Brass of the month

June 2003: Arundel, Sussex, 1382

Arundel 1382brass

This brass commemorates Adam Ertham, who died in 1382. It is the earliest of a magnificent series of 17 brasses and 8 relief tombs in the Fitzalan Chapel at Arundel, Sussex. The chapel is a remarkable survival of a chantry choir attached to a parochial nave, in this case the parish church of St. Nicholas. It formed the eastern portion of the former College of the Holy Trinity, founded by Richard Earl of Arundel, in 1380, out of the confiscated lands and income of the alien Priory of St. Nicholas, a cell of the Abbey of Seez, Normandy, which had declined so greatly that the convent was dissolved.

Before the Reformation, a key aspect of the Catholic faith was the need for prayers to be said to ease the passage through Purgatory of the souls of the dead. This was one of the primary purposes of brasses and other monuments, the inscriptions of which frequently begin 'Pray for the soul of ...'.  The gentry often set up their own chantries, established by licence at a specific altar in a church, with funding for one or more priests to celebrate masses and say prayers perpetually for the souls of the founder and his family. A college was a medieval religious foundation with the same purpose, but on a much larger scale and thus available only to the very richest. Great care and vast sums of money were lavished on them..

The statutes drawn up for the college at Arundel in 1387, several years after it was first established, provided for a master and 12 chaplains, who were required to live in the college buildings, which formed a quadrangle to the south of the Fitzalan chapel, and never absent themselves. The masses to be sung were specified and included a number of celebrations at various alters in St Nicholas's church so that the parishioners and others might hear them, though the collegiate choir itself was separated from the parish church by a iron grille..  

The brasses in the chapel include, as well as members of the Fitzalan family and elite members of their household, masters and fellows of the college. Adam Fitzalan was the first master of the College. As befits his status, he is shown wearing a cassock with close sleeves partly covering the hands, black almuce, surplice and cappa nigra or black choral cope. Little is known of him. His name suggests that his family came from Eartham, a small village 6 1/2 miles north-west of Arundel. He had in 1357 been instituted rector of Eastergate. Even his inscription is ununformative reading (in translation) 'Sir Adam de Ertham, first Master of this College, lies here, God have mercy on his soul Amen'.

Photograph by Bryan Huntley-Egan.

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