Out there in the damp grass a greeting from the Middle Ages slides past: Helix pomatia, the subtly glistening gray-yellow snail with its house askew, introduced by monks who loved escargots--yes , the Franciscans were here, broke stone and burned lime, the island was theirs in 1288, a gift from King Magnus ("Thes almesse
and othere suche / thei meeten him nu in hevenriche") the forest fell, the kilns burned, the lime was sailed in to build the monastery ...
In line 168 of this tale, the charity of Custance, daughter of a Christian Roman Emperor, is characterized in this manner: Her hond, ministre of fredam for almesse (00ML, II ([B.sup.1]) 168).
MED also provides a definition that suggests that the term almesse, standing alone, can refer to tenure in frankalmoign: 'Perpetual tenure (subject only to the jurisdiction of the church and free from any secular service)'.
Thus, the phrase, ministre of fredam for almesse, can, with the corroboration of MED, be interpreted as referring to someone who conveys gifts of land in frankalmoign, or 'free alms'.
An overt reference to a gift of land in free alms (a reference cited in MED under the 'frankalmoign' definition for almesse) occurs in Gower's Confessio Amantis:
the fals Emperour Leo With Constaintin his Sone also The patrimoine and the richesse, Which to Silvestre in pure almesse The ferste Constantinus lefte, Fro holy cherche thei berefte.
In the above passage, an emperor, the first Constantine, is said to have made the grant of land in frankalmoign to Silvester, and the adjective applied to almesse is pure, meaning 'exempt from secular service'.
In one of his ironic per antiphrasim poems, Ryght as a Rammes Home, Lydgate writes that Pore folke pleyne hem for no nede,-- These riche men dothe so grete almesse
! Plente eke dothe the hungry fede, Clothe the naked & his wrecchednesse; And Charite is now a chief maistres; ...
The more satiric Langland and Chaucer had both paired charity with avarice and wealth, with Langland's Will, arguing that the rich should have "beggeres bifore hem" (13.440), and Chaucer's Parson discussing "general almesses
or werkes of charitee of hem that han temporeel richesses" (10.1032).While Langland ultimately has reservations about whether material charity can make up for the sins of the material economy, though, the fifteenth-century tradition drew a much closer connection between the merchant estate and material charity.