Beneficiaries under the Cotil will of 1496

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Beneficiaries under the Cotil will of 1496



This article by Charles Stevens was first published in the 1970 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise


I should like to preface the following paragraphs by saying that they could never have been written without the expert help and guidance of Mr Sidney Bisson, to whom I am most indebted for deciphering and explaining many of the words and phrases in this manuscript.

Joint will

This is the joint will of Drouet and Michelle Cotil of St Clement's Parish, dated 22 April 1496. It is written in Latin and sealed with the seal of the Deanery. It was drawn up in the house of Drouet Cotil in the presence of Master Nicholas Nicolle, who was Cure of St Clement's in 1495 and died in about 1519. At the foot of the will he has written:

"N Nycole, a(p)probo" (I approve), with his monogram. His signature also appears on the Jambard will of 1495 (see below), which resembles the Cotil will but is less expensively worded. A translation of some of the clauses in the Cotil will may be of interest:

"And we give, bequeath and surrender to the tresor of the church of the said St Clement four cabots of annual wheat rente, that our bodies may be buried in the said church: and further we give and bequeath to the obits of the said church four cabots of annual wheat rente, to be delivered on Thursdays, on four occasions, namely: on each day one cabot, giving one half to the Cure and the remainder to the Clerks.
”Item, next, of our personal property which has been conferred upon us by God we have taken as our share 20 francs, more or less, from which we appoint and ordain our bequests of personal property. First, we give to the three Houses of Coutances, 12 deniers: to the Hospitals of Jerusalem and the High Footstep, eight deniers, as the custom is.
”Item, we each of us give to the tresor of the said church of St Clement, seven and a half sols: to the tresor of the other churches of the said island, 18 deniers: and to the usual chapels, 12 deniers.
”Furthermore, to execute and faithfully implement these things, we con-stitute and appoint as our Executors, viz: Dom Thomas Cotil, priest and Laurence Cotil, our sons, (and at the same time I, the said Drouet, also constitute and ap¬point my wife Michelle as Executrix with the aforenamed, if she depart from this life after me) ....
”Moreover, I leave the said Dom Thomas Cotil, priest, my son, Michelle my wife, and also the aforesaid Laurence Cotil, my son, with his wife Richarde, each of them, with the fourth part of my personal property after my death".

"To the three Houses of Coutances" (tribus domibus Constantie). What were they?

This sketch of the Deanery seal on the Cotil will shows little which Major Rybot, with his unerring intuition in heraldic matters, did not anticipate in the drawing he made 16 years ago. The shield with three bendlets, the pair of fish with something between them, and the three ripples are all there. The only differences are that we have lost our crozier-head; the fish seem to have the amiable contours of dolphins rather than the pike-like and crafty demeanour which Rybot gave them; and the mysterious object between the fish has a new look. Rybot called it "reel-like". Payne thought it a "column". It still baffles identification as its right hand end has been damaged. So is the legend, the right half of which may have read: "Sigillum Decanatus" (The seal of the Deanery), but one cannot really read much after the first S. The left half of the legend is cracked down the centre, but seems to have read: "Insulae de Gersui" (of the Island of Jersey). If so, Jersey is spelt as Wace was spelling it in the 12th century, and the Deans had apparently abandoned the Latin form Gersoii on their earlier seals, in favour of the traditional pronunciation; though this form Gersui was already giving place in the 15th century to an even more modern form, Gierresy. Can anyone take up the tale from here and explain: why our early Deans chose two fish as their emblem; what was meant by the mysterious object they intro¬duced between the two fish; what Bishop or Abbot had "three bend lets within a border" as his coat of arms? Editorial Note: Since completing this article Mr. Stevens has pointed out that attempts to show the outline of the Island pictorially were being made long before the date of the Cotil will. Could the "mysterious object" between the fish on the Deanery seal be another such attempt?
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See of Coutances

At this time Jersey was in the see of Coutances, and well-to-do testators apparently liked to remember in their wills three establishments connected with the Bishopric. It is not clear what or where they were, but the Coutances Register for 1517 mentions benefactors of "the hospital or House of God, commonly called The Fifteen Scores" (hospitalis sive Domus Dei, vulgo Les Quinze Vingtz) in Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney, and a Domus Dei at Vallon in Guernsey. Les Quinze Vingts (The Three Hundred) was the name of a hospital in Paris founded in the 13th century by Louis IX (St. Louis) to accommodate 300 blind persons, and the use of its name here implies charitable institutions of a similar nature.

"To the Hospitals of Jerusalem and the High Footstep" (hospitalibus Jerusalem et de alto passu). What were these?

They occur also in the wi1l of Jean Le Pipet dit Jambard of 1495, where the abbreviation for Jerusalem was not understood, and it was suggested that the former stood for some leper settlement, and the latter for the Chapelle des Pas. The mediaeval Latin word for a hostel or hospice (hospitale) meant any building where a host or a lodger (hospes) could be found, and included not only private houses and inns, but almshouses, leper asylums and homes for the aged poor, whose inmates said masses for the soul of the founder in the chapel to which the hospice was attached. Our two hos¬pitals must have been something of this kind. Where were they?

The Jerusalem chapel and hospice were probably at La Hougue Bie, the neolithic burial mound on which stands a 12th century chapel, with an oratory built on to its eastern end. The oratory, and a crypt below it in the similitude of the Holy Sepulchre, were added by Dean Mabon after his return from the Holy Land in about 1515, and were named Jerusalem,

Notre Dame de la Clarté

At the same time he restored the chapel and named it Notre Dame de la Clarté. One used to assume that the Dean called his oratory Jerusalem because he had just been there, but it is quite as likely that the chapel had always been called Jerusalem and that Mabon, who owned the mound and was finding that it attracted fewer tourists than he could wish, made his journey to Palestine partly in order that, on his return, he could append the title of Pilgrim to his own name and a replica of the Holy Sepulchre to his moribund chapel.

The name Jerusalem may go back long before the building of the 12th century chapel, to a summer in the Dark Ages when missionaries were sent from Sark to erect their first wooden chapels on sites frequented by pagan worshippers.

Their first choice would have been the largest hougue of all, the tomb of a chief to whom Islanders had brought offerings from time immemorial. So far from discouraging this pilgrimage, the monks would have urged all visitors to climb the mound and become acquainted, in their chapel, with the new God of Christianity. What better name for this rendez-vous than Jerusalem, that city set on a hill, whither the tribes went up to do homage to their l.ord?

If La Hougue Bie was the missionaries' first choice, which of the many other mounds in Jersey did they consider next in importance, and why did they call it the "High Foot¬step"?

It should be noted here that "passus" in Latin means a pace, or a footprint, not a step upwards on a stair. Both answers are to be found in La Chapelle des Pas, which stood on a conspicuous mound littered with large stones. It was probably a neolithic tomb, second in rank to La Hougue Bie only, on a site which in those remote days may have been more popular, and populous, than the marshes of St Helier and, unlike them, protected from the south-west winds by the cliffs of Le Mont de la Ville.

The Sark missionaries may well have built a chapel here. As they built it, one imagines, they noticed marks resembling footprints in one of the capstones of the tomb. What would be more natural than to erect this stone as their altar, and declare that it bore the footprints of the Virgin Mary herself?

In the early days of Christendom it was the fashion to draw converts to the altar by interring the bone of a saint beneath it. To exhibit a divine footprint would have been even more compelling, and now that the old mound was known to have a miraculous "footprint at the summit" (altus passus), it became more popular than ever.

Capella de Passibus

By 1471 pious exaggeration had apparently increased the single footprint to several, for the chapel was called Capella de Passibus: but in 1495-1496 both Jambard and Cotil still knew it, or its hospice, as "de alto passu". This was in the official Latin of the Church.

In ordinary parlance the chapel was called La Chapelle de Notre Dame du (or des) Pas (Our Lady of the Foot¬prints), the word Dame having perhaps been introduced on purpose to supersede the attentions which had been paid in the past to one of the stones, under a name such as La Dame Blanche. In 1563 Popinjay marks the chapel on his map as "noter dame depace".

Have any vestiges survived of the hospices of Jerusalem and the High Footstep? No.

At best, they were probably insubstantial buildings, and fell into decay at the Reformation. But the chapels which served them were sturdily built, and much of the original fabric of the Jerusalem chapel may still be seen, on the summit of La Hougue Bie.

The chapel of the High Footstep was less fortunate, surviving only till 1814, and to see what happened we turn to the observations of Sir Hilgrove Turner, and the notebook of Miss Esther Le Hardy, "that talented lady", as F W Collas called her, "whose antiquarian researches have proved of the highest interest to the learned world."

We draw on both accounts. Finding that the chapel was an obstacle to excavations for the erection of Fort Regent, the Board of Ordnance ordered its removal. This was done "by ten mines simultaneously fired: and the chapel was no more".

When the men sorted out the debris they found, beneath the site of the chapel, a stone grave cut in the rock, and in it a skeleton, with some vestiges of armour still on it; and beside it a long piece of iron, supposed to have been a sword, which crumbled to pieces on being touched.

Chapel drawings

Popinjay gives a pictorial representation of both chapels with their names beside them, "Le Huge" for the Jerusalem chapel. He uses a stylised form for both buildings, showing a belfry surmounted by a cross on the west gable: a tall east window with two or three lights: and on the south side a central door with a lancet window on either side of it. All apertures have rounded heads.

These two little sketches do not look as though they were meant to be accurate. But later on a number of pictures were made of the Chapelle des Pas, and we reproduce here drawings taken from five of them: an engraving by S Hooper, 1776: a coloured etching by G Heriot, 1789: a woodcut published by J De La Croix, 1859: a sketch copied by F . Collas, c.1853. These four all show the north side and the east end. The fifth, the drawing produced by Sir Hilgrove Turner in 1838, shows the north side and west end.

These pictures, and the written descriptions by Turner and Miss Le Hardy, give a fairly complete idea of the appearance of the chapel. The west end had a square door with a circular window above, and on the gable was a low belfry. The roof was vaulted in rubble. The east gable may have carried a cross.

The chapel was strongly built, with flat buttresses on the corners, and one or two on the north side. At the western end of the north wall was a doorway with a round arch, and to the east of it a lancet window with semicircular head. There were two similar windows on the south side. The east window was narrow, with a square head, and above it a smaller window, either square or round.

Turner gave the chapel a 12th century date, and the romanesque details accord with this, but Miss Le Hardy records a belief that there was a chapel there before any of the parish churches were built. She may well have been right.

The steps, adds Turner, which gave their name to the building and to Havre des Pas, could not be found. That is not surprising. A flight of stone stairs, if that is what he expected, had probably never existed: and any magic footprints on the altar stone would have been shattered by the explosion.

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