23 April 2024

Meet the Reverend Thomas Blackburn, of Ripon (1)

 In March, 1570, there was an unusual  spectacle in the mighty Church of S Peter at Ripon (one of great S Wilfrid's great foundations). The sight to be seen was of a once-senior priest of that Church in church on a Sunday morning, wearing a white sheet. This fate was known as Doing Penance; it was a humiliation commonly reserved for adulterers and fornicators.

Blackburn had been found guilty of offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass during the time of the previous years's 'rebellion', and fined ten marks (£6 13s 4d). He had heard "other popish services",  including the 'Churchings' of women after childbirth. But possibly he was fortunate not to receive a more severe punishment, perhaps on the Gallows Hill, about a quarter of a mile South of the Church. (One local Tudor fixer, Bowes, making a circuit from Thirsk, had managed to accomplish some 600 executions).

And who was this admirable pastor and cleric? In 1546, he was a chantry priest at Ripon. This meant that after saying the endowed Mass according to his contract, he probably earned a little more educating the local children. He also had a yearly fee of £2 as supervisor of the fabric and another £2 as treasurer. He was responsible for the "goods and Jewellery", the latter term (jocalia in Latin) referring to what we would call the Church Plate. And he handled some of the Royal tithes.

A modest but secure local position, implying confidence in his honesty and reliability. But he had been in trouble before.

In 1568, he had been ordered to stop up "S Wilfrid's Needle" [a narrow aperture in the crypt, used apparently in the discernment of certain misdeeds] and to take down the the stone altars. He admitted that he had failed to do so, and confessed to "idolatry and damnable superstitious worshippings." But he denied removing images from the church in order to protect them.

Hoever, there was worse! In 1567, he and others were charged because they had hidden away some 49 Catholic books in a vault during the reign of Edward VI. As a condign penalty, they were ordered to read the lessons at Morning and Evening Prayer, in the body of the church so as to be heard. In addition, they were accused of taking the Sacristan's keys one night and of hiding stone from the demolished altars in the church. They admitted that charge and were also accused of secreting "six great tablets of albaster full of images" within a vault.

The Pancreatic nastiness stops me from getting out to Libraries and Archives; so bits of these pieces are lifted from the cathedral guide book or Somewhere in Duffy. There is a little more to come on Sir Thomas's career of crime.

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