A mortuary roll (Latin rotulus mortuorum) consisted of a strip of parchment, sometimes of prodigious length, at the head of which was entered the notification of the death of a particular religious deceased or sometimes of a group of such persons. The roll was carried by a special messenger (gerulus, rotularius, rollifer, tomiger, breviator were some of the various titles given him) from monastery to monastery, and at each an entry was made upon the roll attesting the fact that the notice had been received and that the requisite suffrages would be said.
By degrees a custom grew up in many places of making these entries in verse with complementary amplifications often occupying many lines. These records, some of which are still in existence, preserve specimens of ornate verse composition. They afford materials both for the study of palaeography and also for a comparative judgment of the standard of scholarship prevalent in these different centres of learning.
The use of these mortuary rolls flourished most in the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries. That of the Abbess Matilda of Caen, the daughter of William the Conqueror, was 72 feet long and eight or ten inches wide, but this no doubt was exceptional.