The Life of Guy of Merton
Following the publication in 2019 of the first full translation of four medieval Latin documents which deal with the earliest days of Merton Priory and with its founder, Gilbert, sheriff of Surrey, Merton Historical Society is now pleased to publish the first parallel Latin/English text of The Life of Guy of Merton, one of the earliest canons of Merton, who died in 1124, just ten years after Merton was founded.
Guy, an Italian, came to Merton after a career as a ‘director of schools’. He seems to have had enough of teaching, and to have sought solace in the cloister but his obvious spiritual and intellectual gifts soon led to his being ‘headhunted’ as founding prior of first Taunton and then Bodmin.
We are indeed fortunate to have these accounts of the lives of such influential men as sheriff Gilbert and Master Guy, revealing as they do the personal struggles and the challenges of both secular and monastic life in the early 12th century.
This account was written by Rainald, a contemporary of Guy at Merton. It survives in a fifteenth-century copy found in the British Library. We are grateful to the British Library for permitting us to publish this work, and to include within it two images from the document
The Latin text was edited by Katie Hawks, and then compared with that published in 1969 by Professor Marvin L Colker. Katie also prepared a translation, as did our Chairman, Keith Penny, and they then amicably agreed the final version as published here. Katie has also contributed an introductory essay.
Click here to preview a watermarked copy with images removed for copyright reasons
See also our related publication A Priory Founded: Sheriff Gilbert at Merton:
GUY OF MERTON
Translated from original documents
MERTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY 2020
The Epistola (Letter) on the Life of Guy of Merton
In 1969, Marvin Colker, the first editor of the Latin text of the Epistola de
vita venerabilis Guidonis Meritonensis ecclesie canonici ( ‘the letter on the
life of the venerable Guy, canon of the church of Merton ‘, hereafter The Life
of Guy), noted that The Life of Guy had gone largely unnoticed, apart from
getting the occasional mention in books about the clergy or the Augustinian
order.1 But The Life of Guy is a rich source for anyone interested in the
religion and culture of the twelfth century; perhaps a parallel English-Latin
version as presented here will stimulate further study.
The Life of Guy survives in a fifteenth-century copy, now in the British
Library,2 bound together with De laudibus diuinae sapientiae by another
Augustinian canon, Alexander Nequam of Cirencester Abbey. Nequam ‘s
treatise (fos.1r-89r) is followed by a Speculum Ecclesie, what the British
Library cataloguer described as ‘scribbled theological notes ‘ (fos.89v-90v).
This is in a more cursive fifteenth-century hand than the book hand of
Nequam ‘s treatise, and is a contrast to the formal, and earlier, fifteenth-
century hand of The Life of Guy (fos.91r-98r). The Speculum is written
following directly on from Nequam ‘s treatise, suggesting that the two were
contemporaneous. The Life of Guy, although bound with both, is separate
in both style and gathering: it is a quire of eight leaves, ruled with a margin
of about 1½ inches (40mm) and either 25 or 26 lines per side. The book
is vellum and is 8¾ inches by 5¾ inches (222mm x 146mm), and some
bookworms have bored their way through the outer pages.
The book was in the library at Merton Priory until the Dissolution (see
figure 2 page 11), when it became the property of Humphrey Lloyd and
his brother-in-law John, Lord Lumley (d.1609), and somehow, after 1666,
ended up in the British Museum.3
Figure 1 (on facing page):
The first page of The Life of Guy, Royal MS.8 E. ix, f.91r
© Board of the British Library
The Norman font at Bodmin church
photograph by Christopher Moule
Guy of Merton
The Life of Guy was written by a canon Rainald, a contemporary of Guy at
Merton. From The Life of Guy, we learn that Guy was a canon of Merton,
if not at its beginning, then very shortly afterwards. Guy, an Italian, came
to Merton after a career as a ‘director of schools ‘;4 he seems to have had
enough of teaching, and to have sought solace in the cloister.5 He could not
shake off his former career entirely, however: when in the 1120s William
Giffard, bishop of Winchester, needed a man of unyielding morality to
head up a programme of reform in Taunton, which involved turning the
college of secular canons into a regular (Augustinian) priory, he chose Guy.
According to the author of the life of Gilbert the Sheriff, William took ‘five
brothers … among whom was master Guy, deservedly the most famous
among us. ‘6 But either the backsliding canons of Taunton proved too much
even for a man of his standing, or the bishop decided that a more pragmatic
prior was needed, for Guy returned some while later to Merton – with a
great feeling of escape.
Despite this, Guy was not allowed to live out his days in quiet
contemplation: after only a short while, we are told (para.12-13), he was
sent to re-establish the secular church at Bodmin as an Augustinian priory,
this time at the request of another Bishop William – William Warelwast,
bishop of Exeter. A few months into his priorate, he was riding to Exeter to
discuss matters with the bishop when his horse bolted and he was thrown
into a pit. His injuries were fatal and he died in Exeter, on the Vigil of the
Ascension (para.14). The year of this accident is not given. The Life itself
was written sometime between 1132 and 1151, as it refers (para.13) to Algar
being bishop of Coutances. Geoffrey, sitting by Guy ‘s deathbed, is still only
a canon; he was prior of Plympton by 1128,7 so Guy ‘s death must therefore
have been some time before that, and certainly before 1131, when Algar
is known to have been prior of Bodmin.8 William Warelwast established
regular canons at Plympton in 1121 and Launceston in 1127;9 it is probable
that his foundation at Bodmin was some time between the two, for there
are no foundation dates for either Bodmin or Taunton. However, if Rainald
can be trusted on the information he does give, then we can work out when
Bodmin, at least, was founded. Rainald says that Guy was only back at
Merton for a very short period of time between his tenure at Taunton and
that at Bodmin. He also says that Guy went to Bodmin in the winter, and
on the Ides of May he was dead (para.14), and that Guy died on the Vigil of
the Ascension. The Feast of the Ascension is forty days after Easter Sunday.
Easter is a moveable feast, and depends on the lunar calendar: therefore,
Easter and the Ascension will be on different dates in different years. The
only possible year, where Easter falls on the right day, is 1124, when Easter
was 6 April, and therefore the Ascension was 16 May. Guy died on the Vigil
of the Ascension, that is, the day before – the 15th, the Ides of May. Bodmin
must have been founded in the winter of 1123/4. There is one caveat,
however: it is rather a coincidence that Guy died at the Ascension, meaning
that his soul could ascend to heaven in the company of Christ himself. But
there is no counter-evidence that Rainald invented it, and it was probably
one of those lovely serendipities of fate. Certainly 1123/4 would seem a
sensible date for Bodmin, leaving plenty of time for Taunton to have been
founded in the preceding year or years (c.1120-1123).10
If we do not know explicitly when Guy died, we have even less
information (none) about when he was born. We can presume that he was of
some maturity when he entered the convent at Merton, given his career as a
‘noted director of schools ‘. He became a deacon and then priest (apparently
at Prior Robert ‘s behest) in a short space of time. Since the minimum age for
a priest was 24, and since Guy had already had a senior career, he must have
been at least thirty by this point.11 Robert himself was perhaps born round
about 1080,12 and the two were probably near-contemporaries. Colker, in
his introduction to the Latin text, posits that Guy ‘may be the distinguished
philosopher named in a fragmentary chronicle of French history: ‘Hoc
tempore tam in diuina quam in humana philosophia floruerunt Lanfrancus
Cantuariorum episcopus, Guido Langobardus, Maingaudus Teutonicus,
Bruno Remensis. ’13 It would indeed be nice to think so, for this is a stellar
line-up. Lanfranc (c.1005-1089) was William the Conqueror ‘s archbishop;
Manegold of Lautenbach (c.1030-c.1103) was a notable teacher and author
of several scholarly works (and also a regular canon); Bruno of Rheims was
Bruno of Cologne, the founder of the Carthusians (c.1030-1101). Nothing
is known about Guido Langobardus (Guy the Lombard), but the fact that
the others were of the previous generation may suggest that Guido was
also of a previous generation and was not our Guy. On the other hand,
Lanfranc was about 30 years older than Manegold and Bruno; following
this reasoning, Guido could have been 30 years younger. The absence of
evidence is frustratingly intriguing. Leaving Guido Langobardus aside, we
can nonetheless hazard a guess that our Guy was born at some time between
the 1060s and 1080s, died in 1124, and joined Merton c.1114, having spent
some time teaching, probably in his native Italy or else in Paris, the two
birthplaces of the university.
Merton Priory had no particular saint whose relics could provide a
shrine and miracles or whose life could provide a hagiography. Instead, it
had to rely on the exceptional piety of its founder and its canons for its fame
and importance. It is hardly surprising, then, that The Life of Guy reads like
a hagiography. As Colker noted, Guy is described as saintly, and is given a
couple of mini-miracles: he cures Prior Robert of an illness that the prior
could not shake off (para.11) and he quells storms (para.12) by prayer. When
the cloak given to wrap his corpse is discovered to be too short, it grows
longer, ‘as if by a miracle ‘ ( ‘subito mirum in modum satis ‘, para.15). He died
on the Vigil of the Ascension, which gave the opportunity for him to ascend
to heaven with Christ: what better proof of a living apostle? Guy ‘s vita (life)
also shares motifs with the vitae of saints from the same period: the life of
St Hugh of Lincoln notes that he laid aside the outer cloak of lambswool-
lined cloth and wore only a sheepskin and a hair shirt, and he had only a
blanket, bolster and skins for his bedding; Guy slept on uncovered straw
(para.5), and ‘often in winter he wore only his tunic under a thin cape, with
no cassock. ‘ (para.9) The life of St Waltheof says that he wept at Mass;14 Guy
could barely get through Mass without weeping (para.6).
Guy ‘s conduct is a model for anyone wishing to live the vita apostolica,
or life of the Apostles – the benchmark for religious conduct in the twelfth
century. He leads by example and by preaching, and so could be considered
to be a paradigm of Augustinianism. One historian argued that a difference
between monks and canons was that while monks reflected on others ‘
behaviour for their own individual spiritual journey, canons learned from
others ‘ behaviour and consciously taught others through their own – verbo
et exemplo, by word and by example.15 Whether that was the case or not (and
not every historian agrees), Guy was certainly an example to others: his
piety was unquestionable; his humility such that the prior had to insist on
promoting him; he preached to his brethren, said the Office and celebrated
Mass fervently; he lived in poverty, and looked after the poor of his flock.
With such an exemplary attitude, it is unsurprising that Guy was chosen
to convert the lax canons of Taunton. For centuries, many clergy had aimed
at the ideal of the Apostolic life, living, as the Apostles did, communally,
with no personal possessions, and in a state of humble poverty and chastity,
in order to serve the community well. At various points, clerical life needed
reforming, as over time clerics gained possessions, wives and families. The
eleventh and twelfth centuries saw one such wave of reform, spurred on
by Pope Gregory VII (d.1085), who pushed for an ascetic and righteous
Christianity. Clerical marriage was banned, and lay control of the church
was limited, if not stopped. Regular orders, that is, groups of people living
under a rule (monks, for example), were encouraged. And here we see the
rise of the Augustinian order of regular canons. A canon was a cleric (a
priest, deacon, sub-deacon or possibly someone in minor orders), and it was
increasingly fashionable for canons to collect together under a rule. The rule
was not the clear and strict Rule of St Benedict that monks followed – being
clerics, they needed something more flexible than this rule allowed. They
used the Rule of St Augustine, which was based on a letter that Augustine
of Hippo (354-430) wrote about how to live communally. This rule was
only a guide, and each foundation of regular canons worked out their
own details, or observances. Eventually, by the beginning of the thirteenth
century, the regular canons were organised into a formal order, the Order
of St Augustine – but even so, they were not quite like the orders of monks.
When Gundreda and William de Warenne founded Lewes Priory, they
chose the Cluniac order. This meant that the priory was tied to the abbey
of Cluny (France) spiritually (they followed the same customs), financially,
and governmentally (the prior of Lewes was subordinate to the abbot of
Cluny). When Castle Acre Priory was founded from Lewes, it became a
daughter-house of Lewes, in a similar way. The Augustinian houses did not
generally share the mother-daughter relationship of the monastic orders;16
instead, they were independent houses under the jurisdiction of the local
bishop. Bishops such as William Giffard approved of regular canons: this
was an excellent way of ensuring the spiritual continence of their clergy,
and that the Divine Office and Mass would be said and celebrated correctly.
Various bishops in the early twelfth century founded Augustinian houses,
using canons from existing houses to populate or convert them.
The story of Taunton is fairly typical of the period: here we have a
college (collection) of secular canons (i.e. not living under a rule), who have
fallen into bad habits – property, marriage, comfortable living. The new
bishop wishes to reform them, and so converts the house into a regular
establishment – by expelling the existing canons, or, as seems to be the
case here, by converting them to Augustinian observances. Despite Guy ‘s
apparent failure to improve the morality of the local canons, the regular
foundation at Taunton continued, receiving royal confirmation from Henry
The situation at Bodmin was slightly different. There was a collection
of (secular) canons, presided over by one Master Algar (para.13). Algar is
described as procurator of Bodmin. This means an overseer or proctor;
J C Dickinson translated it as ‘dean ‘, perhaps following Henry Jenner,
who wrote, in an article on the ninth-century Bodmin Gospels, that by
the twelfth century, the ancient monastery of Bodmin had evolved into ‘a
college of clerks … governed by a dean. ’18 We know that Bishop Warelwast
of Exeter was an exponent of the regular canons, converting Plympton
and Launceston into houses of Augustinian canons, but the impetus at
Bodmin seems, from the text, to have come at least partly from Algar –
that is, from the community itself. The desire for regularising the canons
at both Colchester and Huntingdon was from within their communities,
so there were precedents.19 Algar was by 1113 a ‘clerk ‘ at Bodmin, where he
had to stop a fight between a Cornishman and a Frenchman about whether
King Arthur lived. This was during the fund-raising visit by the canons of
Laon cathedral and their touring-relics of the Blessed Virgin Mary.20 They
probably went to Bodmin because of Algar. He had spent time in Laon, as it
was one of the intellectual centres of the Anglo-Norman world, and Algar ‘s
receptiveness to the reformist Augustinian order may well have come
from there.21 In any case, the canons of Bodmin seem to have been much
more receptive to regular ideals than the ones at Taunton. Algar ‘s fellow at
Guy ‘s deathbed was Geoffrey, a canon of Plympton, who became prior of
Plympton in 1128. Very little is known about Geoffrey, but the Plympton
Annals note the foundation of Merton, and it is likely therefore that canons
from Merton (as well as Holy Trinity, Aldgate) populated Plympton, and
that Geoffrey was formerly a canon of Merton, which is how he knew Guy.22
Plympton continued to be one of the major religious houses in the south-
west for the next few centuries.
Of the author and addressee of The Life of Guy, we know not much
more than their names. Rainald (Rainaldus in Latin) was clearly a canon
of Merton. Radulfus, or Ralph, is described as Guy ‘s son – or, rather, Guy
is described as Ralph ‘s father. Colker thought that Ralph was Guy ‘s ‘carnal,
rather than spiritual son ‘, citing ‘de uita gloriosi parentis tui ‘ and ‘Te …
patrissare cognoui ‘honorabilis pater tuus, ‘ ‘uenerandi parentis tui, ‘ and
the admonition not ‘a tam religioso parente degeneres ‘.23 This is perfectly
possible: Guy had been a director of schools before becoming a canon, and
even if he had taken minor orders, he could still have married or, at any rate,
sired children; besides, there were plenty of examples of children produced
by clergy even in major orders, including Aelred, abbot of Rievaulx,
Thurstan, archbishop of York, and Richard Poore, bishop of Salisbury.24 On
the other hand, the language is not conclusive: Ralph, described by Rainald
also as ‘karissime frater ‘ ( ‘most beloved brother ‘), could have been one of
Guy ‘s many spiritual children (even a former student): the use of ‘pater ‘ was
common enough to mean spiritual father, and there are examples of ‘parens ‘
being so used, too.25 Rainald ‘s exhortation to him to follow Guy ‘s example
suggests that Ralph was in clerical orders: from the text, Ralph does not
seem to have been a canon, at least not at any of the three houses with
which Guy was associated. He was probably a secular cleric, which itself
may suggest kinship with Guy, for it was common for the next generation,
whether sons or nephews, to follow the previous one into the church.26
The reference to St Silvinus (see page 30 note xxxiv) may be significant, and
could locate Ralph (or indeed Rainald) to north-eastern Normandy; on the
other hand, St Silvinus might have been celebrated widely, but he does not
seem to have been celebrated at Merton.27
One more thing needs be said here, and that is about the nature of letters
in the twelfth century. Letters were rarely a private affair, for the eyes of
the recipient only: they were generally meant to be read by, or read out to,
a number of people.28 Fictitious recipients were not unknown – it is just
possible (although unlikely) that Ralph did not even exist! The letter was
supposed to be a moral exemplar, to encourage canons and other clerics
in their moral and spiritual lives, and Rainald signs off by wishing that he
himself could imitate the sanctity of Guy. This explains why there was a
fifteenth-century copy of it in Merton Priory ‘s library: it was still used then
as a reminder to the canons of how to behave.29 Perhaps, indeed, it needed
copying because the previous copy had fallen apart through generations of
use as an example of the apogee of Augustinian conduct.
The Edition and Translation
Merton Priory was one of the most important priories in medieval
England. Razed to the ground by Henry VIII, there is little left of its
physical structure. Merton ‘ s extensive library was scattered, and is largely
lost; some manuscripts survive and are to be found in the British Library,
the Bodleian, Cambridge University Library, and the libraries of a couple
of Oxford and Cambridge colleges, Eton College and the College of Arms.
The manuscripts in the College of Arms concern the founder of Merton,
Gilbert, sheriff of Surrey, Huntingdon and Cambridge, and in 2019 Merton
Historical Society published translations of these texts. British Library
Royal MS. 8. E. IX contains the life of one of the priory ‘s founding brethren;
this volume presents both a Latin transcription and an English translation
of this biography, as a companion piece to the texts concerning Gilbert.
The manuscript was edited in 1969 by Marvin Colker, and this has been an
enormous aid to our new transcription and translation. The manuscript is
considerably easier to read than the Gilbert texts – in fact, it is about as easy-
to-read as medieval manuscripts get! Most of the text is in one continuous
paragraph. The paragraphs in this edition are, therefore, editorial (but
hopefully easier to read), and they are numbered for ease of reference
(Colker ‘s separation into chapters has not been followed). Folio breaks are
marked with a /, and the folio number is given in the margin. All abbreviations
have been written out in full. Capital and small letters are unchanged, as are
‘v ‘ and ‘u ‘, which are used somewhat interchangeably. Punctuation marks
have evolved: in the Latin text commas and full-stops represent puncta,
and semi-colons the punctus elevatus; standard modern punctuation is
used in the translation. Quotations and allusions are italicised, as they do
not automatically leap out at us as they would at medieval readers. Biblical
references and Psalm numbering noted on the Latin pages are according to
the Vulgate. Also following the Vulgate tradition, references are to Sirach
rather than Ecclesiasticus, Canticles (Song of Solomon), and 1, 2 and
3 Kings (1 and 2 Samuel, 1 Kings). Roman numeral markers within the
English text refer to the footnotes on facing Latin pages.
It is difficult to capture an author ‘s voice when translating; Rainald
used the literary style of the twelfth century, but his prose is thankfully
less complicated than that of some of his contemporaries. Even so, some
sentences are very condensed, and others are hard to translate literally;
for example, where we in English would use the active voice, Latin uses
the passive. In addition, Rainald, like his contemporaries, is very fond of
gerunds and gerundives, and superfluous words such as ‘ac ‘, ‘velut ‘ and
‘tunc ‘. We have tried to balance the original style with readability; this
means sometimes having to sacrifice a literal translation.
We are grateful to the British Library for access to the manuscript, as
well as permission to reproduce images from the manuscript, and to
Christopher Moule for his front-cover photograph of the fine Norman font
at Bodmin church. Thanks also go to John ‘gloriosus parens ‘ Hawks for his
contributions to the translation, and especially to Peter Hopkins, general
editor and authority on Merton Priory.
Katie Hawks and Keith Penny
Liber ecclesie sancte Marie de Merton
(This book belongs to the church of St Mary Merton)
Royal MS.8 E. ix, f.99r
© Board of the British Library
1 M L Colker, ‘The Life of Guy of Merton by Rainald of Merton ‘, Mediæval Studies, 31
(1969), pp.250-61. Some extracts were printed by J C Dickinson in his classic book,
The Origins of the Austin Canons and their Introduction into England (London, 1950).
2 British Library, Royal MS 8 E ix, folios 91r-98r.
3 http://mlgb3.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/mlgb/book/3962/?search_term=merton%20priory&page_size=500; the British Library catalogue entry is at http://hviewer.bl.uk/
4 Para.2: ‘quidam Italicus genere, qui in scolis regendis preclaram famam consecutus
5 Para.3: ‘Curis secularibus animum impediri semper declinans ‘. Guy was not the only
one to follow this pattern: other Augustinians who had similar mid-life changes
include the scholars Alexander Nequam and Robert of Béthune: for Alexander, see
A N J Dunning, ‘St Frideswide ‘s Priory as a Centre of Learning in Early Oxford ‘,
Mediaeval Studies 80 (2018), pp.253-96 (available online at https://andrewdunning.
ca/); for Robert of Béthune, see J Barrow, The Clergy in the Medieval World
(Cambridge, 2015), pp.115-7.
6 P Hopkins and K Penny, ed. and trans., A Priory Founded: Sheriff Gilbert at Merton
(Merton Historical Society, 2019), I 9.
7 A D Fizzard, Plympton Priory: A House of Augustinian Canons in South-Western
England in the Late Middle Ages, (Brill, 2008), p.102.
8 N Orme, Victoria County History of Cornwall, vol.ii (2010), p.140; Karen Jankulak,
The Medieval Cult of St Petroc (Woodbridge, 2000), p.137.
9 J Burton, Monastic and Religious Orders in Britain 1000-1300 (Cambridge, 1994),
10 See Dickinson, Origins, p.118, fn.7; Lionel Green, Daughter Houses of Merton Priory
(Merton Historical Society, 2002), pp.7-8; M Brett, The English Church under Henry I
(Oxford, 1975), p.9, fn.4.
11 Barrow, Clergy, pp.39-41; V Davis, ‘Medieval Longevity: The Experience of Members
of Religious Orders in Late Medieval England ‘, Medieval Prosopography, 19 (1998),
12 Robert died in 1150, having spent 43 years as a canon, and 35 of those years as prior:
Hopkins and Penny, Gilbert, p.32.
13 ‘In this time there flourished in divine and in human philosophy Lanfranc, bishop
[sic] of Canterbury, Guy the Lombard, Manegold the German, Bruno of Rheims. ‘
Colker, Guy, p.250, citing Recueil des Historiens des Gaules et de la France XII (1781)
p.3 (now accessible at https://archive.org/details/recueil-des-historiens-des-gaules-12/
14 D L Douie and D H Farmer, ed. and trans., Magna vita Sancti Hugonis: The life of St.
Hugh of Lincoln (Oxford, 1985) ii, p.49; ‘Vita S Waldevi auctore Jocelino monacho de
Furnesio ‘, Acta Sanctorum Augusti I, ed. J Carnandet et al. (Antwerp, 1733), p.264 E
(now accessible at https://books.googleusercontent.com/books/content?req=AKW5QaeCffBX3TNr8NO6dZ0zlWobmezUFBBIk29gFbMoY181adfYN5xWjBjSVBEHG1P8yLt-zWsVQ3dUHCKLUhLx-OYXJUJeDz-OLXZoaJHnN2mJYLba4Q6tX_5YJiYv1EZHGB5U_SjESo3bo74LxpYR4gXZ0t1OwsWB4_55AT51tk4O36W1-eIAVdOWpZ9QwFhr44b4lYwvxWuGOzyD7qpM1v6I2NzAla4WwhWQ0VLOa23KpI9UQkN3glyKY8xfNDWFt3V-eTzx).
15 C W Bynum, ‘The spirituality of regular canons in the twelfth century ‘, in Jesus
as Mother, (Berkeley, 1982), pp. 36-47. Cf. Terrie Colk, who argued that, on the
contrary, there really was not much of a difference at all between monks and canons,
‘Twelfth-century East-Anglian Canons: A Monastic Life? ‘, in Medieval East Anglia, ed.
C Harper-Bill (Woodbridge, 2005), pp.209-224.
16 There were exceptions – the orders of Arrouaise and St Victor were regular canons
who used the Augustinian rule, but were ordered like Cistercians. Many older
Benedictine houses were independent.
17 W Page (ed.), Victoria County History of Somerset, vol.II, (London, 1911), pp. 141-
18 Dickinson, Origins, p.149; H Jenner, ‘The Bodmin Gospels: Presidential Address
of the Spring Meeting of the Royal Institution of Cornwall, 23rd May,1922 ‘, Journal
of the Royal Institution of Cornwall (1923), pp.97-145. He also noted that ‘Bodmin ‘
means ‘a place of monks ‘. The Bodmin Gospels themselves are in the British Library.
For a history of Bodmin Priory, see Orme, VCH Cornwall, pp.139-140.
19 Burton, Monastic Orders, p.45.
20 For the canons of Laon, see https://archive.org/details/patrologiaecursu156mign/
21 Orme, Cornwall, p.140. He notes that by the 16th century Algar was credited
alongside William Warelwast for founding Bodmin.
22 Green, Daughter Houses, pp.10-1; Dickinson, Origins, p.117 fn. 10; F Liebermann,
Ungedrückte anglo-normannische geschichtsquellen(Strassburg, 1879), p.27.
23 Colker, Guy, p.251; T D Hardy, Descriptive Catalogue of the Materials Relating to the
History of Great Britain and Ireland to the End of the Reign of Henry VII, vol.II (Rolls
Series; London, 1865), p.139.
24 For a discussion of this, see Barrow, Clergy, pp.135-49.
25 See the Dictionary of Medieval Latin from British Sources, https://logeion.uchicago.
26 Barrow, Clergy, pp.115-149.
27 Thanks to Andrew Dunning for checking the Merton kalendar, Bodleian MS Laud
28 Giles Constable, Letters and Letter-collections (Turnhout, 1976), pp.11-14.
29 James Clark wrote that the canons ‘ interest in the house ‘s history was re-awakened in
the fifteenth century, and that the life of Guy was rescued from obscurity. But there
is no evidence to suggest that their interest in Guy ‘s life was neglected until it was
copied out: indeed, a good reason for producing a new copy was that the old one
had worn out; J G Clark, ‘The Augustinians, History, and Literature in Late Medieval
England, ‘ in J Burton and K Stöber (eds), The Regular Canons in the Medieval British
Isles (Turnhout, 2011).
Epistola de vita venerabilis Guidonis
Meritonensis ecclesie canonici.
Dilecto suo Radulfo, suus Rainaldus.
1. Petisti, charissime frater et obnixe petisti; quatinus de vita gloriosi
parentis tui uel breuiter aliqua tibi transscriberem. Petitioni tue quamuis
pie tamen assensum prebere diu distuli, tum multis occupationibus
prepeditus; tum potius materie magnitudinem viribus mee possibilitatis
nimis preponderare perpendens. Sed quoniam quas imperitia denegat
interdum vires caritas sumministrare solet; uitam ipsius saltem
summatim perstringere temptabo tuoque desiderio prout poteroi
2. Igitur in primordio quo fratres apud Meritonam ad regulariter
viuendum secundum institutionem egregii doctoris Augustini
congregabantur; quidam Italicus genere qui in scolis regendis preclaram
famam consecutus fuerat nomine Guido, ad conuersionem inter ceteros
uenit. Dici non potest quam humiliter ut susciperetur expetiit, cum
quanta deuotione religionis habitum suscepit. Totum enim negotium
illud quo ad militiam Christi nouicii promouentur; magnis gemitibus
multisque lacrimis et suspiriis prosequebatur. Nam dum ad confessionem
ut mos est prelato faciendam/ venisset; tanto dolore affectus est ut
loqui vix posset, sic sibi vehementer indignans; ut semetipsum
per capillos traheret, caput ad parietem allideret, ex doloris uehementia
quam ueraciter ad deum conuerteretur insinuans.
3. Tandem conuentui sociatus; non ut plerique solentii quos scientia
secularis inflatiii minutas consuetudines monasterii dedignabatur
addiscere; sed uelut ab ore dei prolatas diligenter inuestigare et obseruare
satagebat. Et quoniam, ut scriptum est qui modica spernit, paulatim
decidit,iv ita e contrario per minimorum custodiam preceptorum fit
progressus ad summa virtutum; sic vir venerabilis implendis maioribus
institutis operam dabat; ut non minorem diligentiam minimis
obseruandis adhiberet. Verbi gratia. Si quando uel ante capitulum vel
i MS ‘petero ‘.
ii Horace, Satires 1.6. (Colker ‘s ‘tu ‘ should be ‘ut ‘.)
iii 1 Corinthians 8:1.
Letter concerning the life of the venerable Guy,
canon of the church of Merton.
To his beloved Ralph, from Rainald.
1. Dearest brother, you have asked, and with some persistence, that I
should give you a brief account of the life of your distinguished parent.
Though your request was entirely reasonable, I have nonetheless had to
put off fulfilling it for some while, both because I have been hindered by a
good deal of business, and rather more because the great wealth of material
would outweigh my powers. But since friendship is accustomed to supply
the powers that sometimes want of skill denies, I will at least try to touch
upon a summary of his life, and satisfy your wishes, insofar as I can.i
2. And so, at the very beginning when the brothers came together at
Merton to live under the rule of the most venerable doctor Augustine,
a certain Italian, who had achieved no little fame for his direction of
schools,1 Guy by name, came as a convert with the others. It is impossible
to express how humbly he sought to be received, and how devotedly he
took up the religious habit.2 For he pursued the whole process by which
novices are advanced into the army of Christ with many great groans and
many tears and sighs. And when he came to making confession before
the prior, as the custom is, he was so overcome by sorrow that he could
scarcely speak, and so vehemently upset with himself that he pulled out
his hair and dashed his head against a wall, demonstrating from this
vehemence of sorrow how truly he was turning to God.
3. At last he joined the convent proper; he was not, as many are,ii one of
those whom worldly knowledge puffed up;iii he did not disdain to learn about
even the minutest customs of the monastery, but was diligent in searching
out and observing them as if they had issued from the mouth of God. And
seeing that, as it is written, he who despises small things shall gradually fall,iv
so, on the contrary, by taking care over the smallest instructions, he rose
to be supreme in all virtues. Just as this venerable man devoted himself to
the more important customs, so he did not treat the smaller observances
with any less diligence. For example, when in front of the Chapter, or
1 ‘Schools ‘ here means the collection of scholars under a master, which later in the
twelfth century would become universities.
2 The habit was the dress of monks or canons. ‘Religious ‘ here could have its standard
meaning or could mean ‘monastic ‘.
alibi locorum ubi nobis moris est inclinare transisset et non inclinasset,
licet iam longius processisset, ilico reuertebatur et tam deuote quam
humiliter inclinabat. Amator claustri erat in tantum, ut cum eum exire
causa rationabilis uel necessitas compulisset; quantocius redire festinaret.
Curis secularibus animum impediri semper declinans, lectionibus
etenim et meditationibus totus deditus erat, non solum stultiloquia uel
scurrilia sed etiam ociosa verbav deuitans. Quando fratrum colloquiis
4. Sermones suos iuxta apostolum semper in gratia sale sapientie
condiebat,vi locutiones certis horis in claustris a patribus non ad
destitutionem sed morum instructionem institutas perpendens. In
ecclesia diuinis laudibus cum ceteris assistens, quando ut se habet
humana miseria corde vagabatur; in semet reuersus sibique multum
indignans; interdum dentibus stridebat,vii vel carnem unguibus
discerpebat; vel pectus pugno percutiebat; uelut hoc modo mentem
stabiliorem reddere posset. Precipue vii Psalmisviii quando in conuentu
dicebantur interesse volebat, dicens quod qui peccatorem se recognoscit;
his psalmis qui specialiter pro peccatis instituti sunt, occurrere debeat.
Sic enim minuta peccata paruasque negligentias deflebat; acsi omnium
criminum reus esset.
5. Quid referam quod suimet ex toto contemptor extiterit, qui nullam
corporis curam gerebat, immo velut hostem infestissimum carnem
suam persequebatur, et nisi patris nostri prudentia refragaretur, eandem
miro spiritus feruore ieiuniorum et escarum abstinentia funditus
consumpsisset. In lectulo dum super uestimenta sua quiescere putaretur;
subtus in solo stramento volutabatur; iuxta illud de Canticis; circuiens
et querens quem diligebat anima sua.ix Et in eius/ amorem suspirans;
lauabat per singulas noctes lectum suum, lacrimis suis stratum
suum rigabat.x Maxime tamen post matutinas usque ad lucem in sacris
uigiliis excubare solebat. Quid plura? Tam religiose in omni
v Matthew 12:36; Rule of St Benedict, VI; Rule of St Augustine.
vi Colossians 4:6. Cf. Aelred of Rievaulx, whose prayers were salted with wisdom:
F M Powicke (ed. and trans.), Ailred of Rievaulx and his biographer Walter Daniel
(Manchester, 1922), p.20.
vii Psalm 36:12; Mark 9:17; Acts 7:54.
viii Psalms 6, 31, 37, 50, 101, 129, 142.
ix Canticles 3:1.
x Psalm 6:7.
elsewhere, in places where according to our customs we should bow, if he
had passed by and had not bowed, he immediately turned back and bowed
with as much devotion as humility, although he had already gone further
along his way. He so loved the monastery that, when reasonable cause or
necessity required him to leave it, he hurried back again as soon as possible.
He always turned away from involving his soul with worldly cares, for he
gave himself totally to reading and meditation, avoiding not only foolish or
scurrilous speech but also idle wordsv when conversing with the brothers.
4. Following the Apostle, his sermons were always in grace seasoned with
salt,vi and he considered the readings from the Fathers at certain times
in the cloisters not a desertion from customs but instruction in them.
When in church, taking his place at divine service with the others, if
his heart wandered (such is human wretchedness), he would be greatly
angered on returning to himself; he gnashed his teethvii or tore his flesh
with his fingernails or beat his breast with his fist, to restore his mind
to a more stable state. He particularly wanted to be present when the
seven penitential Psalmsviii were said by the convent, saying that whoever
recognised himself as a sinner ought to attend to these Psalms, which
were specially instituted for sins. Thus he lamented his own trifling sins
and little omissions as if guilty of all crimes.
5. What can I say that will stand out about this man who wholly despised
himself, who had no care for the body, who indeed persecuted his flesh
as if it were a dreadful enemy? And unless he had been stopped by the
wisdom of our father prior, his spirit would have completely eaten up
that same flesh through his wonderfully fervent fasting and abstaining
from food. While he was thought to be resting upon the bedclothes on his
bed, he was in fact tossing and turning with only straw below, as it says
in the Song of Songs, going about and seeking whom my soul loves.ix And,
sighing for his love, every night he washed his bed and watered his couch
with tears.x He was especially accustomed to keep watch in holy vigils
from after Matins until daybreak. What more? He conducted himself
conuersationexi se habebat; [ut]xii etiam his, qui ante se ad conuersionem
venerant, exemplo esset.
6. Cernens pater monasterii dominus Robertus virum ad omnem
perfectionem uirtutum gradibus tendere; ad sacros illum ordines
festinauit prouehere, et de clerico usque ad diaconatus officium se
indignum reclamantem promoueri fecit. In quo sacro officio quam
strenue minisrauerit, uerbis expleri non potest. Adhuc nostrorum
quidam maxime dominus supprior Robertus memorare solent; cum
quanta deuotione cerei consecrationem in sabbato sancto persoluerit;
asserentes nunquam ut sibi uisum est alicui officio deuotius peracto se
interfuisse; omnibus circum astantibus miro compunctionis affectu
permotis. Nimirum que legebat uel cantabat cum tanta deuotione cum
tanto feruore tam instanter proferebat; ut vere per os ipsius spiritus
sanctus uerba proferre videretur. Psalmis etiam quos dicebat quasi
deum ut dici solet pede teneret; totus insistebat. Postea presbiterii
gradum suscipere vix compulsus, hoc etiam sacrosanctum
officium/ tam deuote prosecutus est; ut sicut cuidam familiari
suo post multum temporis humiliter confessus est, nunquam nisi
bis missam sine lacrimis celebrauerit. Cerneres dum ad hoc sacrum
misterium celebrandum se prepararet, lacrimis suffundi; et quodam
modo subito in virum alterum commutari, ut spiritu dei totum illum
agi dubitare minime posses.
7. Interea uenerabilis wintoniensis episcopus Guillelmus, quandam
ecclesiam suam in Tantoniensi territorio suo secundum regularem
canonicorum institutionem informari desiderans; patrem nostrum
dominum Robertum conuenit, et ut sibi prefatum virum ad hoc opus
concederet, humilibus precibus expetiit. Quem licet nobis ualde
necessarium tamen quia sciebat apostoli preceptum ut non que nostra
sunt sed que aliorum querere debeamus,xiii ad instituendam prefatam
ecclesiam cum paucis fratribus nostris direxit. Quo uir venerabilis cum
peruenisset et cum fratribus qui secum venerant secundum morem
ecclesie nostre regulariter viueret; quidam canonicorum qui in eadem
ecclesia seculariter antea vixerant ad conuersionem venire ceperunt. In
xi G Constable, The Reformation of the Twelfth Century (Cambridge, 1996), p.15 notes
that ‘conversatio ‘ could mean ‘moral conduct or behaviour, or even simply way of life ‘.
xii There is a gap here; Colker ‘s ‘ut ‘ has been followed.
xiii 1 Corinthians 10:24.
so devoutlyxi thatxii he served as an example to those who had come to
conversion before he had.
6. The lord Robert, father of the monastery, discerning that this man was
gradually directing himself towards the perfect accomplishment of all
virtues, hastened to raise him to holy orders, and advanced him from clerk
to the office of deacon, despite his indignant protests of unworthiness. It is
impossible to describe how actively he served in this sacred office. Some of
our brothers, especially our lord the sub-prior Robert, used to remember
how much devotion he gave to the blessing of the paschal candle on Holy
Saturday, asserting, as it seemed to them, that never had any ceremony
been celebrated among them with such devotion, with all those standing
in attendance being moved by a feeling of sorrow for sin. Whether he was
reading or chanting, he did so with such devotion, such fervour, that the
Holy Spirit himself seemed to reveal the words through his mouth. He
also entered totally into the Psalms, which he spoke as though he held God
by the foot, as the saying goes. Afterwards, he reluctantly accepted the
step up to the priesthood, and he followed this sacred office so devotedly
that, as he confessed humbly to a friend within the house a while later, he
only twice celebrated Mass without tears. You would notice tears well up
as he prepared himself for the celebration of the sacred mystery, and in
this way became such a different man that you cannot doubt that he was
completely moved by the spirit of God.
7. Meanwhile, William, venerable bishop of Winchester, desiring that his
church in the district of Taunton should follow the rule of the regular
canons, met our lord prior Robert, and with humble prayers arranged
that he should grant him the aforesaid man for this work. Although
Guy was very much a dear friend to us, the prior, because he knew the
Apostle ‘s dictum that we should not seek our own advantage, but that of
others,xiii sent him with a few brothers to re-establish the church there.
When that venerable man arrived, with the brothers who accompanied
him, he lived according to the rule and our church ‘s observances; some
of the secular canons who already lived there began to be converted.
quibus erudiendis licet plurimum laborauerit; tamen parum proficere
potuit, quoniam eorum mores in mala consuetudine inueterati;
nouellam sancte conuersationis/ gratiam aspirare non ualebant,
quia nec ad hoc niti sicut opus est omnino uolebant. Unde nimis
anxiabatur; quod fructum quem desiderabat non faciebat.
8. Tamen quamdiu in loco illo commoratus est; quod ad susceptum
pastoris officium pertinet, que dicenda erant dicebat, nec a verbis
viuendo dissentiebat; sed sicut in Christo coram Christo verba
Christi loquebatur; sic Christo fauente quecumque precipiebat; prior
ut erat nomine, ita et opere prior implere satagebat. Ad hec cultor
pauperem erat in tantum; ut quicquid rationabiliter poterat, eisdem
impendere summo studio procuraret. Frequenter ad mensam sedens,
que sibi apponebantur infirmis et indigentibus reseruari faciebat,
pane solummodo et aqua contentus. Cum autem aliquis velut illi
compatiendo quia nichil boni corpusculo suo vel in cibis uel aliis vite
necessariis conferret, conquereretur quod omnes pene bonos cibos sibi
allatos pauperibus et infirmis offerendos reseruaret, non opus esse ut ita
faceret, cum de cellario de coquina potestatem haberet accipere sicut
magister que pauperibus erogaret; humiliter respondebat.
‘Et de penu et undecunque rationabiliter possunt que Christi
membrisxiv indigentibus largiantur sumenda non ambigo.
Tamen quod ori proprio subtrahitur; Christo fore magis
gratum estimo. Ego cum/ voluero, bonas escas habere
potero. Pauper et infirmus hinc penuria inde doloribus
vexatur; quid putas, quomodo attendit et considerat, unde
aliquid boni sibi ueniat? Ego miserrimus deuorarem quod
aliquam illi conferre valeat consolationem? Absit ut meam
putridam carnem ad opus vermiumxv incrassare debeam; et
preciosum membrum Christi coram me fame mori videam.
Esto. Saluari desideramus; et laborare nolumus. Quem uero
sanctorum absque labore ad requiem peruenisse legimus?
Veracis testatoris uerba sunt, quod difficile immo
impossibile, sit ut de deliciis ad delicias transeamus, ut in
hoc seculo et etiam in future beati simus. ‘xvi
xiv 1 Corinthians 6:15; Ephesians 5:30.
xv Sirach 19:3
xvi cf. Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25.
Although he laboured very hard in their education, he nonetheless could
only get so far, on account of their way of life, ingrained with bad habits;
they could not aspire to the new grace of a holy way of life because they
did not wholly wish to make the necessary effort. As a result, he was most
vexed, because he could not produce the fruit that he desired.
8. Nevertheless, like a true pastor, for as long as he remained in that place
he said those things which had to be said, and he lived up to his words.
Just as he spoke the words of Christ in Christ, and in the presence of
Christ, he taught whatever favoured Christ. Thus in name he was the prior
and so he first took trouble to fulfil the title through his labour. To this
end, he was such a supporter of the poor that he took great care to spend
on them whatever he reasonably could. Often, he reserved for the infirm
and indigent that which had been served up at his own table, contenting
himself with just bread and water. Somebody else, feeling sorry for him,
because he would not accept that anything was good for his own frail
body, whether in food or other necessities of life, complained that he
reserved for the poor and infirm almost all of the good food given to him;
this was not necessary when he, as master, had the power to order from
the kitchen store what he could allocate to the poor. He humbly replied:
‘I have no doubt that what is granted for consumption by
the needy members of Christxiv can be reasonably obtained
from the provisions or wherever. However, I reckon that
what is taken from one ‘s own mouth will be more pleasing
to Christ. I can have good food when I wish. The poor and
infirm are tormented by the woes of need. What do you
think? Do they take note and consider where something
good for them comes from? Am I not most wretched, in
eating that which otherwise could bring them consolation?
God forbid that I let my putrid flesh fatten wormsxv and
look upon a precious member of Christ dying of hunger in
front of me. Indeed, we want salvation, but we do not wish
to work for it. Which saints, in truth, do we read of who
reached their eternal rest without effort? They are the words
of a true witness, because it is difficult, nay impossible, that
we should pass from pleasure to pleasure in this world if we
are to be blessed in the next. ‘xvi
9. Hinc ieiuniis, escarum abstinentia, magnis vigiliis, nimiis etiam
frigoribus corpus macerabat,xvii tanto amplius; quanta non sicut apud
nos supra se habebat, qui equi dei supra modum interdum currentis
habenas restringeret.xviii Nimiis inquam frigoribus corpusculum
affligebat; qui sepius in hyeme sine pellicea sola tunica sub tenui cappa
uestitus erat.xix Quicquid habere poterat, maxime quod ad altare ex
fidelium oblationibus veniebat; in usus pauperum expendebat, inde
cappas inde tunicas et sotulares ad opus eorum emens. Que cum
deficerent; ad perticamxx in dormitorium ibat et nunc pelliceam nunc
tunicam pie rapiens; petenti pauperi secreto porrigebat. Nec hoc
ita facie/bat, ut fratres expoliaret; quibus abundanter necessaria
10. Tantonienses adhuc allum bonum priorem appellant; qui uere
pater orphanorum et uir viduarum erat,xxi qui pauperum et infirmorum
curam tam sollicite gerebat, quibus dum inpenderet quicquid poterat;
nunquam tamen eis satis erat. Diuitibus uero non bene placebat,
quoniam res pauperum in usus eorum prodige sicut quidam faciunt
expendere nullo modo volebat. Quibus tamen quod opus erat
impendebat, totum studium totaque deuotio ipsius erga pauperes
existebat. Hinc putant quidam auribus domini episcopi wintoniensis
insusurratum, illum prioratum dignum non fore; qui hospites suscipere
nesciret, potentes per quos ecclesia crescere habebat sicut dignum
erat non honoraret. Vir autem dei qui soli deo placere querebat oneri
prelationem semper habebat; quia animarum lucrum quod sitiebat
sicut vellet non inueniebat. Unde litteris multisque legationibus ut
ad dilectum locum de quo exierat reuerteretur dominum priorem
11. Tandem desiderium consecutus, ubi ad nos reuersus est; non
ut quidam de prioratu depositi solent contristabatur, sed tanquam
xvii 2 Corinthians 11:27.
xviii No source for this expression has yet been found.
xix For a canon ‘s normal dress, see J Willis Clark, The observances in use at the
Augustinian priory of S. Giles and S. Andrew at Barnwell, Cambridgeshire
(Cambridge, 1897), pp.196-7.
xx A pertica, literally ‘rod ‘ or ‘perch ‘, was a hanging rail. P Eames, ‘Furniture in
England, France and the Netherlands from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century ‘,
Furniture History 13 (1977), pp.49-50. All clothing was held in common.
xxi Psalm 67:6.
9. He mortified his body in hunger and thirst, in many fastings, in long
vigils, in extreme cold;xvii he did this the more as he had no one above
himself, as at our house, who could rein in this horse of Godxviii when
it ran beyond moderation. He afflicted his body with extreme cold, as I
said, for often in winter he wore only his tunic under a thin cape, with no
cassock.xix Whatever he could have had, especially what came to the altar
with the offerings of the faithful, he spent on the needs of the poor, buying
capes or tunics or shoes for their use. When he did not have enough, he
would go to the dormitory clothes-rail,xx piously taking here a mantle,
there a tunic, which he would offer in secret to the poor who were asking
for clothes. But he did not do this so that the brethren would go short – he
always generously procured their necessities.
10. The people of Taunton still talk of him as a dear, good prior. He was
indeed a father to orphans and a protector of widows;xxi he bore the care of
the poor and infirm with great solicitude. But while he devoted himself and
did whatever he could for them, nothing satisfied them. Neither, indeed, did
he please the rich, because he would not in any way (as some did) wastefully
consume the things of the poor for the enjoyments of the rich. However,
because he did what was needed, his total effort and whole devotion to the
poor stood out. Here, they think that rumours reached the ears of the lord
bishop of Winchester that he was not worthy to be prior, because he did
not know how to receive guests, or give appropriate honour to the mighty,
through whom the Church had to grow. This man of God sought, in fact,
to please God alone, and always found high office a burden because he
could not, as he wished, find that gain of souls for which he thirsted. He
bombarded the lord prior with many letters and envoys, asking that he leave
there and return to his favourite place.
11. At last he got his desire, and returned to us, not mourning his removal
from the office of prior as others do, but, as if liberated from a burdensome
ab ergastulo graui liberatus, uel sicut auis de laqueo venantium ereptusxxii
letabatur exultabat, deoque gratias agebat; nobisque post modicum
temporis quia cor suum, quod se diu dereliquerat, iam inuenisset, gaudens
indicauit. Ac uelut tunc/ primo ad conuersionem accederet, que
retrogesserat paruipendens; ad summa toto studio ferebatur.
Dumque illi suscipiendarum confessionum nostrarum cura commissa
fuisset; ita se nostris miseriis compatiendo ac miserando contemperabat;
ut pene nullus de peccato suo siue de aliqua temptatione tristis ad eum
accederet; qui non ab eo consolatus reuerteretur. Habebat sane magnam
gratiam in verbo consolationis; omnem etiam infirmitatem ferre sciebat,
unde uelut peritus medicus animarum uulneribus medicandis
oportunitate et diligentiam modis omnibus impendebat. Cuius etiam
sanctitatis uirtutem dominus prior in semetipso expertus est. Nam cum
grauissimam incurisset egritudinem et se posse conualescere desperasset;
euocans ilium ad se; rogauit ut in ecclesiam iret, ac pro se deum
deprecaretur, mox ut fudit precem; sensit infirmitas alleuiationem.
12. Audiui apud Tantonam eundem constitutum, pro ingruentibus
tempestatibus aliisque necessitatibus frequenter orare rogatum,
orasse[t]; statimque petitionis effectum subsecutum. Non ista
commemoraui quod virum sanctum miracula facere affectatum
putauerim; tanquam ex hoc sue sanctitatis ostentationem quesierit,
cum iactantiam uelut pestem maximam semper abhorruerit; sed ut
ostenderem quam magne fidei extitit quod totus pietatis uisceribus
affluebat, qui proximorum necessitatibus quibuscumque modis poterat
sub/uenire paratus erat.xxiii Semper autem animarum lucrum
querebat. Vnde inter nos positus, tanquam bonus pater omnes
nos instruebat exhortabatur,xxiv et uelut pia nutrix fouebat et
consolabatur;xxv donec iterum nobis preripitur et ad instituendam
Bothminensem ecclesiam transmittitur.
13. Magister enim Algarus, nunc Constantiensis ecclesie presul, tunc
autem illius loci procurator; tum per se tum per exoniensem episcopum
eundem venerabilem virum ad prioratum prefate ecclesie licet cum
difficultate, tandem impetrauit. Verum non multo post vitam finiuit.
xxii Exodus 6:6-7; Psalm 90:3.
xxiii cf. 1 John 3:17; Colossians 3:12.
xxiv cf. Acts 2:40
xxv cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:7; also ‘consolabatur ‘ Tobit 1:19 and ‘consolabatur Paulus ‘, Acts 27:9.
place of slavery, or as a bird freed from the snare of the hunters,xxii he
rejoiced, exulted and gave thanks to God. He joyfully said to us shortly
afterwards that he had now found his heart again, which for a long time
had deserted him. And then, just as he was when he first approached
conversion, and giving little weight to what he had been doing, he was
brought with all devotion to the highest things. When the care of hearing
confessions had been entrusted to him, he treated us wretches moderately,
with compassion and pity, so that hardly anyone who came to him grieved
by sin or any other temptation went away without being consoled by him.
He had a great gift of grace in his words of consolation, for he understood
all weaknesses, so that, like an expert physician, he expended great care
in healing wounded souls, using all means at the right moments. Our lord
prior tested his saintly virtues, for when he was struck down with a grave
illness and despaired of being able to recover, he called Guy to him, and
asked that he should go into the church and pray to God for him: as soon
as his prayers went up, the prior felt his illness lifted.
12. I heard that when he was at Taunton, he was appointed to pray
during the storms that assailed them and often asked to pray for other
necessities; as soon as he prayed, his prayers were answered. I have not
recorded these things because I thought that this holy man was moved
to perform these miracles to seek a display of his own sanctity; he always
abhorred boastfulness as if it were the greatest of plagues. But I hope I can
show with what great faith he stood out, because holiness flowed from
his innermost being, and he was ready to come to the aid of those nearest
him in whatever ways he could.xxiii He was always seeking to gain souls.
Thus, once set among us, he taught and encouragedxxiv us all like a good
father and, like a holy nurse he cherished and comfortedxxv us, until shortly
afterwards he was again snatched from us and despatched to re-establish
the church at Bodmin.
13. For Master Algar, now bishop of Coutances, then dean of that place,
on his own account and also through the Bishop of Exeter, at length and
with difficulty obtained that venerable man as the prior of the church.
In truth, his life ended not long after that. For it was in wintertime that
Erat enim tempus hyemale quando illuc missus est et in estate proxima
mense maio idus maii uiam uniuerse carnis ingressus est,xxvi prius tamen
in ecclesia Bothminensi quam regebat, religione fundata, magistro
quoque Algaro aliisque quam plurimis canonicis effectis, et in sancta
conuersationexxvii per eius institutionem plurimum roboratis.
14. Circa finem uero causa extitit qua Exoniensem episcopum adire
debebat. Quo itinere equo cui presidebat in preceps ruente contigit ut in
foueam quandam corruens, grauissimam circa intestinorum loca
lesionem incurreret. Unde quibusdam visum est quod hac de causa
celerius ad extrema peruenerit. Ad exoniam uero perductus; lecto
prosternitur, morbo de die in diem semper ingrauescente. Venerat ad
visendum eum/ vir religiosus magister Gaufridus; tunc canonicus
de Plintona, nunc autem in eodem loco prioris officio fungens.
Affuit et magister Algarus; uterque ad obsequendum in omnibus infirmo
tam sedulus quam deuotus. Qui leticia pariter ac mesticia vehementer
afficiebantur. Hinc gaudentes quod illum in tanta deuotione ad exitum
properare cernerent, inde contristati quod tam dilecti presentia
destituebantur. Siquidem testati sunt nobis, quod aliquem in infirmitate
sua deuotius se habentem nunquam viderint. Accusabat enim se sine
intermissione de peccatis suis, lapsum quo in foueam ceciderat sepe
commemorans; et cum lacrimis dicens, ‘In foueam cecidi.xxviii Heu heu,
ego captiuus. ‘ Hoc enim uerbum, quando se accusabat, semper in ore
habebat, ‘ego captiuus in quam profundum puteum inferni propter nimia
peccata mea precipitandus sum. O Christe, miserere serui tui, quia licet
aliter vixi quam debui, tamen in te domine speraui, non confundar in
eternum, sed in tua, non mea, iusticia libera me et eripe me. ‘ xxix Multum de
confessione loquebatur; quia nescio si aliquis purius illo delicta sua
confitebatur. De fide quoque sancte Trinitatis tam perfecte tamque
profunde disserebat ut prefati docti viri in stuporem conuerterentur.
xxvi cf. Hebrews 4:10; Joshua 23:14; 3 Kings 2:2.
xxvii cf. Tobit 14:17.
xxviii cf. Matthew 12:11, ‘et si ceciderit haec sabbatis in foveam nonne tenebit ‘ ( ‘and
if the same [sheep] falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it? ‘),
and Psalm 7:16, ‘Lacum aperuit, et effodit eum ; et incidit in foveam quam fecit ‘
( ‘He has opened a hole and dug it out: he falls into the pit he has made ‘). ‘Cecidi
in foveam ‘ was a phrase that St Bernard (or Pseudo-St Bernard) liked: ‘Liber de
modo bene vivendi ad sororem ‘, in Sancti Bernardi Opera Omnia, vol.ii, ed. J
Mabillon (Paris, 1839), pp.1689, 1762.
xxix Psalm 70:1-2; Te deum laudamus.
he was sent there, and in the following May, on the Ides,3 he entered the
way of all fleshxxvi – but only after establishing religious life in the church
which he ruled at Bodmin; many other canons were brought together by
Master Algar and much strengthened in holy livingxxvii through his way
14. Shortly before the end of his life, matters arose which he had to
discuss with the bishop of Exeter. On his way there, his horse dashed
wildly, and it happened that he fell into a pit and incurred a very serious
injury in the intestinal area. Certain people saw that this would hasten his
end. So he was brought to Exeter, and laid on a bed, his health growing
worse day by day. That pious man, Master Geoffrey, then a canon of
Plympton, and now its prior, came to see him, and Master Algar was
also there; both attended to all his infirmities assiduously and devotedly.
They were struck with both joy and overwhelming sorrow: rejoicing,
because they could with great devotion help him approach his death,
and saddened that they would be bereft of such a delightful presence.
Indeed they testified to us that they had never seen anyone so faithfully
in control of himself during an illness. For without ceasing he accused
himself of his sins, often remembering that he had fallen into a pit,
and weeping said, ‘Into a pit I have fallen.xxviii Alas, alas, I am a captive. ‘
He always had this word in his mouth when he accused himself. ‘I am
captive in the deep infernal pit; I am cast down on account of my over-
many sins. Oh, Christ, have mercy upon your servant, because I have
lived other than I ought; yet I have hoped in you, O Lord; let me not be
put to everlasting shame; but set me free in your, not my, righteousness,
and deliver me. ‘xxix He spoke much about confession, although I know
of no one who confessed his sins more purely. He also expounded the
faith of the Holy Trinity so perfectly and profoundly that the aforesaid
learned men were left speechless in awe.4
3 May 15th.
4 For a discussion of the Trinity in twelfth-century thought, see F Robb, Intellectual
Tradition and Misunderstanding: the Development of Academic Theology on the
Trinity in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries (PhD. thesis, London 1993): https://
15. Appropinquante uero horaxxx mortis eius; iam membris/
premortuis, uelut in extasim raptus, diu iacuit immobilis.
Expergefactus autem; cepit inquirere que dies esset. Responsum est
vigiliam esse ascensionis dominice. Tunc ab intimo cordis longa trahens
suspiria; in hanc uocem exultationisxxxi erupit, ‘Hodie dies est redemptionis
mee. ‘ Et tamquam in gaudio tante solennitatis aliquandiu repausans,
subiecit, ‘Hodie dies est misericordie dei. ‘ Iterumque uelut in consideratione
tante misericordie paululum respirans; ita conclusit, ‘Dies gaudii mei. ‘
Erat autem inter nonam et uesperam cum hec uerba proferret. Sicque
totus in amorem Christi suspensus, usque ad confinium diei et noctis quo
spiritum exalauit per interuallum uerba dulcia ad gloriosam ascensionem
pertinentia proferebat, ita ut cum loqui uix posset; ascendens in altumxxxii
sepius reuolueret. Curabat corpus satis diligenter magister Gaufridus,
quoniam magister Algarus solummodo lacrimis et gemitibus uacabat,
non de salute defuncti male sentiendo; sed quod sibi tam dulcis
subtrahebatur amicus ingemiscendo, nec dolori modum imponerexxxiii
preualendo. Cum vero corpus secundum consuetudinem vestiretur;
cappam, qua super induendum et totum obuoluendum erat, nimis
curtam, id est usque circa genua pertingentem/ inuenerunt. Unde
turbati dum de alia querenda tractarent; subito mirum in modum
satis et supra quam necesse erat longa reperta est, vehementer super hoc
stupentibus qui aderant deoque gratias agentibus qui et huic miraculo
fidele postmodum testimonium perhibuerunt.
16. Disponebat magister Algarus ad Bothminensem ecclesiam corpus
deferre. At Exonienses canonici nullo modo consentire uoluerunt,
immo eiusdem corporis exequias tanquam sancti et a Deo sibi concessi
cum omni honorificentia celebrare statuerunt. Aderat dies dominice
ascensionis, cum ex diuersis partibus tantus conuenit populus;
quantus in Exonia ciuitate nunquam antea simul conuenisse visus est,
mirantibus plurimis et veraciter affirmantibus ad uiri Dei obsequium
diuinitatis instinctu tantam excitatam fuisse multitudinem. Baiulabant
feretrum maiores illius ecclesie persone, totumque officium cum
tanta ueneratione persoluebatur, quantam in illa ciuitate uel exequiis
xxx Matthew 26:45.
xxxi Isaiah 48:20.
xxxii Ephesians 4:8.
xxxiii Colker gives this as Virgil, Aeneid II.619 but it is actually Pliny, Letters IX.13.
15. When the hour of his death was at hand,xxx his limbs were paralysed,5
and for a long time he lay still, as if carried away in a trance. But suddenly
he awoke, and began to ask what day it was. They replied that it was the
Vigil of the Ascension. Then, drawing deep breaths from the bottom
of his heart, he burst out in a voice of exultation,xxxi ‘Today is the day
of my redemption. ‘ Pausing a little as if amid the great rejoicing of the
festival, he added, ‘Today is the day of God ‘s mercy, ‘ and again, taking
a little breath, as if thinking on some great mercy, he ended with, ‘the
day of my rejoicing ‘. It was between Nones and evening that he said
these words. Thus wholly bathed in the love of Christ, through which
he breathed out his spirit until twilight, at intervals he offered up sweet
words concerning the glorious Ascension, so that when he could hardly
speak, he might reflect on them more often, ascending on high.xxxii Master
Geoffrey carefully looked after the body, because Master Algar, dissolved
in tears, was rendered incapable by grief, not because he felt badly about
the condition of the deceased, but because such a dear friend had been
taken away: he was not strong enough to put a limit on his grief.xxxiii Now,
when the body was being dressed according to custom, they found that
the cloak that was to cover him and wrap him up completely was too
short, reaching only to his knees. During the hubbub of the search for a
new cloak, it was suddenly and wonderfully found to be long enough, and
more. Those who were present were astonished and gave thanks to God,
and soon after bore witness to this miracle of faith.
16. Master Algar was preparing to have the body brought to the church
of Bodmin, but the canons of Exeter would by no means consent to this;
rather, they stood out for celebrating the funeral rites of his body with all
honour as if saints were granted to them by God. It was on the day of the
Ascension of Our Lord: a large crowd gathered from various quarters,
such as had never before been seen amassed in the city of Exeter. Many
people marvelled, and truly affirmed that it was divine inspiration that
had roused so great a crowd to be at the funeral of a man of God. The
more important personages of the church carried the bier, performing the
whole office with great reverence, such that no one remembered anything
5 Literally ‘already dead ‘ (membris premortuis).
episcopi uel alterius cuiuslibet persone defuncte exhibitam fuisse nullus
exoniensium recordatur. Quid multa? In honorabili loco claustri sui, in
precioso sarcophago de petra preciso corpus uenerandum reposuerunt;
omnibus qui aderant tam clericis quam laicis una proclamantibus quod
veraciter ea die cum Christo/ celos ascendit.
17. Ecce, karissime frater, qualiter honorabilis pater tuus in
presentis uite stadio cucurrit, quomodo cursu legitime consummato
ad brauium feliciter peruenit.xxxiv Te uero quoniam patrissare cognoui;
multo tibi libentius vitam ipsius vtrumque descripsi quatinus
perpendas non tam laudabile si religiose uiuere contendas; quam
detestabile si quod absit male uiuendo a tam religioso parente
degeneres. Noueris tamen ut promisi summatim ista perstricta;
quoniam mirabilem illius feruorem, lacrimarum abundantiam
sincerissimam religionem omnimodam puritatem et veritatem, ex
quarum fiducia nullam formidabat personam, quin libere diceret
quod ei dicendum sentiebat, aliaque quam plurima dei dona, que in
eo florere conspeximus, puto uerbis ad plenum explicari non posse.
Siquidem huiusmodi bona spiritualia; ex uisu, auditu, cohabitatione,
collocutione multo magis intelliguntur; quam ullis uerbis valeant
18. Michi uero pro tantillo labore aliquid rependi desidero. Ut
quoniam inter horas canonicas ista scribebam, sepe dum ipsis horis
instare deberem, de his dictandis potius cogitabam; te suppliciter orante,
non solum huius verum etiam omnium culparum mearum veniam
consequar, insuper hanc gratiam tuis precibus/ obtineam, quatinus
sepe memorati semperque uenerandi parentis tui sanctitatis
imitator in presenti, et in future beatitudinis particeps existam. Amen.
xxxiv cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24; 2 Timothy 2:5; 2 Timothy 4:7-8; however, the source
for this particular quotation seems to be the matins antiphon for the feast of
St Silvinus (17th February): ‘In stadio uite breuis/ hic cucurrit legitime/ ut
brauium immortalis/ digne possit percipere. ‘ This antiphon survives in a 15th-
century manuscript from the abbey of St Bertin in St Omer. G M Dreves, Analecta
Hymnica 18 (Leipzig, 1894), p.235-6. St Silvinus (d.718) was an Irish missionary
who worked in the area around St Omer. Merton later on swapped several parishes
with the Abbey of St Mary de Valle (St Omer); it is possible that Merton had
connections with this part of Normandy: F C Hingeston-Randolph, The registers
of Walter Bronescombe and Peter Quivil, Bishops of Exeter (1889), p.379.
like it happening in Exeter, not at the funerals of bishops or of anyone else
of that city. What more? They, with due reverence, laid his body in a place
of honour in the cloister6 in a costly carved stone coffin, and everyone
who was there, whether cleric or layman, with one voice said that he truly
ascended that day to heaven with Christ.
17. See, dearest brother, how your honourable father ran the race of the
present life, and how, having completed the course by the rules, he happily
gained the prize.xxxiv Since I know that you indeed take after your father, I
have the more gladly described to you his life, so that you may consider
not so much how laudable it would be for you to strive to live a religious
life, but how detestable it would be if, because he is gone, you fell away
from such a pious parent by loose living. You will know, however, that
I have promised to touch on these things but lightly: his wonderful
enthusiasm, the abundance of his tears, the tremendous sincerity of his
religion, his purity and truth in all things, from the assurance of which he
feared no one and freely said what he felt should be said, and the other
many gifts of God which we saw blossom in him – I think it is not possible
to find sufficient words to describe all these things. The good things of the
spiritual life are observed best of all in this way, by seeing and hearing,
living and conversing, more than they can be conveyed by any words.
18. I wrote these things in between the canonical hours (and often, while
I should have been concentrating on those hours, I was thinking rather
more about this composition),7 and so I do indeed ask for something by
way of recompense for this modest work: that by your humble prayer I
may gain forgiveness, not only for this one fault, but for all my others.
Moreover, I ask that through your prayers I may obtain this grace, that
by virtue of being a disciple of the saintliness of your parent, a man often
remembered and ever to be revered, I may partake of his blessedness, now
and in the future. Amen.
6 This would seem to be the cloister of Exeter Cathedral, but cf. Nicholas Orme ‘s
comments: Victoria County History: Cornwall, vol.2 (London, 2010), p.140.
7 The Latin is ‘dictandis ‘, literally ‘to be dictated ‘. Letters were normally written by a
scribe, dictated by the author: G Constable, ‘Letters and Letter-collections ‘, Typologie
des sources du Moyen Age occidental 17 (Turnhout, 1976), p.42.
ISBN 978 1 903899 80 9
Published by Merton Historical Society – 2020
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