The origin of chantries
Colvin, Howard (St John’s College, Oxford)
Journal of Medieval History, Vol. 26, No. 2, pp. 163–173 (2000)
The chantry was a phenomenon of the later middle ages whose origins have never been satisfactorily explained. It is argued here that what led to its emergence in the thirteenth century was the inability of the monastic orders, at a time of rising population and increasing awareness of the pains of Purgatory, to cope with the growing demand for intercessory masses. For the wealthy layman or cleric anxious to ensure his salvation, one solution was the endowment of monks or canons specifically to say masses for his soul in perpetuity, thus in effect privatising the work of intercession which was a basic function of the monastic life. Alternatively he could establish a chantry attached to a cathedral or parish church and served by a secular priest – another privatised form of commemoration which became a characteristic form of late medieval piety.