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Church-Rates

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CHURCH-RATES are rates raised, by resolutions of a majority of the pa rishioners in vestry assembled, from the parishioners and occupiers of land within a parish, for the purpose of repairing, maintaining, and restoring the body of the church and the belfry, the churchyard fence, the bells, seats, and ornaments, and of defraying the expenses attending the service of the church. The spire or tower is considered of the church. The duty of repairing and rebuilding the chancel lies on the rector or vicar, or both together, in proportion to their be nefices, where there are both in the same church. But by custom it may be left to the parishioners to repair the chancel, and iu London there is a general custom to that effect.

The burden of repairing the church was anciently charged upon tithes, which were divided into three portions, one for the repair of the church, one for the poor, and one for the ministers of the church. Pope Gregory had enjoined on St. Au gustine such a distribution of the volun tary offerings made to his missionary church in England ; and when Chris tianity came to be established through the land, a .d parish churches generally erected, and when the payment of tithes was exacted, the tithes were ordered to be distributed ou Pope Gregory's plan. Thus, one of Archbishop lElfric's canons, made in the year 970, is as follows — " The holy fathers have also appointed that men should give their tithes to the church of God, and the priests should come and divide them into three parts, one for the repair of the church, and the second for the poor, but the third for the ministers of God, who bear the care of that church." (Wilkins, C.oncilia, i. 253.: The same division of tithes was enacted by King /Ethelred and his councillors in Witenagemot assembled, in the year 1014. A portion of the fines paid to churches in the Anglo-Saxon times for offences committed within their jurisdic tions was also devoted to church repairs. The bishops were likewise required to con tribute from their own possessions to the repair of their own churches. A decree of King Edmund and his councillors, in 940, headed " Of the repairing of churches," says that " Each bishop shall repair God's house out of what belongs to him, and shall also admonish the king to see that all God's churches be well provided, as is necessary for us all." (Schmid, Gesetze der Angel-Sachsen, i. 94.) One of King Canute's laws says, "All people shall rightly assist in repair ing the church ;" but in what way it is not said. There is no pretence however for interpreting this law of Canute's as referring to anything like church-rate. A payment to the Anglo-Saxon church, called cyric-sceat (church scot), has been erroneously identified with church-rate by some writers. This was a payment of the first-fruits of corn-seed every St. Martin's day (November 11). so much for every hide of land, to the church ; and the laws of King Edgar and King Canute direct all cyric-sceat to be paid to the old minster. (Schmid, i. 99, 165.) Cy ric-sceat was otherwise called eyrie amber, amber being the measure of pay ment.

Churches continued to be repaired with a third of the tithes after the Norman conquest, and to as late as the middle of the thirteenth century. How the burden came to be shifted from the tithes to the parishioners is involved in much obscu rity. The following conjectural sketch of the rise of church-rates is from a pam phlet by Lord Campbell :—" Probably the burden was very gradually shifted to the parishioners, and their contributions to the expense were purely voluntary.

The custom growing, it was treated as an obligation, and enforced by ecclesiastical censures. The courts of common law seem to have interposed for the protection of refractory parishioners till the statute of Circumspecte Agatis, 13 Ed. I., which is in the form of a letter from the king to his common law judges, desiring them to use themselves circumspectly in all mat ters concerning the bishop of Norwich and his clergy, not punishing them if they held plea in court Christian of such things as are merely spiritual, as " si prmlatus puniat pro cimeterio non clauso, ecelesia discooperta vel non decenter ornata." Lord Coke observes, "that some have said that this was not a statute, but made by the prelates themselves, yet that it is an act of parliament." In the printed rolls of parliament, 25 Ed. III. No. 62, it is called an ordinance ; but in the statute 2 & 3 Ed. VI. c. 13, § 51, it is expressly styled a statute, and it must now clearly be taken to be the act of the whole legislature. From the year 1285 therefore the bishops were authorized to compel the parishioners by ecclesiastical censures to repair and to provide orna ments for the church." (Sir John, now Lord, Campbell's Letter to Lord Stanley on the Law of Church-Rates, 1837.) But for long after the existence of the custom of making the parishioners contribute to the repairs of the church, and after the statute Circumspecte Agatis, the original obligation on the clergyman to repair out of the tithes was remembered. Lord Campbell quotes in the same pamphlet a passage from a MS. treatise in the Har leian Collection, written in the reign of Henry VII., by Edward Dudley, a privy councillor of that king, which thus lays down the law for appropriation of the in comes of the clergy :—" One part thereof for their own living in good household hospitality ; the second in deeds of cha rity and alms to the poor folk, and spe cially within their diocese and cures, where they have their living; and the third part thereof for the repairing and building of their churches and mansions." Lyndwode, who wrote in the fifteenth century, says that by the common law the burden of repairing the church is on the rector, and not on the laity. " But certainly," he adds, " by custom even the lay parishioners are compelled to this sort of repair ; so that the lay people is compelled to observe this laudable cus tom." (Const. Legatin. 113.) Church-rates are imposed by the pa rishioners themselves, at a meeting sum moned by the churchwardens for that purpose. Upon the churchwardens, con jointly with the minister, devolves the care of the fabric of the church and the due administration of its offices. With a view to provide a fund for such expenses, it is the duty of the churchwardens to summon parish-meetings for the purpose of levying rates ; and if they neglect to do so, they may be proceeded against cri minally in the ecclesiastical courts. They may also be punished by the ecclesiastical courts for neglecting to make repairs for which money has been provided by the parish; but if they have no funds in hand, and if they have not failed to call the parishioners together, they cannot be punished. A mandamus also is grantable to compel the churchwardens to call a meeting. If the parish fail to meet, the churchwardens then constitute the meet ing, and may alone impose a rate ; but if the parish should assemble, it rests with the parishioners themselves to determine the amount of the rate, or to negative the imposition of a rate altogether.

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