The Monday Photo
The blocked up arch in the corner here is where a low side or “leper” window once was, but nobody knows what it was for.
This is the chancel of All Saints church, Lathbury, just North of Newport Pagnell. Low side windows were built into many, but not all churches, and almost always found in the South West corner of the chancel. They are not always blocked up as this one is.
Writing in the 1920s, Arthur Robert Green wrote about the 17 different theories he had found for why they were built.
Firstly, he says these were not windows, but had a shutter; the stone rebate for the wooden frame can often be seen. Others say not all of them originally had shutters. But here are a few of those many theories.
Until the Protestant Reformation in the early 16th Century, England had been a Catholic country. The leper theory is that sufferers could at least hear Mass being said, even though they were not able to join the congregation; leprosy being a much feared disease then.
But lepers were forbidden to enter the churchyard and could certainly not approach the church. This theory has no evidence to support it, and some against.
Part of the Mass involved the ringing of the Sanctus bell. The opened shutter meant the bell could then be heard by those who were not able to attend.
This theory fits with the first use of the Sanctus bell in the 13th Century; these windows were first introduced then and installed through the 14th Century and sometimes in the 15th, too.
It’s thought that the low side window was simply there to give more light to the clergy stall. This seems a simple and viable theory; perhaps this corner of the chancel was used for reading the bible, as part of the Mass.
This would explain why the window is nearly always in the same spot; there would not be a shutter, but a wooden framed window.
This theory is that visiting friars could hear confessions from parishioners, via the window. I think this means that the confession could then be anonymous. It’s known that in 1265 Pope Clement IV empowered the Franciscan Friars to hear confessions and give absolution, so this theory has some merit.
Now Take Your Pick...
The first three theories here are fairly well known today. But I wonder if it’s a combination of the Sanctus Bell and the Light theories; if so, who now knows which one would have come first? What do you think? Try reading Arthur Robert Green's list of theories first.
By the way, the nearest blocked up arch is for a priest’s door; when built only the priest would be allowed to use it to enter the church.
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