31 March 2017

Lost medieval carol recorded for new Battle Abbey exhibition

A long forgotten medieval carol has been discovered by English Heritage and recorded for a new exhibition at Battle Abbey
A woman inspects the windows at Battle Abbey

A medieval carol that hasn't been performed for more than 500 years will set the scene for a new exhibition at Battle Abbey, opening this weekend.

'Be Mery' was found 'doodled' at the back of a monk's service book, alongside a short poem and recipes for treating gastric complaints. It was discovered by English Heritage historian Dr Michael Carter while researching the history of Battle Abbey.

Dr Carter said the carol, most recently performed by Schola Gregoriana The Association for Gregorian Chant, will give a 'real insight' into the lives of the monks who lived in the abbey during the 16th century.

Dr Carter said:

'This carol is clear evidence that the Battle monks were very much part of the thriving devotional culture of Catholic England; a culture brutally cut short by the Reformation and Dissolution of the Monasteries which extinguished 500 years of religious life at Battle.

'Our new exhibition has been designed to reveal insights into that life, the importance of prayer and worship, the tremendous power and wealth of the abbey, and what it was like to be a monk there.'

Inside the new exhibition at Battle Abbey

Carols for all seasons

The carol, 'Be Mery', was once enjoyed by the monks who lived and worshipped within the abbey. During the Middle Ages, carols were not exclusive to Christmas, and they were not only performed during church services. Instead, they would have been sung - and even danced to - during social occasions all year round.

A typical example of late medieval piety, 'Be Mery' focuses on the life and suffering of Christ as an example for humanity.

The service book is the only surviving liturgical book from the abbey and is now in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge.

The exterior of Battle Abbey


Battle Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror on the site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Following English Heritage's 2016 campaign to mark the 950th anniversary of the Norman Conquest, this new exhibition will provide further insights into life in the Middle Ages.

 The carol will complement the exhibition in the great gatehouse which opens to the public on Saturday.

Archaeological finds on display also show everyday life for the monks in the Benedictine abbey and will include a bone nit comb, copper ear scoop, remains of a spectacle frame and a lead pot used to hold vermillion.

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