The palmiest days of the sanctuary were during the time that Rodolfo di Montebello or Mombello was abbot — that is to say, roughly, between the years 1325–60. “His rectorate,” says Claretta, “was the golden age of the Abbey of La Chiusa, which reaped the glory acquired by its head in the difficult negotiations entrusted to him by his princes. But after his death, either lot or intrigue caused the election to fall upon those who prepared the ruin of one of the most ancient and illustrious monasteries in Piedmont.” 34
By the last quarter of the fifteenth century things got so bad that a commission of inquiry was held under one Giovanni di Varax in the year 1478. The following extracts from the ordinances then made may not be unwelcome to the reader. The document from which they are taken is to be found, pp. 322–336 of Claretta’s work. The text is evidently in many places corrupt or misprinted, and there are several words which I have looked for in vain in all the dictionaries — Latin, Italian, and French — in the reading-room of the British Museum which seemed in the least likely to contain them. I should say that for this translation, I have availed myself, in part, of the assistance of a well-known mediaeval scholar, the Rev. Ponsonby A. Lyons, but he is in no way responsible for the translation as a whole.
After a preamble, stating the names of the commissioners, with the objects of the commission and the circumstances under which it had been called together, the following orders were unanimously agreed upon, to wit:-
“Firstly, That repairs urgently required to prevent the building from falling into a ruinous state (as shown by the ocular testimony of the commissioners, assisted by competent advisers whom they instructed to survey the fabric), be paid for by a true tithe, to be rendered by all priors, provosts, and agents directly subject to the monastery. This tithe is to be placed in the hands of two merchants to be chosen by the bishop commendatory, and a sum is to be taken from it for the restoration of the fountain which played formerly in the monastery. The proctors who collect the tithes are to be instructed by the abbot and commendatory not to press harshly upon the contributories by way of expense and labour; and the money when collected is, as already said, to be placed in the hands of two suitable merchants, clients of the said monastery, who shall hold it on trust to pay it for the above-named purposes, as the reverends the commendatory and chamberlain and treasurer of the said monastery shall direct. In the absence of one of these three the order of the other two shall be sufficient.
“Item, it is ordered that the mandes, 35 or customary alms, be made daily to the value of what would suffice for the support of four monks.
“Item, that the offices in the gift of the monastery be conferred by the said reverend the lord commendatory, and that those which have been hitherto at the personal disposition of the abbot be reserved for the pleasure of the Apostolic See. Item, that no one do beg a benefice without reasonable cause and consonancy of justice. Item, that those who have had books, privileges, or other documents belonging to the monastery do restore them to the treasury within three months from the publication of these presents, under pain of excommunication. Item, that no one henceforth take privileges or other documents from the monastery without a deposit of caution money, or taking oath to return the same within three months, under like pain of excommunication. Item, that no laymen do enter the treasury of the monastery without the consent of the prior of cloister, 36 nor without the presence of those who hold the keys of the treasury, or of three monks, and that those who hold the keys do not deliver them to laymen. Item, it is ordered that the places subject to the said monastery be visited every five years by persons in holy orders, and by seculars; and that, in like manner, every five years a general chapter be held, but this period may be extended or shortened for reasonable cause, and the proctors-general are to be bound in each chapter to bring their procurations, and at some chapter each monk is to bring the account of the fines and all other rights appertaining to his benefice, drawn up by a notary in public form, and undersigned by him, that they may be kept in the treasury, and this under pain of suspension. Item, that henceforth neither the office of prior nor any other benefice be conferred upon laymen. The lord abbot is in future to be charged with the expense of all new buildings that are erected within the precincts of the monastery. He is also to give four pittances or suppers to the convent during infirmary time, and six pints of wine according to the custom. 37 Furthermore, he is to keep beds in the monastery for the use of guests, and other monks shall return these beds to the chamberlain on the departure of the guests, and it shall be the chamberlain’s business to attend to this matter. Item, delinquent monks are to be punished within the monastery and not without it. Item, the monks shall not presume to give an order for more than two days’ board at the expense of the monastery, in the inns at S. Ambrogio, during each week, and they shall not give orders for fifteen days unless they have relations on a journey staying with them, or nobles, or persons above suspicion, and the same be understood as applying to officials and cloistered persons. 38
“Item, within twelve months from date the monks are to be at the expense of building an almshouse in S. Ambrogio, where one or two of the oldest and most respected among them are to reside, and have their portions there, and receive those who are in religion. Item, no monk is to wear his hair longer than two fingers broad. 39 Item, no hounds are to be kept in the monastery for hunting, nor any dogs save watch-dogs. Persons in religion who come to the monastery are to be entertained there for two days, during which time the cellarer is to give them bread and wine, and the pittancer40 pittance.
“Item, women of bad character, and indeed all women, are forbidden the monk’s apartments without the prior’s license, except in times of indulgence, or such as are noble or above suspicion. Not even are the women from San Pietro, or any suspected women, to be admitted without the prior’s permission.
“The monks are to be careful how they hold converse with suspected women, and are not to be found in the houses of such persons, or they will be punished. Item, the epistle and gospel at high mass are to be said by the monks in church, and in Lent the epistle is to be said by one monk or sub-deacon.
“Item, two candelabra are to be kept above the altar when mass is being said, and the lord abbot is to provide the necessary candles.
“Any one absent from morning or evening mass is to be punished by the prior, if his absence arises from negligence.
“The choir, and the monks residing in the monastery, are to be provided with books and a convenient breviary 41 . . . according to ancient custom and statute, nor can those things be sold which are necessary or useful to the convent.
“Item, all the religious who are admitted and enter the monastery and religion, shall bring one alb and one amice, to be delivered into the hands of the treasurer and preserved by him for the use of the church.
“The treasurer is to have the books that are in daily use in the choir re-bound, and to see that the capes which are unsewn, and all the ecclesiastical vestments under his care are kept in proper repair. He is to have the custody of the plate belonging to the monastery, and to hold a key of the treasury. He is to furnish in each year an inventory of the property of which he has charge, and to hand the same over to the lord abbot. He is to make one common pittance 42 of bread and wine on the day of the feast of St. Nicholas in December, according to custom; and if it happens to be found necessary to make a chest to hold charters, &c., the person whose business it shall be to make this shall be bound to make it.
“As regards the office of almoner, the almoner shall each day give alms in the monastery to the faithful poor — to wit, barley bread to the value of twopence current money, and on Holy Thursday he shall make an alms of threepence 43 to all comers, and shall give them a plate of beans and a drink of wine. Item, he is to make alms four times a year — that is to say, on Christmas Day, on Quinquagesima Sunday, and at the feasts of Pentecost and Easter; and he is to give to every man a small loaf of barley and a grilled pork chop, 44 the third of a pound in weight. Item, he shall make a pittance to the convent on the vigil of St. Martin of bread, wine, and mincemeat dumplings, 45 — that is to say, for each person two loaves and two. . . 46 of wine and some leeks — and he is to lay out sixty shillings (?) in fish and seasoning, and all the servants are to have a ration of dumplings; and in the morning he is to give them a dumpling cooked in oil, and a quarter of a loaf, and some wine. Item, he shall give another pittance on the feast of St. James — to wit, a good sheep and some cabbages 47 with seasoning.
“Item, during infirmary time he must provide four meat suppers and two pints 48 (?) of wine, and a pittance of mincemeat dumplings during the rogation days, as do the sacristan and the butler. He is also to give each monk one bundle of straw in every year, and to keep a servant who shall bring water from the spring for the service of the mass and for holy water, and light the fire for the barber, and wait at table, and do all else that is reasonable and usual; and the said almoner shall also keep a towel in the church for drying the hands, and he shall make preparation for the mandes on Holy Thursday, both in the monastery and in the cloister. Futhermore, he must keep beds in the hospital of S. Ambrogio, and keep the said hospital in such condition that Christ’s poor may be received there in orderly and godly fashion; he must also maintain the chapel of St. Nicholas, and keep the chapel of St. James in a state of repair, and another part of the building contiguous to the chapel. Item, it shall devolve upon the chamberlain to pay yearly to each of the monks of the said monastery of St. Martin who say mass, except those of them who hold office, the sum of six florins and six groats, 49 and to the treasurer, precentor, and surveyor,50 to each one of them the same sum for their clothing, and to each of the young monks who do not say mass four florins and six groats. And in every year he is to do one O 51 for the greater priorate 52 during Advent. Those who have benefices and who are resident within the monastery, but whose benefice does not amount to the value of their clothes, are to receive their clothes according to the existing custom.
“Item, the pittancer shall give a pittance of cheese and eggs to each of the monks on every day from the feast of Easter to the feast of the Holy Cross in September — to wit, three quarters of a pound of cheese; but when there is a principal processional duplex feast, each monk is to have a pound of cheese per diem, except on fast days, when he is to have half a pound only. Also on days when there is a principal or processional feast, each one of them, including the hebdomadary, is to have five eggs. Also, from the feast of Easter to the octave of St. John the Baptist the pittancer is to serve out old cheese, and new cheese from the octave of St. John the Baptist to the feast of St. Michael. From the feast of St. Michael to Quinquagesima the cheese is to be of medium quality. From the least of the Holy Cross in September until Lent the pittancer must serve out to each monk three quarters of a pound of cheese, if it is a feast of twelve lessons, and if it is a feast of three lessons, whether a week-day or a vigil, the pittancer is to give each monk but half a pound of cheese. He is also to give all the monks during Advent nine pounds of wax extra allowance, and it is not proper that the pittancer should weigh out cheese for any one on a Friday unless it be a principal processional or duplex feast, or a principal octave. It is also proper, seeing there is no fast from the feast of Christmas to the octave of the Epiphany, that every man should have his three quarters of a pound of cheese per diem. Also, on Christmas and Easter days the pittancer shall provide five dumplings per monk per diem, and one plate of sausage meat, 53 and he shall also give to each of the servants on the said two days five dumplings for each several day; and the said pittancer on Christmas Day and on the day of St. John the Baptist shall make a relish, 54 or seasoning, and give to each monk one good glass thereof, that is to say, the fourth part of one 55 for each monk — to wit, on the first, second, and third day of the feast of the Nativity, the Circumcision, the Epiphany, and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin; and the pittancer is to put spice in the said relish, and the cellarer is to provide wine and honey, and during infirmary time those who are being bled are to receive no pittance from the pittancer. Further, from the feast of Easter to that of the Cross of September, there is no fast except on the prescribed vigils; each monk, therefore, should always have three quarters of a pound of cheese after celebration on a week-day until the above-named day. Further, the pittancer is to provide for three mandes in each week during the whole year, excepting Lent, and for each mande he is to find three pounds of cheese. From the feast of St. Michael to that of St. Andrew he is to provide for an additional mande in each week. Item, he is to pay the prior of the cloister six florins for his fine 56 . . . and three florins to the. . . . 57 and he should also give five eggs per diem to the hebdomadary of the high altar, except in Lent. Further, he is to give to the woodman, the baker, the keeper of the church, the servants of the Infirmary, the servant at the Eleemosynary, and the stableman, to each of them one florin in every year. Item, any monks who leave the monastery before vespers when it is not a fast, shall lose one quarter of a pound of cheese even though they return to the monastery after vespers but if it is a fast day, they are to lose nothing. Item, the pittancer is to serve out mashed beans to the servants of the convent during Lent as well as to those who are in religion, and at this season he is to provide the prior of the cloister and the hebdomadary with bruised cicerate; 58 but if any one of the same is hebdomadary, he is only to receive one portion. If there are two celebrating high mass at the high altar, each of them is to receive one plate of the said bruised cicerate.
“As regards the office of cantor, the cantor is to intone the antiphon ‘ad benedictus ad magnificat’ at terce, 59 and at all other services, and he is himself to intone the antiphons or provide a substitute who can intone them; and he is to intone the psalms according to custom. Also if there is any cloistered person who has begun his week of being hebdomadary, and falls into such sickness that he cannot celebrate the same, the cantor is to say or celebrate three masses. The cantor is to lead all the monks of the choir at matins, high mass, vespers, and on all other occasions. On days when there is a processional duplex feast, he is to write down the order of the office; that is to say, those who are to say the invitatory, 60 the lessons, the epistle of the gospel 61 and those who are to wear copes at high mass and at vespers. The cantor must sing the processional hymns which are sung on entering the church, but he is exempt from taking his turn of being hebdomadary by reason of his intoning the offices; and he is to write down the names of those who celebrate low masses and of those who get them said by proxy; and he is to report these last to the prior that they may be punished. The cantor or his delegate is to read in the refectory during meal times and during infirmary time, and he who reads in the refectory is to have a quart [?] of bread, as also are the two junior monks who wait at table. The cantor is to instruct the boys in the singing of the office and in morals, and is to receive their portions of bread, wine and pittance, and besides all this he is to receive one florin for each of them, and he is to keep them decently; and the prior is to certify himself upon this matter, and to see to it that he victuals them properly and gives them their food.
“The sacristan is to provide all the lights of the church whether oil or wax, and he is to give out small candles to the hebdomadary, and to keep the eight lamps that burn both night and day supplied with oil. He is to keep the lamps in repair and to buy new ones if the old are broken, and he is to provide the incense. He is to maintain the covered chapel of St. Nicholas, and the whole church except the portico of the same; and the lord abbot is to provide sound timber for doors and other necessaries. He is to keep the frames 62 of the bells in repair, and also the ropes for the same, and during Lent he is to provide two pittances of eels to the value of eighteen groats for each pittance, and one other pittance of dumplings and seasoning during rogation time, to wit, five dumplings cooked in oil for each person, and one quart of bread and wine, and all the house domestics and serving men of the convent who may be present are to have the same. At this time all the monks are to have one quarter of a pound of cheese from the sacristan. And the said sacristan should find the convent two pittances during infirmary time and two pints 63 of wine, and two suppers, one of chicken and salt meat, with white chestnuts, inasmuch as there is only to be just so much chicken as is sufficient. Item, he is to keep the church clean. Item, he has to pay to the keeper of the church one measure of barley, and eighteen groats for his clothes yearly, and every Martinmas he is to pay to the cantor sixty soldi, and he shall place a 64 . . . or boss65 in the choir during Lent. Also he must do one O in Advent and take charge of all the ornaments of the altars and all the relics. Also on high days and when there is a procession he is to keep the paschal candle before the altar, as is customary, but on other days he shall keep a burning lamp only, and when the candle is burning the lamp may be extinguished.
“As touching the office of infirmarer, the infirmarer is to keep the whole convent fifteen days during infirmary time, to wit, the one-half of them for fifteen days and the other half for another fifteen days, except that on the first and last days all the monks will be in the infirmary. Also when he makes a pittance he is to give the monks beef and mutton, 66 sufficient in quantity and quality, and to receive their portions. The prior of the cloister, cantor, and cellarer may be in the infirmary the whole month. And the infirmarer is to keep a servant, who shall go and buy meat three times a week, to wit, on Saturdays, Mondays, and Wednesdays, but at the expense of the sender, and the said servant shall on the days following prepare the meat at the expense of the infirmarer; and he shall salt it and make seasoning as is customary, to wit, on all high days and days when there is a processional duplex feast, and on other days. On the feast of St. Michael he shall serve out a seasoning made of sage and onions; but the said servant shall not be bound to go and buy meat during Advent, and on Septuagesima and Quinquagesima Sundays he shall serve out seasoning. Also when the infirmarer serves out fresh meat, he is to provide fine salt. Also the said servant is to go and fetch medicine once or oftener when necessary, at the expense of the sick person, and to visit him. If the sick person requires it, he can have aid in the payment of his doctor, and the lord abbot is to pay for the doctor and medicines of all cloistered persons.
“On the principal octaves the monks are to have seasoning, but during the main feasts they are to have seasoning upon the first day only. The infirmarer is not bound to do anything or serve out anything on days when no flesh is eaten. The cellarer is to do this, and during the times of the said infirmaries, the servants of the monastery and convent are to be, as above, on the same footing as those who are in religion, that is to say, half of them are to be bled during one fifteen days, and the other half during the other fifteen days, as is customary.
“Item, touching the office of cellarer, it is ordered that the cellarer do serve out to the whole convent bread, wine, oil, and salt; as much of these two last as any one may require reasonably, and this on all days excepting when the infirmarer serves out kitchen meats, but even then the cellarer is to serve his rations to the hebdomadary. Item, he is to make a pittance of dumplings with seasoning to the convent on the first of the rogation days; each monk and each servant is to have five dumplings uncooked with his seasoning, and one cooked with [oil?] and a quart of bread and wine, and each monk is to have one quarter of a pound of cheese. Item, upon Holy Thursday he is to give to the convent a pittance of leeks and fish to the value of sixty soldi, and. . . 67 Item, another pittance upon the first day of August; and he is to present the convent with a good sheep and cabbages with seasoning. Item, in infirmary time he is to provide two pittances, one of fowls and the other of salt meat and white chestnuts, and he is to give two pints of wine. Item, in each week he is to give one flagon [?].68 Item, the cellarer is to provide napkins and plates at meal times in the refectory, and he is to find the bread for making seasoning, and the vinegar for the mustard; and he is to do an O in Advent, and in Lent he is to provide white chestnuts, and cicerate all the year. From the feast of St. Luke to the octave of St. Martin he is to provide fresh chestnuts, to wit, on feasts of twelve lessons; and on dumpling days he is to find the oil and flour with which to make the dumplings.
“Item, as to the office of surveyor, it is ordered that the surveyor do pay the master builder and also the wages of the day labourers; the lord abbot is to find all the materials requisite for this purpose. Item, the surveyor is to make good any plank or post or nail, and he is to repair any hole in the roofs which can be repaired easily, and any beam or piece of boarding. Touching the aforesaid materials it is to be understood that the lord abbot furnish beams, boards, rafters, scantling, tiles, and anything of this description; 69 the said surveyor is also to renew the roof of the cloister, chapter, refectory, dormitory, and portico; and the said surveyor is to do an O in Advent.
“Item, concerning the office of porter. The porter is to be in charge of the gate night and day, and if he go outside the convent, he must find a sufficient and trustworthy substitute; on every feast day he is 70 . . . to lose none of his provender; and to receive his clothing in spring as though he were a junior monk; and if he is in holy orders, he is to receive clothing money; and to have his pro rata portions in all distributions. Item, the said porter shall enjoy the income derived from S. Michael of Canavesio; and when a monk is received into the monastery, he shall pay to the said porter five good sous; and the said porter shall shut the gates of the convent at sunset, and open them at sunrise.”
The rest of the document is little more than a resume of what has been given, and common form to the effect that nothing in the foregoing is to override any orders made by the Holy Apostolic See which may be preserved in the monastery, and that the rights of the Holy See are to be preserved in all respects intact. If doubts arise concerning the interpretation of any clause they are to be settled by the abbot and two of the senior monks.
34 “Storia diplomatica dell’ antica abbazia di S. Michele della Chiusa,” by Gaudenzio Claretta. Turin, Civelli & Co. 1870. p. 116.
35 “Item, ordinaverunt quod fiant mandata seu ellemosinae consuetae quae sint valloris quatuor prebendarum religiosorum omni die ut moris est.” (Claretta, Storia diplomatica, p. 325.) The mandatum generally refers to “the washing of one another’s feet,” according to the mandate of Christ during the last supper. In the Benedictine order, however, with which we are now concerned, alms, in lieu of the actual washing of feet, are alone intended by the word.
36 The prior-claustralis, as distinguished from the prior-major, was the working head of a monastery, and was supposed never, or hardly ever, to leave the precincts. He was the vicar-major of the prior-major. The prior-major was vice-abbot when the abbot was absent, but he could not exercise the full functions of an abbot. The abbot, prior-major, and prior-claustralis may be compared loosely to the master, vice-master, and senior tutor of a large college.
37 “Item, quod dominus abbas teneatur dare quatuor pitancias seu cenas conventui tempore infirmariae, et quatuor sextaria vini ut consuetum est” (Claretta, Storia diplomatica, p. 326). The “infirmariae generales” were stated times during which the monks were to let blood —“Stata nimirum tempora quibus sanguis monachis minuebatur, seu vena secabatur.” (Ducange.) There were five “minutiones generales” in each year — namely, in September, Advent, before Lent, after Easter, and after Pentecost. The letting of blood was to last three days; after the third day the patients were to return to matins again, and on the fourth they were to receive absolution. Bleeding was strictly forbidden at any other than these stated times, unless for grave illness. During the time of blood-letting the monks stayed in the infirmary, and were provided with supper by the abbot. During the actual operation the brethren sat all together after orderly fashion in a single room, amid silence and singing of psalms.
38 “Item, quod religiosi non audeant in Sancto Ambrosio videlicet in hospiciis concedere ultra duos pastos videlicet officiariis singulis hebdomadis claustrales non de quindecim diebus nisi forte aliquae personae de eorum parentela transeuntes aut nobiles aut tales de quibus verisimiliter non habetur suspicio eos secum morari faciant, et sic intelligatur de officiariis et de claustralibus” (Claretta, Storia diplomatica, p. 326).
39 The two fingers are the barber’s, who lets one finger, or two, or three, intervene between the scissors and the head of the person whose hair he is cutting, according to the length of hair he wishes to remain.
40 “Cellelarius teneatur ministrare panem et vinum et pittanciarius pittanciam” (Claretta, Stor. dip., p. 327). Pittancia is believed to be a corruption of “pietantia.” “Pietantiae modus et ordo sic conscripti . . . observentur. In primis videlicet, quod pietantiarius qui pro tempore fuerit omni anno singulis festivitatibus infra scriptis duo ova in brodio pipere et croco bene condito omnibus et singulis fratribus. . . tenebitur ministrare.” (Decretum pro Monasterio Dobirluc., A.D. 1374, apud Ducange.) A “pittance” ordinarily was served to two persons in a single dish, but there need not be a dish necessarily, for a piece of raw cheese or four eggs would be a pittance. The pittancer was the official whose business it was to serve out their pittances to each of the monks. Practically he was the maitre d’hotel of the establishment.
41 Here the text seems to be corrupt.
42 That is to say, he is to serve out rations of bread and wine to everyone.
43 “Tres denarios.”
44 “Unam carbonatam porci.” I suppose I have translated this correctly; I cannot find that there is any substance known as “carbonate of pork.”
45 “Rapiolla” I presume to be a translation of “raviolo,” or “raviuolo,” which, as served at San Pietro at the present day, is a small dumpling containing minced meat and herbs, and either boiled or baked according to preference.
46 “Luiroletos.” This word is not to be found in any dictionary: litre (?).
47 “Caulos cabutos cum salsa” (choux cabotes?)
50 “Operarius, i.e. Dignitas in Collegiis Canonicorum et Monasteriis, cui operibus publicis vacare incumbit. . . Latius interdum patebant operarii munera siquidem ad ipsum spectabat librorum et ornamentorum provincia.” (Ducange.) “Let one priest and two laymen be elected in every year, who shall be called operarii of the said Church of St. Lawrence, and shall have the care of the whole fabric of the church itself . . . but it shall also pertain to them to receive all the moneys belonging to the said church, and to be at the charge of all necessary repairs, whether of the building itself or of the ornaments.” (Statuta Eccl. S. Laur. Rom. apud Ducange.)
51 O. The seven antiphons which were sung in Advent were called O’s. (Ducange.)
52 “Pro prioratu majori.” I have been unable to understand what is here intended.
54 “Primmentum vel salsam.”
55 “Biroleti.” I have not been able to find the words “carmingier,” “primmentum,” and “biroletus” in any dictionary. “Biroletus” is probably the same as “luiroletus” which we have met with above, and the word is misprinted in one or both cases.
56 “Item, priori claustrali pro sua dupla sex florinos.” “Dupla” has the meaning “mulcta” assigned to it in Ducange among others, none of which seem appropriate here. The translation as above, however, is not satisfactory.
57 “Pastamderio.” I have been unable to find this word in any dictionary. The text in this part is evidently full of misprints and corruptions.
58 “Ciceratam fractam.” This word is not given in any dictionary. Cicer is a small kind of pea, so cicerata fracta may perhaps mean something like pease pudding.
59 Terce. A service of the Roman Church.
60 “Invitatorium.” Ce nom est donne a un verset qui se chante ou se recite au commencement de l’office de marines. Il varie selon les fetes et meme les feries. Migne. Encyclopedie Theologique.
61 “Epistolam Evangelii.” There are probably several misprints here.
62 “Monnas.” Word not to be found.
64 Word missing in the original.
65 “Borchiam.” Word not to be found. Borchia in Italian is a kind of ornamental boss.
66 “Teneatur dare religiosis de carnibus bovinis et montonis decenter.”
67 “Foannotos.” Word not to be found.
69 “Enredullas hujusmodi” [et res ullas hujusmodi?].
70 “In processionibus deferre et de sua prebenda nihil perdat vestiarium vere suum salvatur eidem sicut uni monacullo.”
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