Medieval sources for the Church

Bishops' registers

Portrait head in the Eastern Lady Chapel, Bristol Cathedral

A bishop's register recorded episcopal business. They are mainly a record of the institutions of clergy to benefices and of ordinations, but may also note matters of interest to architectural historians, such as:

Surviving registers start in the 13th century. Many are published in calendar by the Canterbury and York Society or a local record society. For locations and publications see D.M.Smith, Guide to the Bishops' Registers of England and Wales; a survey from the Middle Ages to the abolition of episcopacy in 1646 (1981), brought up to date in D.M.Smith, Supplement to the Guide to Bishops' Registers (Canterbury and York Society, 2004).

Medieval wills

Kings William I, William II, Henry I and Stephen, each holding a model of a church he founded (British Library)Some medieval wills have been published by local record societies - see Mullins. Occasionally a medieval will may be found copied into a bishop's register (see above) or a monastic cartulary, which may be in print. See wills for more on locations. Wills abound in requests for burial in cathedral or church, sometimes specifying position in such a way as to reveal features of layout. Bequests of plate, lights or altar cloths sometimes specify a particular altar. Bequests to the fabric may indicate work then in progress. Some wills provide for the foundation of chantries i.e. prayers at an existing chapel/altar or a new one.


Chantries could have a single founder, but the less well-off could join a religious or trade guild, which arranged funerals and perpetual prayers for its members. Guilds might adorn and maintain a particular altar/chapel/aisle. See the Survey of guilds and fraternities, and sources for chapels.

For medieval sources for a specific type of building see the page on the building type e.g. churches, monasteries.