Mortuary roll

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A mortuary roll (Latin: rotulus mortuorum) was a rotulus, sometimes of prodigious length, at the head of which was entered the notification of the death of a specific religious or group of religious. A special messenger, denominated a breviator, gerulus, rollifer, rotularius, tomiger, or other title, transmitted it from monastery to monastery, and at each a notation was entered on roll attesting to the receipt of the notice(s) in the roll and the offering of the requisite suffrage(s) for the decedent(s).

Gradually a custom arose in many places of making these entries in verse with complementary amplifications that often occupied many lines. These records, some of which are still extant, memorialize specimens of ornate verse composition. They afford material both for palaeography and a comparative judgment of the standard of scholarship prevalent in the relevant centers of learning.

The use of mortuary rolls flourished most in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. That of the Abbess Matilda of Caen, the daughter of King William the Conqueror of England, was 72 feet long and 8 or 10 inches wide, but this was exceptional.


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Rotuli". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton.