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Chronicon Exon

By Ellie Jones, Cathedral Archivist

If you were to write a chronicle of your life, or perhaps your country, home town, or place of work, where would you start? Perhaps with your own birth, or with the foundation of your town? Many chronicles written in the medieval period had much wider timeframes in mind – starting with the Creation.

A chronicle is a type of chronological account which summarises key events from history. They are some of the most important forms of historical literature that survive from the medieval period. Sometimes large periods of time are covered in a single sentence, and sometimes an individual event may have a whole paragraph. Chronicles had their origins in Antiquity, but remained popular for centuries. In the 4th century, St Augustine set down the Sex Aetates Mundi (Six Ages of the World) which divided the history of the world into six epochs: First, from the beginning of the world to Noah; Second, from Noah and the Flood to Abraham; Third, from Abraham to King David; Fourth, from David to the Babylonish captivity; Fifth, from the Babylonish captivity to the birth of Christ; and Sixth, from the time of Christ. Many medieval chronicles contain much of the same information about Biblical time, but it is the individual variations in each chronicle which provide the real interest. Which events were considered noteworthy enough to record, and by whom?

Exeter Cathedral has its own short chronicle, the Chronicon Exon. The ten page Latin chronicle is preserved in the Archives in an eclectic volume which brings together a fascinating assortment of more than 20 documents, all of which were produced during the 14th and 15th centuries. Most of the rest of the documents are administrative, financial or legal in nature, including: a kalendar – which would have told the clergy which obituary masses and saints’ days were to be marked on a given day – there is a will, copies of Cathedral statutes, statements on the use of bells and lighting, a description of the duties of the Treasurer in 1362, lists of ordinations to vicarages, and rental accounts.

The Chronicon Exon begins, in typical medieval style, with the Creation: “The first age of the world, from the beginning of the world up to Noah, contains 1656 years according to the Hebrews, according to the seventy translators 2244”. It proceeds through the Six Ages, and alongside the Biblical narrative, we find various items of significance from a national and Christian perspective:

In the Third Age “…the priest Brutus, together with Corineus, afterwards Duke of Cornwall, entered upon this island inhabited by giants at Totnes. It was then called Albion, but he called it after his own name Brittannia. It is now called England, and he founded a new Troy, that is London, on the river Tames”.

In the Fifth Age “In the year 693 from the foundation of Rome… Julius Caesar, after being twice repulsed from Britain… and having fled disgracefully, on a third attempt, taking advantage of a sedition in the port on the part of the commander of the city of Trinovantes, brought it under the yoke of Rome…”

Later, among the names of various saints and kings who have died, we find items which mark the Chronicon Exon as a chronicle written for Exeter Cathedral. In 1050, for example, “…in the 9th year of the reign of the most holy King and confessor… under Leofric at that time bishop of Crediton, by authority of both Pope and King the episcopal seat was removed from Crediton to this Church”. The final complete entry reads “in 1370 AD on the feast of Nereus and Achilleus, Lord Thomas Brantyngham was consecrated as Bishop of Exeter, and died at Bishop’s Clyst the 3rd day of December, AD 1394”.

If you can, join us in the Cathedral on Tuesday 23rd January for this month’s In Focus spotlight event which is all about Calendars and Chronicles, including the beautiful Chronicon Exon.