.), Medieval Latin Liturgy in English Translation (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 2017), pp. 85–6. These translations are taken from the Use of Sarum, but the Office varied little between different uses: Matthew Cheung Salisbury, The Use of York: Characteristics of the Medieval Liturgical Office in York (York: Borthwick Institute, University of York, 2008), p. 20; Sarah Schell, ‘The Office of the Dead in England: Image and Music in the Book of Hours and Related Texts, c.1250–c.1500’ (PhD diss., University of St Andrew’s, 2011), p. 51.
[143] Lloyd, Clark, and Potter, St. Laurence’s, p. 23.
[144] Scott Holmes, Ralph of Shrewsbury, volume one, p. 269.
[145] Baker, Raine, and Clay, Testamenta, volume one, p. 14.
[146] The earliest of these is the will of William de Bernes, a wealthy fishmonger: Sharpe, Calendar of Wills, volume one, p. 611. See also Robert Wood, ‘Life and Death: A Study of the Wills and Testaments of Men and Women in London and Bury St. Edmunds in the Late Fourteenth and Early Fifteenth Centuries’ (PhD diss., Royal Holloway, University of London, 2014), pp. 62–96.
[147] For example, Baker, Raine, and Clay, Testamenta, volume one, pp. 133, 174, 176, 206, 209; Brown, Popular Piety, p. 105.
[148] Baker, Raine, and Clay, Testamenta, volume one, pp. 93–4.
[149] Schell, ‘Office’, pp. 81–95.
[150] For these manuscripts see Paul Binski and Stella Panayotova (eds.), The Cambridge Illuminations: Ten Centuries of Book Production in the Medieval West (London: Harvey Miller, 2005), pp. 196–98; C. W. Dutschke and Richard H. Rouse, Guide to Medieval and Renaissance Manuscripts in the Huntington Library (San Marino: Huntington Library, 1989), volume two, pp. 580–2.
[151] See Nigel J. Morgan, ‘The Holy Face as Icon and Vision in Fourteenth-Century England’, in Golden and Patton (eds.), Tributes to Adelaide Bennett Hagens: Manuscripts, Iconography, and the Late Medieval Viewer (Brepols: Brill, 2017), p. 153.
[152] Cox, ‘Lights’, pp. 61–2.
[153] John Charles Cox, English Church Furniture (London: Methuen & Co., 1908), p. 327.
[154] Cox, English Church Furniture, p. 328; A. Du Boulay Hill, ‘Summer Excursion 1914: Warsop Church’, Transactions of the Thoroton Society 18 (1914): p. 5. I am grateful to Keith Clayton, Denis Burrell, and Nick Evans for their advice on these churches.
[155] Marks, Image and Devotion, p. 162.
[156] Nos. CP37.1–4. Alexander and Binski (eds.), Age of Chivalry, pp. 242–3. Two parish churches in Uppland (Sweden) also preserve lighting devices of a type commonly recorded in English written records: a bronze candlestick from the parish church of Balingsta, and three chandeliers from Vendel-Tegelsmora church, all exhibited in the Heaven is Here exhibition in Uppsala Cathedral in 2014. Heaven is Here, accessed 1 June 2021, and
[157] Egan, The Medieval Household, pp. 126–31; Biddle, Object, pp. 980–1000.
[158] George Zarnecki, Janet Holt, and Tristram Holland (eds.), English Romanesque Art 1066–1200 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), p. 253.
[159] See Francis Wormald, ‘A Medieval Processional and its Diagrams’, in Artur Rosenauer and Gerold Weber (eds.),Kunsthistorische Forschungen Otto Pächt zu seinem 70 Geburtstag (Salzburg: Rezidenz Verlag, 1972).
[160] See Cox, ‘Lights’, p. 58.
[161] For this image in the early printed Sarum books see Christopher Wordsworth, Ceremonies and Processions of the Cathedral Church of Salisbury (Cambridge: University Press, 1901), pp. 81–2.
[162] Aden Kumler, ‘Imitatio Rerum: Sacred Objects in the St. Giles’s Hospital Processional’, Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 44:3 (2014): pp. 469–502.
[163] Kumler, ‘Imitatio’, p. 478, citing William Maskell, Monumenta ritualia ecclesiae Anglicanae (London: W. Pickering, 1846–7), volume three, p. 173.
[164] Kumler, ‘Imitatio’, p. 474.
[165] See especially Vincent, Fiat Lux, pp. 191–370; K. P. Clarke and Sarah Baccianti, On Light (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval Languages and Literatures, 2013). Compare Miri Rubin, ‘What did the Eucharist Mean to Thirteenth-Century Villagers?’, Thirteenth-Century England 4 (1992): pp. 47–55.
[166] Susan Powell, John Mirk’s Festial, Edited from British Library MS Cotton Claudius A.II (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009–11), volume one, pp. xvi–xvii, xxxii, l.
[167] Powell, Festial, volume one, pp. xlii, 57–9.
[168] Powell, Festial, volume one, p. 103.
[169] Powell, Festial, volume one, p. 104.
[170] Powell, Festial, volume one, pp. 112–13.
[171] See, for example, Richard Morris (ed.), Dan Michel’s Ayenbite of Inwyt, or Remorse of Conscience. In the Kentish Dialect, 1340 A.D. (London: Early English Text Society, 1965), p. 200; Anne B. Thompson (ed.), The Northern Homily Cycle (Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, 2008), pp. 73, 77–8. For sermons in parish churches see Siegfried Wenzel, Latin Sermon Collections from Later Medieval England: Orthodox Preaching in the Age of Wyclif (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), pp. 229–52.
[172] Crossley, ‘Anglia Perdita’, p. 479. The changing effects of parish churches could also be fruitfully explored with something equivalent to T. J. Clark, Sight of Death: An Experiment in Art Writing (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006).