Guild of Corpus Christi
There were two types of guild in early Medieval Leicester, merchant and religious. Merchant guilds were made up by occupation. Craftsmen with the same professions joined together and used guilds to maintain a high standard of production. There are references to 17 of these guilds in the borough records.
Religious guilds were dedicated to a religious figure, such as a specific saint or clergy member. The Corpus Christi Guild (Latin for The Body of Christ) was started in 1343 to look after chantry priests who were paid to pray for the souls of the dead. It was the most important guild in Leicester, as its members were the wealthiest and most powerful families in town.
The Guild of Corpus Christi, founded by Sir Ralph Ferrers and Geoffrey Kent, was associated with St Martin’s Church – now Leicester Cathedral. Annually, a great festival used to be held by the two institutions.
The Guild’s accounts show that various sums of money were devoted to the Chantry priests, allowing them to buy supplies and pay for general maintenance. The Guild observed a number of Christian festivals and customs, with processions and feasts being recorded in the 14th century. In 1632 the rooms of the Chantry priests were converted into a library.
The Reformation and the End of the Guilds
The English Reformation happened because the Catholic Church would not allow Henry VIII to divorce his wife. Thus, in 1533, Henry effectively split England from the Catholic Church. When Henry was made Head of the Church in England in 1534 he dissolved many Catholic institutions including the monasteries and guilds. Sacred objects from Leicester churches were sold, and the Guild had to send information about their purpose and income.
Later, Edward VI confiscated the Guild and Chantries’ lands and properties. Although the Guild was no more, it appears from records that the councillors still used the premises for their meetings, paying no rent.