The Stations of the Clergy: Pardoner

The wandering pardoner, also called a “questor”, is an official appointed by the high prelate of the prevailing religion and invested with the power to grant indulgences (absolution in advance for transgressions against the faith) for various sins in exchange for alms, of which he is allowed to keep a small portion (from 1//10th to 1 in 8). Pardoners commonly carry saints’ relics and for a nominal (set) fee in alms he will allow his patrons to view them, perhaps even touch them. An ambitious pardoner can bring in more than £60 per year in income. These men are not well-liked by their brothers in the Church, however, as can be seen by the following contemporary quote :

“Fie! Penny preacher, murderer of all the world. How many a soul dost thou cast with thy filthy lucre (money) from [the Light’s] own sunlight to the bottom of [Darkness], where there is no more hope for them! Thou promisest so much indulgence for a single halfpenny or a single penny, that many people trust thee and dream falsely that they have done penance for all their sins with that penny or that halfpenny as thou babblest to them. so they will do no right penance and will go straight to [the Darkness] where there is no more hope for them …. Thou murderer of right penance, thou hast murdered right penitence in our midst, which is one of the seven most holy things of the highest that God hath, It hath been so murdered by penny-preachers that there are few among us who will still do penance for our sins; for they count on thy false promises. For the penny-preacher preacheth to them so long and in such manifold words of our [Light’s] passion that men take him as a true messenger of [the Light] : for he weepeth in his preaching and useth all manner of deceit whereby he may coax pennies from his hearers, and their souls into the bargain.”

A wonderful piece of clerical invective out of the history books, and stemming from the common occurrence not so much of corruption among the pardoners as of knaves, rogues and other tricksters pretending and posing as pardoners for the sole purpose of seducing the innocent into parting with their ready coin. The common religious is appalled at the basic premise of the trade, as well, however, and especially at its impact on the people, their piety and respect for the Church, their habits of worship, and also the sapping of monies that could otherwise have found its way into the poor-boxes of the local churches, which are expected to provide constant charitable services to the needy who daily flock to their doors. This does not mean that the people do not take comfort from the ministrations of the pardoners, just the same. Few think of the impact elsewhere when the pardoner comes calling down their own lane – such a convenience! All the servants of the Church are largely considered to be equal by the people, so giving money to one is as good as giving it to the local parish priest in their eyes. The fact that it goes straight to the prelate and into the pardoner’s purse doesn’t even occur to most of them.