"A boy sings ... a beautiful thing."

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In the name of the supreme and undivided Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, We Thomas of Beckinton by divine permission Bishop of Bath and Wells, to the praise and glory of Almighty God and the honor and benefit of our Cathedral Church of Wells, do hereby bring to the notice of the present generation and the attention of those to come the following rules and ordinances for the right conduct and guidance of the Chorister boys of our Church aforesaid. These rules, profitably instituted by the excellent Sir Robert Catur of blessed memory, Instructor and Master of the Choristers, we have found in his time diligently and dutifully observed. We desire that these rules be respected with such devotion, such zeal, such application that both present Choristers and those to come may be so guided under the cane and salutary control of such rules and ordinances along the road of knowledge and conduct that they become ever more and more proficient in the same, and finally may be worthy to attain the crown of an everlasting reward.


Whereas the Precentor of our Cathedral Church aforesaid must with due prudence, setting aside all worldly passion and partiality whatsoever, provide for the admission of a principal Master of the Choristers, such a Master must be a Priest, a Man approved in all things, both in knowledge and conduct. He must be prudent and well able to distinguish and adjudge which boys are to be admitted to enter and fulfil the office of Chorister, not only in respect of the suitability of their voices, but also of their natural disposition. Moreover, the Master must be blameless in his life that he may be able to present to his boys a pattern or chastity for them to imitate; and can the more boldly punish them should they fall into any manner of wantonness. Also the Master must be temperate and at all times discerning, that he may accommodate the punishment to the gravity of the offence and the nature of the circumstances; having regard as much for place as for persons, that he may direct and teach also with diligence, lest for want of the milk of learning and discipline the little lambs perish under his tending or fail to prosper with effect as they should. He must be skilled in grammar and sufficiently trained in both plainsong and harmony, Lest if the blind lead the blind both fall into the ditch. [Matt.xv,14. Luke vi,39] Finally above all these, he must be prudent and truthful and sufficiently endowed with this world's goods, so that he may at once faithfully dispose the resources and possessions of the said Choristers as reason and their necessities may dictate. It is required that each year on the first Monday after the feast of St.Michael the Archangel, or on one of the two days following, as the Precentor, or in his absence one of the Canons Residentiary nominated for the purpose by the Precentor of the said church shall appoint, the accounts both of receipts and expenditures of the Choristers' House be checked in the presence of the Precentor or his nominee and the senior Canon present during the time covered by the accounts; and the said accounts must be correct in every point. It is required that this account, made in the manner aforesaid, be completed within the week, when such moneys as are due to the use of the said boys from the Escheator of the said Cathedral Church for obits and funeral services of the dead shall be paid, together with the other moneys assigned by the Canons and other men in accordance with the laudable custom the said church, on the vigils of St. Richard the King and St. Nicholas; these moneys to be divided according to the amount belonging to each boy and put in purses provided for the purpose, each having a boy's name thereon. And it is required that the said purse be kept in a certain chest secured with two keys, of which one shall remain in the keeping of the said Precentor or his deputy, and the other in the hands of the Master of the said boys: these shall be faithfully preserved. And on the same day that moneys of this nature are to be divided and placed in the boys' purses in the manner aforesaid all the boys shall be summoned that each of them may see, understand and know exactly that the sum belonging to him is being placed therein without deduction or embezzlement, unless perchance it befall that the Master of the boys shall have previously paid out any money for the necessary expenses of any of the boys. Such payments shall be considered by the Precentor or his deputy and allocated as is right, and the master shall be faithfully repaid as is just; the remaining sum is to be placed intact in such a boy's purse; provided nevertheless that if at any time any of the boys for a reasonable and proper cause to be approved by the Precentor or his deputy and the Master (as, for example, if perchance such a one shall be about to proceed to one of the English Universities for study and the pursuit of learning, with the advice, desire and consent of his friends). on his departure all the moneys belonging to him shall be paid to him in full in the presence of the said Precentor or his deputy and the Master. Nevertheless we desire that if a boy intends to pursue his studies in this way he shall give the Master notice of his departure three quarters previously, that the Master may make timely provision in the meantime for the admission and adequate instruction of a chorister in his place. But if any of the boys for some less reasonable and proper reason to be approved by the persons aforesaid (as, for instance, if he be enticed by the promptings and persuasions of others to shrink away furtively or secretly, or if he be removed through the counsel or action of his friends after they have seen him adequately trained, or if he depart like a rascal of his own fault or mischievously); in these cases we will, decree and ordain that all boys leaving in such a way be obliged to pay what is right for board, teaching, utensils, barber's and launderer's wages for the whole time that they have been in the Choristers' House and make due recompense for the offence done to our Cathedral Church aforesaid. And all such moneys shall be preserved for the relief and consolation of the boys remaining there, and shall be released for the use of the Chorister boy appointed in the place of one who leaves in such a way, that there be no difference in the clothing worn by the Choristers. But that each and every article in these ordinances and statutes both preceding and to follow be ever the more cautiously, diligently and strictly observed. We will, decree and ordain that every Master of the Choristers to be admitted to his office shall at his admission in the presence of the precentor or his deputy and other reliable persons summoned for the purpose by the precentor or his deputy and appearing in person, himself lay hold of the holy gospels of God and take his Oath in the manner following:-

"I, ………., now admitted to the office of Master or the Choristers of this holy Cathedral Church, holding the sacred gospels or God, do hereby Swear that I will faithfully and diligently observe, and cause to be observed by the boys themselves and others, so far as in me lies, each and every ordinance and statute herein contained so far as they concern me and particularly so far as they relate to the instruction of the boys or choristers in their conduct as well as learning; also all that relates to the correction of the faults or the same boys; to the faithful administration of the temporal wealth pertaining to this Choristers' House, in accordance with all the forces, form and bearing or statutes and ordinances, so help me God and these sacred gospels of God."


Whereas the Master of the said boys must with due prudence provide with especial diligence and solicitous care that his subordinate (who must take the place of the said Master as occasion requires) in the education of the Chorister boys, be a man of notable humility, obedient and intent upon the instruction, sayings and admonitions of the master, We will and strictly decree and ordain that such a man (and none other) be appointed by the Master to the office of Undermaster of the said Choristers as necessity requires. And we demand that the same Under-master notably fulfil the conditions aforesaid, viz: he must have a spotless reputation, be sober, discreet and zealous for teaching as well as discipline; possessed with adequate knowledge of instructing boys in reading and singing and the other matters relating to, or requisite to, their offices. Yet we require that the manner of teaching, both of the Master and the Under-master, be so far as is possible, similar not dissimilar or different, and plain, not obscure, and short and concise, for excessive diffuseness in a lesson often produces boredom in the pupil wherewith he becomes nauseated and loses confidence; and boredom causes forgetfulness, the stepmother of all proficiency in learning. They must be endowed with all the qualities which are to be passed on and developed in the course of education: honour, goodness and all the virtues which accord to the betterment of their behaviour and particularly their chanting; so that the said boys be never at any time instructed in songs which have any wonton or discreditable tendency. The Master and Under-master must give timely teaching and instruction in such subjects as are wont to be taught by frequent repetition whenever and wherever it is expendient. Moreover on his appointment the same Under-master shall, in the presence of the principal Master and other honourable men summoned by him for the purpose, take an Oath upon the holy gospels of God in the manner following:-

"I, …………, now admitted to the office of Under-Master of the Choristers of this holy Cathedral Church, upon the holy gospels of God which I hold do hereby swear that I will faithfully and diligently observe and cause to be observed by the boys themselves and others, so far as in me lies, each and every ordinance and statute herein contained, so far as they concern me and particularly so far as they relate to the instruction of the boys or choristers in their conduct as well as learning; in accordance with all the force, form and bearing of such statutes and ordinances; so help me God and these holy gospels of God."

Furthermore, seeing that, as holy scripture bears witness, The labourer is worthy of his hire [Luke x,7; 1 Tim.v,l8]. We will, decree and also ordain that, over and above all other honest emoluments whatsoever that they may receive honestly and justly from other sources, the said Master and Under-master shall earn and receive annually from the common property of the said Choristers' House in return for their labours therein the sun of forty shillings and twenty-six shillings and eithpence respectively. 


The Master as also the Under-master must from time to time with solicitous and watchful care examine and diligently enquire and observe that no unlawful or dishonourable or unnatural behaviour be permitted to develop, grow or flourish among the boys, particularly playing truant, swearing, lies, brawling, quarrelling, fighting, filching, raucous laughter, jeering or any other unseemly behaviour of this nature. For if they are but tolerated they grow gradually from bad to worse and are all the more difficult to eradicate. Another hindrance or obstacle to teaching is a want of intelligence which is called denseness or stupidity. Since this defect is a product of nature rather than the boy's own fault, one must pity it rather than be angered by it, unless it should happen that the boy is not merely dense but lazy too. So if any boy is affected with denseness of this sort, as by experience we frequently find to be the case, particularly where there is a large number of boys, the remedy to be applied is this. The Master must give a short and brief lesson to such a boy, and such as may be carefully impressed, since it is for his instruction and for imprinting a lesson of this kind more surely upon his memory. Then straightway he must have constant and careful recourse to each of his fellow-pupils who has a more intelligent perception, to whom the boy's imagination and interest will make him incline more readily.

But the third obstacle to proficiency in learning is sloth; but since that failing is seen to be not so much natural as incidental, it will be more easily removed if the masters apply the greatest care. So such boys are first of all to be gently admonished; secondly, if they are lazy, they are to be sharply reprimanded; and thirdly, if need be, they are to be driven with the stick. For as Solomon says: "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him" [Proverbs, xxii,15]. 


Whereas chorister boys were appointed in the said Cathedral Church to take part in the performance of divine offices in the choir both on Feast days and at other times at the proper hours established by ancient usage, we decree that this be observed as heretofore with devotion and piety. This observance must be such that the said Choristers on entering the said church at such seasons and hours walk reverently, soberly and modestly, that as they so walk they may present to all a pattern of humility, devotion and probity. And firstly, it is required that they always wear clean surplices in good repair, and goodly copes in good repair reaching to the ankles in accordance with the ancient usage of the church. So clothed they shall proceed two and two in order of seniority, with the junior or younger boys leading, and the older boys behind them, and on entering the choir they shall bow reverently before the high altar, bowing from the waist. Then they shall signify their obedience and reverence to the Lord Bishop and the Dean, if they are present in person, or to whichever of them is present in person. Then they shall proceed to their places in the choir silently, peacefully and solemnly. And when they have to perform some office or service or any one of them, as reading the lesson, chanting or censing, or anything else according to the ancient usage or custom of the said church, they are to perform it diligently and to the best of their ability, refraining from any sort of frivolous conversation, trifling or unseemly behaviour whatsoever. Moreover, we will, decree and ordain that all the choristers aforesaid of our church wear cassocks reaching to the ankles, long tunics and short stockings according to the praiseworthy custom obtaining to this day. That manner of dress, it is believed, was introduced of old and has remained unimpaired to this day with this purpose and intent, that the boys being clothed in this way should be made more humble and consequently less inclined to be led astray. But if it befall that at their parents' or any other person's expense they take to following the fashions of the present wanton age and wearing clothes or shoes of a more unseemly and unbecoming sort, as, for instance, pointed slippers, long hose, strait doublets and short cassocks barely reaching to their ankles, I have ordained or appointed that none of the said choristers in any manner whatever nor ever at any time be permitted to wear them. But the Master of the Choristers shall remove and take away any such clothing as we have described above, unseemly garments, pointed shoes and such like; and he shall convert them and put them to a more profitable use. 


For the better discipline and proficiency of learning in school there are by common consent many things appropriate to boys. First and above all is the Gift of grace, seeing that "Every good gift and ever perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of Lights" [James, i,17]. So that this Gift may the more easily be imparted to the chorister boys through the inspiration of grace, we desire the unswerving observance, as in former times, of that good, salutary and holy discipline of each boy's getting up in the morning or at midnight, and after first making the sign of the cross, saying, "In the name of the Father, etc."; then the Lord's Prayer and the Angelic Greeting with this Antiphon: "Come holy ghost", and the versicle, "Send forth thy spirit", with this prayer here following: "Pour into our hearts, O Lord, thy kindly spirit by whose wisdom we are established and by whose providence we are governed: through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." And those who get up at midnight are to say Mattins of the Blessed Mary together in chorus silently and without making a noise, provided however that they in no manner omit any part of the service appointed. But those who get up in the morning shall arise from their beds and say mattins two and two together, and while they say it they shall dress themselves, make their beds, tidy their lockers, wash their hands, and straightway go to school peacefully and quietly and sit down there without making a noise, and await the arrival and presence of the Master or Undermaster. As soon as the Master or Undermaster so arrive he shall instruct the boys concisely and plainly in plainsong and harmony, judiciously tempering their voices on high and low notes according to the pitch of their voices. And the said Master or Undermaster shall so remain in school until second prime which is called Day Prime, and then the boys are to go to their breakfast. When they have eaten, those who have to officiate in the choir are to proceed to the choir, while the rest remain in school and repeat their lessons until the eleventh hour, when they are to cross to the hall for their meal. Dinner being over, they shall return to school and apply themselves diligently to the repetition of their lessons until the arrival of the Master or Undermaster; and so till the hour for Evensong. Then those who are deputed to celebrate divine offices shall proceed to the choir, and the rest are to remain in school until the end of Evensong as before. After Evensong, however, they shall go to supper; and when supper is over, in the summer they may play as the Master or Under-master shall decide and arrange. Then, if necessary or convenient, the Master or Undermaster shall hear their lessons, antiphons, versicles and responses, which the choristers thereto deputed are to read or chant at Mattins in the choir of the church aforesaid. Meanwhile the other choristers shall remain in school as before, and afterwards according to the arrangement of the Master or Under-master, at whatever time is convenient, they may have some play and relaxation. 


At mealtimes, whether it be dinner or supper, the chorister boys are to enter their common hall, walking decently, without noise or commotion. And whereas before all things we are in duty bound to make confession to the God of Heaven "who giveth food to all flesh" [Psalm cxxxvl,25], the said chorister boys after entering the hall in the manner aforesaid, shall stand in order in the following manner: First of all the younger boys are to stand, with the older boys behind then; or the shorter boys may stand in front of the taller ones. Then they shall say their grace distinctly and audibly, after which they shall decently and silently approach the table and peacefully sit down. When they are seated they shall behave decently and not lean on the table. They must not deliberately or wantonly soil or spoil the cloth or other utensils in front of them, and they must take their food courteously and decently. They must cut their bread or break it decently, not gnaw it with their teeth or tear it with their nails. Also they must drink with their mouths empty, not full, and eat their food decently, in moderation and not quickly. On no account are they to raise their knives to their mouths with the food, nor clean their teeth with their knives. And if at dinner or supper-time there is anything lacking that they ought to have, they must ask for it softly not loudly, not in English but in Latin; and they must consider themselves satisfied with what is provided without any murmuring or disapproval. When their brief and moderate meal is ended they shall all rise together from table and stand in front of the table in order as before, saying their grace distinctly and audibly. After this one of the boys to be deputed for the purpose is to begin the usual prayers in the mother tongue. And that same order and manner of speech and other observances is to be followed by the same boys at supper. Moreover we decree that no boys at all from outside except two be admitted to the choristers' meals and table, and that the master of the boys shall make careful provision that no boy be admitted in this way unless he be of good and decent disposition and not more than ten or twelve years of age. Moreover, no boys are to be allowed to stay there longer than two or three years after their admission in this way. 


Whereas it is well known that bedrooms were instituted especially to ensure rest after the labours of the waking hours, it is right that the chorister boys after their daily labours should betake themselves straightway to their bedroom for rest after they have first said in the school the prayers following: the antiphon "Hail Queen" without music, together with the Psalm "Out of the deep" [Ps. Cxxxi], and the prayer "Absolve, we beseech thee." When they proceed to their room they must walk two and two together, and kneeling at the foot of their beds, they shall say this Psalm "Have mercy on me, 0 God",etc.[Ps.li], with this versicle "Vouchsafe, 0 Lord, to keep us this night without sin", and this prayer "Lighten our darkness", etc. When they have so said and put off their clothes, they shall go to bed in the following manner. In each bed three boys shall lie as follows: Two smaller boys shall have their heads towards the head of the bed, and one senior shall lie with his head towards the foot of the bed so that his feet shall be between the feet of the younger boys. And a lamp or mortar shall be lit and placed there to provide a continual light, so that the Master or Undermaster can see as often as required how the boys are lying. And they are to lie and rest thus in silence and without noise until the midnight offices or until they go to school in the morning. Above all very great care must be taken to ensure that all the decencies are observed in the boys' bedroom, and that there is no unseemly behaviour or urinating or anything else irregular or indecent. 


Seeing that it is of advantage to provide relaxation from time to time from the cares of work and observances in the choir, it is right that the mister or undermaster shall assign a suitable time and place for the boys' games; Provided that in their games the boys are in no way associated with lay men or boys from outside or any persons whatever of a dissolute nature. Their games must be played decently without any swearing, fighting, quarrelling or any trace of raillery. On holy days their games shall be short, lasting for half-an-hour or, at the most, an hour, before supper in winter, and after supper in summer. But on feast days it is right for them to have more time for games and recreation. This can be arranged so that they have a little after dinner and more after supper in summertime. But all this is to depend on the decision of the master or undermaster, and to be subject to their wise administration. 


Moreover, in order that the rules and ordinances aforesaid may be at every future time for always duly and inviolably observed for the salutary discipline and betterment of the boys, it appears truly necessary that over and above the supervision of the principal master and under-master there should be supervision ordained by authority. Two choristers, to be called Weekly monitors, are to be appointed and deputed to supervise the boys both in the early hours of the morning and at other hours of the day, and observe the failings, negligences and offences which the said boys or any one of them may commit in the church, their hall or their bedroom. Also two other such choristers who are more perfect in singing are to be appointed by the master to watch for and remark their failings and negligences committed in school; and they are to make a careful note of the failing, negligence or offence, how it was committed, and the name or manes of the offender or offenders; And those whom we will call for their week Weekly monitors are to bring the failings, negligences or offences together with the names and surnames of the offenders to the notice of the principal master or under-master every day after supper truthfully, without any falsehood, deception or fear whatsoever.

However, in order that the infancy of the said Choristers, fostered by the charitable prayers of Christ's faithful people, may receive the greater rewards of virtue, and that each and every one of our Statues aforesaid as well as the Rights, possessions and property of the said Choristers may be in the future the better preserved and defended, We do hereby of the boundless mercy of Almighty God and of the blessed Virgin Mary his mother, and with the merits and prayers of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, yea, and Saint Andrew also, his Apostles, our patrons, and of all saints, with confidence grant Free pardon of all their sins for forty days to all our flock and all other worshippers of Christ; and it shall be held by all people of the diocese as valid and approved; so long as they are truly sorry for their sins and do confess then; if they have given or granted anything of the goods or property conferred upon them to the use and enjoyment of the said community of Choristers; or if they have given or caused to be given any money, assistance or advice conducive to the preservation and defence of our statutes aforesaid or of the Rights, possessions and property of the said Choristers. This Indulgence we do freely grant by each and all of these same present writings, as often as they so do. And we exhort them by the tender mercies of Jesus Christ and under pain of the vengeance and curse of God the more strongly that no one of them on any pretext or feigned title whatsoever attempt anything to the prejudice of these our Statutes, or of the Rights or possessions or property of the community of Choristers aforesaid. In proof and witness of each and all of these we have caused these letters of our Statutes and ordinances to be confirmed by the affixing thereto of our seal.

GIVEN IN OUR PALACE AT WELLS on the Sixth Day of the month of February in the One Thousand Four Hundred and Fifty-ninth Year [ i.e. historical year 1460] of our Lord, and the seventeenth Year of our consecration.

AND WE, NICHOLAS CARENT, DEAN of the Cathedral Church aforesaid, and the Chapter of the same Church after making careful consideration in our Chapter House of and concerning the foregoing Rules and ordinances, Whereas we have found them just and reasonable and that they have been, and are, provided and ordained to the great benefit of the said Choristers, We have therefore approved, ratified and confirmed them all with our common consent and assent for ourselves and our successors, so far as in us lies; in witness of which deed we have caused our common seal to be affixed to these present writings.

GIVEN IN OUR CHAPTER HOUSE aforesaid on the thirteenth day of the month of January of the One Thousand Four hundred and Sixtieth year of our Lord.

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