In "The Canterbury Tales," by Geoffrey Chaucer, a large group of twenty-nine travelers is headed to Canterbury on a pilgrimage. They intend to worship at the shrine of Saint Thomas a Becket. Most of them are members of the middle class, but there are also some nobles, some clergy, and a few peasants.
There are ten members of the clergy included in the group. They include
- The Prioress
- The Monk
- The Friar
- The Nun
- The Priest
- The Cleric
- The Parson
- The Summoner
- The Pardoner
- The Canon
Not surprisingly, quite a lot of clergy embark on the pilgrimage to Canterbury. They include clergy with titles still common to us today: nun, monk, cleric, parson, canon, prioress, and the nun's priest, and some that might be more obscure in modern times, such as summoner, friar and pardoner.
A summoner was a person who brought people before church courts in the Middle Ages to defend themselves against various charges. Summoners could be tempted to accept bribes in return for not delivering summons and could use the threat of a summons to extort money from people. The friar, a clergyman who was supposed to live in poverty and beg for sustenance, tells a tale accusing summoners of being corrupt. The summoner, in turn, tells a tale about friars living well, despite their vows of poverty.
A pardoner granted indulgences or forgiveness for sins to Christians in exchange for a financial gift to the church: this particular pardoner confesses that he is a con artist, out to get as much as he can.
Many of the clergy in The Canterbury Tales are less than holy figures, reflecting the reality of the times.