Imagine, if you can, a parish mass in a pre-Reformation church. The chancel is separated from the nave by a screen, having closed doors; the people in the nave, bowed to the ground in reverential waiting for the moment when the words "Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus," which precede the consecration prayer in every liturgy extant, shall be uttered by the priest at the altar. How are they to know when the supreme moment has arrived, unless some intimation is given ? For the priest's words would be inaudible, save to the few privileged persons in the chancel. And so "the ringer stands ready to toll the great church bell, or to tinkle the sanctus and sacringe bell;" an acolyte is stationed between the priest and the people, the "low side shutter" is opened to let out the sound of the handbell rung at the Ter Sanctus, at the elevation of the Host, and again at the consecration of the chalice; and thus the worshippers within the church, and those who may not have been able to gain access, not on account of leprosy but because they were unbaptized converts, or penitents, or perhaps only because there was no room within, are enabled to reverence the Host together.

We must bear in mind that only a few years before the earliest of these openings were made, the Pope's interdict fell upon the land. "All worship save that of a few privileged orders, all administration of the Sacraments, save that of private baptism, ceased over the length and breadth of the country; the church bells were silent, the dead lay unburied on the ground." (John Richard Green.) This period of neglect was followed by a great revival. Vast crowds of people were attracted by the preaching of the Friars. It may fairly be supposed that as the rite of public baptism had been in abeyance for years, there would be a large number of unbaptized converts in every village. I have only inferential evidence to offer in support of the suggestion that these unbaptized converts and penitents were kept outside the church. For instance, we learn from the Register of S. Benedict, c. 44, that the "penances which followed" (castigation in the chapter house) "were not so much severe as vexatious. The older custom was to exclude the penitent from the house of prayer, and require him to kneel without the door while divine service was celebrated." This rule would only apply to monastic institutions, and "without the door" would mean outside the choir, and not outside the church. In parish churches penitents were "put forth of the church" on Ash Wednesday and re-admitted on Maundy Thursday, and so on. I am told that from time immemorial to the present day the village congregations, in some parts of Ireland and the Continent, will fill the church to overflowing; so that large numbers have to take part in the service while standing in the churchyard, and a like condition is not unknown in this neighbourhood at special times or seasons.

I am disposed to think that all the shuttered openings in parish churches were made for the purpose of ringing the sacring bell, and I would like to draw attention at this point to two facts which I think help to confirm this opinion.

I.—Corroboration of dates, which may be briefly summarised thus :

(a) At a time when the Church, as a result of the Pope's interdict, (1208-1214), was dormant, neglected, and moribund, the friars came (1222-24), and by their zeal and influence kindled a revival which lasted until the Black Death came (1349) and decimated their ranks, when the tone of the clergy commenced once more to decline ... ... ... ...a.d. 1222-1349

(b) All the shuttered openings I have noticed were made ... ... ... 1225-1350

(c) The instructions as to ringing the sacring bell were all issued between ... 1224-1300

2.—The examination of a peculiar example of a "low side window" (not in our county), which has hitherto been looked upon as a puzzler.

Beneath the cill of a large two-light window, in the usual position at the south-west of the chancel, at Dersingham, Norfolk, there is a stone panel, 24m. wide by 22m. high, 43m. from floor to cill, pierced with four quatrefoils. Nothing can be "viewed" through it, and the detail is much too small for any substance to be passed through the apertures. It certainly was never intended for the admission of light. What purpose can it have served ? Anyone who is familiar with the "sound-holes," which are so characteristic a feature in East Anglian belfries, cannot fail to notice the similarity between them and the little panel in question, which I suggest is also a "sound-hole," intended to indicate the place of the tinkling bell in the "hie chancell," just as the larger panels indicate the place of the tolling bell in the high tower. It may be urged against this suggestion that "sound-hole" is a comparatively modern term, and that "air-hole" would be more descriptive, but the similarity in design and the proximity to bells in both cases is the strong point to notice, and not the term used to denote it.

Another peculiar feature of this window is the small hagioscope pierced through the western splay, so as to give a view of the high altar, from the side chapel at the east end of the south aisle. This would enable an acolyte, while attending the high altar in the chancel, to see the server at the altar in the south aisle also.

The wide internal splays to all the openings now under consideration is evidence in favour of the suggestion that the intention was rather for sound to go out, than for anyone to look in from the outside, either to watch the lights upon the altar, the sepulchre, or the rood loft. Nor can they have been for the purpose of burning a light to scare evil spirits away, as some authorities contend; for even supposing the openings were otherwise suitable, the mediaeval mind always imagined that evil spirits came out of the north, and by far the larger portion of the openings are on the south side; while the "dial markings," so frequently found on the jamb between the priest's door and the "low side window," and said to be connected with it, have proved, upon examination, to be much more recent in date, and to be "dial markings," and nothing else. I have found them on almost all churches built of soft fine-grained stone, but seldom on the harder and coarser gritstones. I have also found them, both circular and square dials, having the radiating lines marked with Roman numerals to indicate the hours; and when these are still in their original position, a movable gnomon, held in the centre of the dial, will give the correct time of day.

It is sometimes urged against the sacring bell theory, that the grating or grille outside would prevent the ringer from putting his bell through the opening. So far as my examination has gone, I have never yet found evidence of a grille save the one at Melton Mowbray, already explained; only stanchions and saddle bars, just the same as for a glazed window; but the question of the grille need not concern us, for the thickness of the wall, in most cases, would make it impossible for the bell to be rung outside by anyone standing within; and I therefore think that it was the pre-Reformation custom to ring the bell not through but against the opening. The confusion here has again been caused by the indiscriminate use of a quotation. In the "Autobiographical Narrative of Thomas Hancock, Minister of Poole," one of the MSS. collected by Foxe, the martyrologist, but not included in his great work (Camden Society's publications, vol. 77, p. 71), reference is made to some people who persisted in Papistical practices after the Reformation was accomplished; and these significant words are used: "until he was threatened that yf he dyd use to putt hys hand owtt of the wyndow to ryng the bell, that a hand goon sholde make him smartt, that he should not pull in again hys hand with ease." But it does not follow that what the Papists did after the Reformation was identical with the custom of the mediaeval worshipper.

The sacring bell (cymbalum) was put to all manner of profane uses after the Reformation—"hung about a calves neck," used "to call workmen to dinner," etc., so that only on rare occasions is one now to be seen. The rector of Screveton shewed one to the members of our Society, a tiny hand-bell, 21/16in. diameter by 31/8in. long.

It may now fairly be asked, if the purpose of these openings was to enable the sacring bell to be effectively rung, why are they not found in every ancient chancel ? I began by saying that whatever the purpose was, it could be achieved in other ways. For instance, early in the 14th century, when screen-building set in vigorously in many districts, the rood-loft offered a convenient alternative position for the ringer to stand upon, with his little hand-bell, or in some cases a small bell was hung to a bracket on the screen, as at Seaming, in Norfolk,1 and, as the consideration for outside worshippers had by this time passed away, this position was frequently adopted. Later on, a bellcote or turret, to contain the sanctus bell, was built at the junction of the roof over nave and chancel, or on the parapet of the porch; a bracket or beam projected from the wall of the tower nearest the village on which a bell was suspended; or a small bell hung upon the jamb of one of the belfry lights. These were expedients variously adopted, the only essential being that the ringer, wherever he was stationed, should have an uninterrupted view of the high altar. And I think it will be found that though some hagioscopes were made to allow an exalted personage to view the elevation of the Host at the parish mass without the necessity of leaving his private chapel, most of them were made to enable the bell ringer, wherever he was stationed, to see the altar and give the signal.

Hagioscopes were treated in the same way as the "low side windows," and were rigorously "stoned up" and plastered over. If they could all be opened out again it would surely help to throw light upon the whole question. I have noticed good examples at Finningley, Harworth, Nuthall, Upton, Rampton, Burton Joyce, and Kelham, while at Everton and Linby the "squints" are still hidden with plaster.

It has been pointed out to me that in some cases a "low side window" and a sanctus bellcote are to be found in the same church, but they are never contemporary, and the bellcote will always be found to be a later addition.

There may be cases where an opening through the chancel wall was intended to give a view of the altar; if so, the splays are external and incline in the proper direction for a hagioscope. These are always placed low down in the wall, or near to the floor of an upper chamber, and were made for the use of an anchorite who, in fulfilment of a vow, was content to spend a period of time, in some cases the remainder of his days, "mured up" (immured) in a small chamber just outside the walls of holy church. "The anker-hold should be so near to the church that at Mass the anker may offer his oblations, through the window of his anker-hold, by the hands of the priest." "Then he (Sir Launcelot) armed him, and took his horse, and as he rode by the way he saw a chapel where was a recluse, which had a window that she might see up to the altar."—La Mort d'Arthur, chap, v., book xv.

The earlier anker-holds were generally temporary structures, intended to last for a specified length of time.

(1) A few sacring bells still exist, hanging on the rood-screens in East Anglian churches.