Lollard Beliefs on Pilgrimages

[What follows is an excerpt from Thorpe's own account of his appearance before the Archbishop of Canterbury; he distinguishes between good and evil pilgrimages, the evil being quite similar to that in The Canterbury Tales, including the Miller's bagpipe and the bells on the Monk's horse. The four tenets of belief, set forth immediately below, are among those maintained by the Lollards and condemned by the Church.]

The Examination of Master William Thorpe, priest, of heresy, before Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, in the Year of our Lord 1407.

The third Sunday [April 17th] after Easter [March 27th], the year of our Lord 1407, William Thorpe came unto the town of Shrewsbury, and, through leave granted to him to preach, he said openly in St. Chad's Church, in his sermon,

That the Sacrament of the Altar after the consecration was material bread. And that images should in no wise be worshipped. And that men should not go on any Pilgrimages. And that Priests have no title to tithes. And that it is not lawful to swear in any wyse.

Archbishop. And then he said to me, "What sayest to the third point that is certified against preaching openly in Shrewsbury that Pilgrimage is not lawful? And, over this, thou saidest that women that glory of two manner of pilgrimages." And the Archbishop said to me, "Whom callest thou true pilgrims?"

William. And I said, "Sir, with my Protestation, I call them true pilgrims travelling towards the bliss of heaven, which (in the state, degree, or order that God calleth them) do busy them faithfully for to occupy all their wits bodily and ghostly, to know truly and keep faithfully the biddings of God, hating and fleeing all the seven deadly sins and every branch of them, ruling them virtuously, as it is said before, with all their wits, doing discreetly wilfully and gladly all the works of mercy, bodily and ghostly, after their cunning and power abling them to the gifts of the Holy Ghost, disposing them to receive in their souls, and to hold therein the right blessings of Christ; busying them to know and to keep the seven principal virtues: and so then they shall obtain herethrough grace for to use thankfully to God all the conditions of charity; and then they shall be moved with the good Spirit of God for to examine oft and diligently their conscience, that neither wilfully nor wittingly they err in any Article of Belief, having continually (as frailty will suffer) all their business to dread and to flee the offence of God, and to love over all things and to seek ever to do His pleasant will.

"Of these pilgrims, I said, 'Whatsoever good thought that they any time think, what virtuous word that they speak, and what fruitful work that they work; every such thought, word, and work is a step numbered of God towards Him into heaven. These foresaid pilgrims of God delight sore, when they hear of saints or of virtuous men and women, how they forsook wilfully the prosperity of this life, how they withstood the suggestion of the Fiend, how they restrained their fleshly lusts, how discreet they were in their penance doing, how patient they were in all their adversities, how prudent they were in counselling of men and women, moving them to hate all sin and to flee them and to shame ever greatly thereof, and to love all virtues and to draw to them, imagining how Christ and his followers (by example of him) suffered scorns and slanders, and how patiently they abode and took the wrongful menacing of tyrants, how homely they were and serviceable to poor men to relieve and comfort them bodily and ghostly after their power and cunning, and how devout they were in prayers, how fervent they were in heavenly desires, and how they absented them from spectacles of vain seeings and hearings, and how stable they were to let [hinder] and to destroy all vices, and how laborious and joyful they were to sow and plant virtues. These heavenly conditions and such others, have the pilgrims, or endeavour them for to have, whose pilgrimage God accepteth.'

"And again I said, 'As their works shew, the most part of men or women that go now on pilgrimages have not these foresaid conditions; nor loveth to busy them faithfully for to have. For (as I well know, since I have full oft assayed) examine, whosoever will, twenty of these pilgrims! and he shall not find three men or women that know surely a Commandment of God [i.e., one of the Ten Commandments], nor can say their Pater noster and Ave Maria nor their Credo, readily in any manner of language. And as I have learned, and also know somewhat by experience of these same pilgrims, telling the cause why that many men and women go hither and thither now on pilgrimages, it is more for the health of their bodies, than of their souls! more for to have richesse and prosperity of this world, than for to be enriched with virtues in their souls! more to have here worldly and fleshly friendship, than for to have friendship of God and of His saints in heaven. For whatsoever thing a man or woman doth, the friendship of God, nor of any other Saint, cannot be had without keeping of God's commandments.'

"For with my Protestation, I say now, as I said at Shrewsbury, 'though they that have fleshly wills, travel for their bodies, and spend mickle money to seek and to visit the bones or images, as they say they do, of this saint and of that: such pilgrimage-going is neither praisable nor thankful to God, nor to any Saint of God; since, in effect, all such pilgrims despise God and all His commandments and Saints. For the commandments of God they will neither know nor keep, nor conform them to live virtuously by example of Christ and of his Saints.'

"Wherefore, Sir, I have preached and taught openly, and so I purpose all my lifetime to do, with God's help, saying that 'such fond people waste blamefully God's goods in their vain pilgrimages, spending their goods upon vicious hostelars [innkeepers], which are oft unclean women of their bodies; and at the least, those goods with the which, they should do works of mercy, after God's bidding, to poor needy men and women.'

"These poor men's goods and their livelihood, these runners about offer to rich priests! which have mickle more livelihood than they need: and thus those goods, they waste wilfully, and spend them unjustly, against God's bidding, upon strangers; with which they should help and relieve, after God's will, their poor needy neighbours at home. Yea, and over this folly, ofttimes divers men and women of these runners thus madly hither and thither into pilgrimage, borrow hereto other men's goods (yea, and sometimes they steal men's goods hereto), and they pay them never again.

"Also, Sir, I know well, that when divers men and women will go thus after their own wills, and finding out one pilgrimage, they will ordain with them before[hand] to have with them both men and women that can well sing wanton songs; and some other pilgrims will have with them bagpipes; so that every town that they come through, what with the noise of their singing, and with the sound of their piping, and with the jangling of their Canterbury bells, and with the barking out of dogs after them, they make more noise than if the King came there away, with all his clarions and many other minstrels. And if these men and women be a month out in their pilgrimage, many of them shall be, a half year after, great janglers, tale-tellers, and liars."

Archbishop. And the Archbishop said to me, "Lewd losell! thou seest not far enough in this matter! for thou considerest not the great travail of pilgrims; therefore thou blamest that thing that is praisable! I say to thee, that it is right well done; that pilgrims have with them both singers and also pipers: that when one of them that goeth barefoot striketh his toe upon a stone and hurteth him sore and maketh him to bleed; it is well done, that he or his fellow, begin then a song or else take out of his bosom a bagpipe for to drive away with such mirth, the hurt of his fellow. For with such solace, the travail and weariness of pilgrims is lightly and merrily brought forth."

William. And I said, "Sir, Saint Paul teacheth men, to weep with them that weep."

Archbishop. And the Archbishop said, "What janglest thou against men's devotion? Whatsoever thou or such other say, I say, that the pilgrimage that now is used, is to them that do it, a praisable and a good mean[s] to come the rather to grace. But I hold thee unableto know this grace! for thou enforcest thee to let [hinder] the devotion of the people, since by authority of Holy Scripture, men may law-fully have and use such solace as thou reprovest! For David in his last Psalm, teacheth me to have divers instruments of music for to praise therewith God."

William. And I said, "Sir, by the sentence [opinions] of divers Doctors expounding the Psalms of David, the music and minstrelsy that David and other Saints of the Old Law spake of, owe [ought] now, neither to be taken nor used by the letter; but these instruments with their music ought to be interpreted ghostly [spiritually]: for all those figures are called Virtues and Grace, with which virtues men should please God and praise His name. For Saint Paul saith, All such things befell to them in figure. Therefore, Sir, I understand that the letter of this Psalm of David and of such other Psalms and sentences, doth slay them that taken them now literally. This sentence, I understand, Sir, Christ approveth himself, putting out the minstrels, ere that he would quicken the dead damsel."

Archbishop. And the Archbishop said to me, "Lewd losell! I it not lawful for us to have organs in the church, for to worship therewithal God? "

William. And I said, " Yea, Sir, by man's ordinance; but, by the ordinance of God, a good sermon to the people's understanding, were mickle more pleasant to God!"

Archbishop. And the Archbishop said that "organs and good delectable songs quickened and sharpened more men's wits, than should any sermon!"

William. But I said, "Sir, lusty men and worldly lovers delight and covet and travail to have all their wits quickened and sharpened with divers sensible solace: but all the faithful lovers and followers of Christ have all their delight to hear God's Word, and to understand it truly, and to work thereafter faithfully and continually. For, no doubt, to dread to offend God, and to love to please Him in all things, quickeneth and sharpeneth all the Wits of Christ's chosen people, and ableth them so to grace, that they joy greatly to withdraw their ears, and all their wit and members from all worldly delight, and from all fleshly solace. For Saint Jerome, as I think, saith, Nobody may joy with this world, and reign with Christ."

Archbishop. And the Archbishop, as if he had been displeased with mine answer, said to his Clerks, "What guess ye this idiot will speak there, where he hath none dread; since he spaketh thus now, here in my presence? Well, well, by God! thou shalt be ordained for!"


From Fifteenth Century Prose and Verse, ed. Alfred W. Pollard. New York. 1903 [Widener Br 12432.4.5].