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New exhibition celebrates cathedral's 800th birthday

A new exhibition at Salisbury Cathedral reveals a number of treasures for the first time, including a letter from the Pope permitting the cathedral to move to a new site, an example of medieval fundraising through prayer and a set of mid-13th century household accounts that extends 19ft.

Cathedral_Archivist_Emily_Naish_unrolls_Robert_de_Cardevilles_19ft_scroll_-_Photo_by_Ash_Mills_-_Copy.jpgThe cathedral archivist unrolls the 19ft scroll (photo by Ash Mills)

Originally conceived to celebrate the cathedral’s 800th birthday in April, the exhibition was delayed until now, and features a historic medieval document granting permission for Salisbury Cathedral to move from its original site in Old Sarum, two miles from Salisbury, to where it stands today.

The papal bull or letter granting permission was sent to the cathedral by Pope Honorius III and is bound into The Register of St Osmund, which contains documents from the cathedral’s earliest history. This also includes the 1091 foundation charter for the first cathedral at Old Sarum, and a description of the laying of the present cathedral’s first foundation stones on 28 April 1220, eight centuries ago.

The_Papal_Bull_in_the_Register_of_St_Osmund_at_Salisbury_Cathedral_-_photo_by_Ash_Mills__1_-_Copy.jpgThe Papal Bull in the register of St Osmund (photo by Ash Mills)

Salisbury Cathedral is one of England’s finest medieval cathedrals and a leading example of English Gothic architecture. It is famed for Britain’s tallest spire, the world’s oldest working clock, its 10,000 book library and the best preserved original copy of Magna Carta.

Salisbury_Cathedral_-_1.jpgSalisbury Cathedral (photo by Ash Mills)

Among the other treasures from the cathedral’s archive and library that are on display in the exhibition is a book from the scriptorium at Old Sarum. Written in the early 1100s, this is one of just over 60 manuscripts that survive from the scriptorium and are held at the cathedral to this day.
Emily Naish, the Salisbury Cathedral archivist who put the exhibition together, said: "The cathedral’s anniversary year is a marvellous opportunity for us to display some of the greatest treasures from our collections – one of which, the book written at the first Salisbury Cathedral at Old Sarum, is older than the building itself!  These documents give us an insight into the life of our medieval ancestors who worked and worshipped here, forming a unique link between the past and the present."

Exhibited alongside The Register of St Osmund and the Old Sarum book is an Indulgence issued by Archbishop Stephen Langton around the time building commenced on the cathedral’s present site. It grants forgiveness for 30 days of sin to anyone who would contribute towards the cost of construction. Indulgences were a common way to raise funds in medieval times. 
However, probably the most intriguing item on show is a remarkable 19ft scroll that lists all the food bought for the household of Robert de Cardeville, Salisbury Cathedral’s Canon Treasurer in the year 1256-1257. This huge list details how much everything cost, where it was eaten and on what day.

Cathedral_Archivist_Emily_Naish_measures_Robert_de_Cardevilles_19ft_scroll_-_Photo_by_Ash_Mills_2_-_Copy.jpgRobert de Cardeville’s 19ft scroll (photo by Ash Mills)

The menu was extensive and included carne grossa or great meat, in other words beef, mutton or pork; gallinis or chickens and, on Fridays, fish listed as herring, plaice, and ling, a kind of cod. For feasts there were spiced sauces, pies and pasties. The Canon Treasurer’s clerk, Colin, was responsible for keeping the account.
Commenting on his medieval predecessor’s groceries, the current Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral, Robert Titley, said: "I suspect our supermarket receipts for a year, laid end to end, would be even longer then my namesake’s parchment. With climate breakdown we are trying to be less ‘gross’ with our ‘carne’. Train tickets, bike bits and (some) petrol have replaced the horse fodder, though I eat nearly ten kilos of oats a year myself. And we too enjoy the skills of someone called Colin – he helps us with the garden." 
If you or your group would like to enjoy a tailor-made pilgrimage or religious tour in England, or if you would just like to visit some of the finest cathedrals that the UK and Ireland have to offer on a custom tour, then please do contact our friendly team today. Perhaps you would also like to enjoy exploring the UK and Ireland through its archives and manuscripts.

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