chapter  2
Prayers and purgatory: wills on the eve of Reformation, 1500-1538
Pages 47

Before the Reformation, and in the early years of reform, testators, who intended their bequests to help them gain salvation, endowed masses and prayers and performed good works, through the auspices of the parish. Charity to the poor, support for the parish church and its celebrations and organizations, and donations to other members of the social and religious community in London expressed lay piety. This exchange of material and religious aid through the giving and receiving of bequests cemented relations between testators and their fellow inhabitants by marking and temporarily easing social distinctions. Marcel Mauss explained the dynamics of gift exchange, in which donors must give, although their giving appears voluntary. The recipient likewise must reciprocate, and do so with a more valuable gift. 1 Pre-Reformation donors fulfilled an imperative to help the destitute and perform good works, while the prayers of the poor helped donors to reach salvation, a priceless gift in late medieval society.