Drawing wine. Abbeville - BM - ms. 0016, © Institut de recherche et d'histoire des textes - CNRS

In June of 1407, on the feast of Saint John the Baptist, a priest named Guillelmus Valencie died in the city of Marseille, leaving a small estate consisting of a house and its contents, a vineyard, and a field. In his last will and testament, Guillelmus named Biatrix Laurencie as his heir for life. Although their relationship is not clarified in the record, it is likely that Biatrix was his sister. Guillelmus also made provisions for anniversary masses to be made for the salvation of his soul, for which his estate was obligated.

The resulting inventory, prepared by Biatrix and a jurist named Johannes Mounerii, provides insights into the lifeways and possessions of a priest in the later middle ages. In almost every respect, the inventory is indistinguishable from that of any smallholder in the city of Marseille at the turn of the fifteenth century. Guillelmus made wine from grapes grown on his vineyard and stored the wine in great casks in his storeroom. He probably planted his field in wheat, since the inventory lists a sack containing five bushels (émines) of wheat, a grain measure, and a set of agricultural tools. In the lower bedroom, the compilers of the inventory found a table from which the wine could be sold on the street outdoors. To judge by contemporary descriptions, people would come to the wine-sellers bringing jugs which they would fill from a cask. We can assume that the bedroom fronted on the street, and that the table was brought into the bedroom on days when wine was not being sold. Along with the table and a bed, the bedroom also held twelve baskets made of alfa, a type of grass, doubtless used for the grape harvest or similar tasks. After the bedroom, the compilers of the inventory next visited the kitchen, and then the storeroom and the hall.

Only a few things indicate the profession of the late Guillelmus. In the bedroom, the compilers opened a small chest, five palms in length, which among other things contained a breviary. The breviary was identified as following the use of the church of Marseille, and the compilers took pains to list its incipits. They also found a breviary described as incomplete or imperfect. In the hall, they came across a type of priest’s garment known as an almuss, made of a bluish-gray fabric, and lined with white skin, as well as a surplice (see the essay "Priestly Garb"). The last item listed in the inventory was a sack containing various written documents. It is possible that some of the writings pertained to Guillelmus’s profession, although document sacks were in fact relatively common in the households of the lay Christian population.

Following the close of the inventory, several blank pages follow, and the case picks up again nearly two years later, in March of 1409. It is here that we learn that Guillelmus had made provisions in his testament for anniversary masses for a period of five years, to which his estate was obligated. We also learn that Guillelmus’s creditors had moved against the estate, and had been authorized to seize some of the assets, complicating the financing of the anniversary masses. The last third of the dossier consists of a transcription of a set of accounts, beginning in 1405. The early pages, listing some income and outflow, were apparently kept by Guillelmus himself, since they were written in the first-person singular.