40 Days of Pardon

In the South Quire Aisle of St George’s Chapel, there are two recesses opposite one another. Below the one on the north side of the aisle is carved an inscription, with the letters delineated in black. It reads as follows:

Who leyde this booke here The Reverend Fader in god Richard Beauchamp Bisschop of this Diocyse of Sarysbury and wherfor to this entent that Preestis and ministers of goddis chirche may here haue the occupacion therof seyyng therin theyr divine servyse and for alle othir that lystyn to sey therby ther devocyon  askyth he any sp’uall mede  yee asmoche as oure lord lyst to reward hym for his good entent praying euery man w’os dute or devocion is eased by thys booke they woll sey for hym this commune Oryson Dne Ihu xpe: knelyng in the presence of this holy Crosse for the wyche the Reverend Fadir in god above seyd hathe grauntid of the treasure of the Chirche to eu’y man xl days of pardun

Who laid this book here? – The Reverend Father in God Richard Beauchamp, Bishop of this Diocese of Salisbury.
And for what? – For this purpose: that priests and ministers of God’s church may use it, saying by it their divine service, and for everyone else who wishes to use it to say their prayers.
Does he ask for any spiritual gift? – Yes, as much as Our Lord wishes to reward him for his good intention, beseeching every man whose duty or prayers are eased by this book to say for him this common prayer: Domine Jesu Christe, kneeling in the presence of this holy cross, for which the Reverend Father in God named above has granted from the treasure of the Church to every man 40 days’ pardon.

The book which would once have lain in the recess was probably a copy of the Sarum Porthos, or Breviary – a liturgical book containing prayers, hymns, psalms and readings according to the Sarum Rite (or Use of Salisbury), the variant of the Catholic liturgy most widely used in medieval England. A case containing a modern day prayer book now stands in the recess.

Richard Beauchamp was Bishop of Salisbury (written with the medieval spelling ‘Sarisbury ‘in the inscription) from 1450 to his death 1481, and it was he whom Edward IV chose to oversee the construction of the present St George’s Chapel. A boss on the roof just above depicts Bishop Beauchamp and Edward IV kneeling to the Cross Gneth or Croes Naid, a relic believed to be a piece of the True Cross which was kept here until 1552. This is the ‘Holy Cross’ referred to in the inscription.

The ‘treasure of the church’ is the merit accumulated by Christ and the good works of Catholics, by means of which indulgences may be granted to individuals to reduce the punishment they will experience in Purgatory. In this case, praying before the Cross Gneth would earn you the amount of pardon equivalent to that gained by forty days of penance.

Nathanael Hodge (Work experience student)

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.