New documentary evidence from the archives of four Oxford colleges (Merton, New College, All Souls, and Magdalen) supports two interrelated theses: first, that the colleges were religious foundations first and foremost; second, that the colleges and their chapels operated within a system of spiritual and temporal exchange that directly affected and informed their performance of religious rite and production of sacred music.
Acknowledging the religious nature of the colleges demands a revision of modern perceptions of the relationships between the colleges and their choirs. Evidence from college accounts rolls, statutes, and episcopal records dating from 1400 to 1550 shows that the members of the academic colleges frequently participated in chapel services as ministers and musicians alongside the chaplains, clerks, and choristers. Recognizing the fellows and scholars as active performers of sacred music and ceremony highlights the integration of the religious and educational functions of the colleges and permits a reassessment of aspects of musical performance practice at the medieval university. The first two sections of the dissertation address these issues in detailed histories of the chapels at Merton and All Souls and through a survey of statutes and other documents related to the conduct of religious services at all four colleges in general.
Sacred rite not only affected the spiritual lives of the fellows, scholars, and chapel staff: it also was an important factor in the economic and political well-being of the colleges. As religious corporations, these foundations often used the liturgy and its music as a medium of exchange and a means to establish and maintain their status within a wider community. Drawing on evidence from college accounts rolls, benefaction charters, and estates records, the third and final section of the dissertation discusses instances of such exchange and demonstrates their relevance to the practice of sacred music in the academic colleges.
By combining a broad interpretive approach to the archival documents with an in-depth examination of the foundations that were the source of employment for musicians, this study increases our understanding of the place of sacred music in the academic colleges in Oxford before the Reformation.