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Accounting for Souls: Lincoln Unlocked Lecture, Trinity Term 2018

On 3 May 2018, Lincoln College welcomed Professor Robert Swanson (Emeritus Professor of Medieval Ecclesiastical History, University of Birmingham) and over forty guests to the Lincoln Unlocked Lecture. Entitled ‘Accounting for Souls in Pre-Reformation Oxford: Lincoln College, All Saints and St Michael’s at the Northgate’, Professor Swanson enlightened the group on the relationship between the two collegiate churches and Lincoln College as their corporate Rector. He also described the complexities of navigating this relationship by drawing on examples for his research in the College Archive and beyond.

Professor Swanson painted a picture of the messiness which sometimes accompanied the early College and its churches before the Reformation. Bishop Thomas Rotherham’s statutes of 1480 sought to stabilise the foundation left ‘imperfect and half-finished’ at founder Bishop Fleming’s death in 1431. Accounts indicate that the revenues of both churches would have led to the College subsidising the parish funds to keep them solvent.  Professor Swanson went on to discuss the status of St Anne’s chantry in All Saints church; the appropriation of the chantry to the College had been delayed by forty-eight years before being resolved as intended at Lincoln’s foundation in 1427.

Professor Swanson concluded the talk by leaving the attendees pondering the idea of a divine performance review for the College. What final judgement would there be for the collegiate Rector which was responsible for the souls of its parishioners?  Following a lively question and answer session, attendees viewed a display from the Lincoln College Archive exhibiting some of the sources from which Professor Swanson drew his research: the deed of incorporation of All Saints, St Mildred’s and St Michael at the North Gate parishes to form Lincoln College; early College and Chaplain’s accounts; licenses to perform services in College without prejudice to the ‘mother church’ at All Saints; and agreements and court decrees settling disputes between College and individuals in the churches. One such dispute arose over the seating arrangements, and therefore precedence, of the church clergy and the College Fellows. Stimulating discussion about Professor Swanson’s paper and the archives on show continued during the drinks reception which drew this enlightening Lincoln Unlocked event to a close.

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