Financing St. Bartholomew-the-Great: 

Advowsons & Possessions of the Priory

Horizontal rule

According to the Book of the Foundation, Rahere returned from his Rome pilgrimage on fire to build the church and hospital he'd promised to St. Bartholomew. First he consulted his colleagues from the city, "barons of London." These citizens confirmed what he probably already knew, that in order to build anything of significance in the marketplace in Smithfield, Rahere would need permission from the Crown. Apparently Henry I received the request graciously, perhaps with subtle encouragement from the apostle himself:
...he [Rahere] betook himself at an opportune time to the king and, in the presence of Bishop Richard [Belmais or Beaumais, then Bishop of London] , whom he had won over to himself as a supporter, he effectually explained his business, and humbly besought to be allowed to bring his purpose to performance. Forthwith He, in whose hand he was, inclined the king's heart to his desire, nor could prayers be ineffective whose author was the apostle, whose hearer was God. So his saying was pleasing in the eyes of the king and, considering the man's wish to be very good, and as he was of a prudent mind, he bestowed his royal favour upon his petitioner, and graciously gave him authority to carry out his proposals.
The king's approval and authority was vital for two reasons. Nothing could happen until Rahere had land upon which to build the church, the hospital and the residential buildings required for the prayers and charitable works he'd promised God and St. Bartholomew. Only the king could grant that land, as Rahere's vision specified Smithfield as the location, where the market and surrounding fields were held by the king. But royal patronage carried a deeper, longer-term benefit. Clearly, Rahere's institution could not exist without real estate and buildings. But just as necessary, St. Bartholomew's needed ongoing, recurrent revenue, to support the canons and their work. This revenue would be derived from several sources: land held directly by the priory, and then rented or farmed; the patronage of parish churches, which led to income through donations and from the right to grant the "living" of those churches; and from taxes, tolls and fees associated with the fair held on the feastday of St. Bartholomew's.

Prior to the Reformation, money and financial support within the Catholic Church generally flowed upwards. Tithes, rents, donations and fees for church services (such as baptisms and funerals) supported the local priest and provided for the maintenance of the church and its property. Local churches paid a portion of their income to their diocese, whose bishop and cathedral provided such administration as existed at that time; and cathedrals in turn gave financial support to the Pope.

The Church in England was the largest single land-owner in the country during most of the medieval period [This is true, right? Need reference -- check Duffy]; this wealth was one of the primary causes of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Monasteries and priories like St. Bartholomew-the-Great generally owned property spread throughout the kingdom, which supported their day-to-day activities as well as the maintenance of their sites and buildings. In some situations, individuals who wanted to donate to St. Bart's would provide a fraction of the income from one of their properties. These fractional donations are called moieties.

Webb, Records, volume 1, pg. 101ff details the possessions of the Priory of St. Bartholomew-the-Great listed in an undated charter of Henry II, probably created some time between 1175 and 1179 based on the attested witnesses (with a few later additions).





My photograph of the main entrance to St. Sepulchre (12 Oct 2003)
St. Sepulchre main entrance




Vintage postcard images of Gorleston St. Andrew, published by Valentine, believed out of copyright:

Exterior image of Gorleston St. Andrew's
Interior image of Gorleston St. Andrew's



Lowestoft St. Margaret exterior, from postcard believed to be out of copyright
Lowestoft St. Margaret exterior


An artist's rendition of the Wenhaston St. Peter Doom in its original location, used with permission of the photographer, Mark Ynys-Mon


The advowson of St. Bartholomew-the-Great

During monastic times, St. Bartholomew-the-Great itself maintained a parish church for the inhabitants of Smithfield, distinct from the areas used by the canons, although contained within the priory church [check]. Webb (Records, v. II. ch XII) documents the listing of Sanctus Bartholomaeus Magnus de Smethefeld, distinct from St. Bartholomew-Exchange, in the Liber Custumarum list of city churches (circa 1303). The prior of St. Bart's, with the assistance of his convent, selected a priest to serve the parish.

The Priory of St. Bartholomew the Great was surrendered to Henry VIII on 25 October 1539, one loss during the turbulent dissolution of the monasteries. Although none of the members of the convent signed the document -- an odd omission at the time -- the surviving deed of surrender retains its monastic seal, presumably the last time the seal was used as a legal ratification of Rahere's purely religious institution. At this time, Robert Fuller, the abbot of Waltham Abbey in Essex was in commendam the prior of St. Bartholomew's -- meaning that Fuller was the patron of the Priory and drew its income, but took no responsibility for its day to day operations and the spiritual discipline of the occupants. Fuller authorized the surrender, although he did not sign the document.

As part of the deed of surrender, Henry granted the patronage of St. Bartholomew's to Sir Richard Rich and his heirs. Rich was the chancellor of the Court of Augmentations, established by the king to handle the disposal of monastic property and revenues. Rich subsequently dismantled the buildings and other holdings of the priory, and built the Tudor gatehouse above the Smithfield Gate. Henry chose John Deane, who thereby became the first rector of St. Bartholomew-the-Great, rector being Henry's newly chosen title for the incumbent of a parish living. The living was valued at £8 per annum, the salary granted to Deane and his successors.

Rich, later Baron Rich, is primarily remembered for the flexibility of his religious and political beliefs during the turbulent Tudor era. His testimony is believed to have been instrumental in the conviction and execution of Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher, the primary reason he was chosen as the worst Briton of the sixteenth century by a group of British historians. These photographs of Rich's tomb, in Felsted church, are used with permission of the photographer, Mark Ynys-Mon.

Richard Rich monument Felsted Church
Richard Rich monument in Felsted church

The Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey has held the living of St. Bartholomew-the-Great since 1951.

For more reading

The Catholic Encyclopedia article on advowsons
Wikipedia article on "in commendam"
Biography of Richard Rich


Horizontal rule - knotwork

St. Bart's coat of arms
Rahere's Garden Home
tbird's home page
Photographs and text copyright Tina Bird, 2003-2019
Last modified 15 February 2019
St. Bart's coat of arms

Horizontal rule - knotwork