The Feudal System
Rivers & Fishponds
The Commendation Ceremony
A commendation ceremony (commendatio) is a formal ceremony that
evolved during the Early Medieval period to create a bond between
a lord and his fighting man, called his vassal (Latin vassus).
The first recorded ceremony of commendatio was in 7th century France,
but the relationship of vassalage was older, and predated even the
medieval formulations of a noble class. The lord's "man"
("vassal" comes from a Celtic word for "boy")
might be born unfree, but the commendatio freed him. (See Vassal).
The purpose of the commendation was to make a chosen person a vassal
of a lord. The commendation ceremony is composed of two elements,
one to perform the act of homage and the other an oath of fealty.
The junior who was to become the vassal of his senior (seigneur)
appeared bareheaded and weaponless as a sign of his submission to
the will of the lord and knelt before him. The vassal would clasp
his hands before him in a sign of submission, and would stretch
his clasped hands outward to the lord.
The lord in turn grasped the vassal's hands between his own, showing
he was the superior in the relationship. The vassal would announce
he wished to become his " man", and the lord would announce
his acceptance. The act of homage was complete.
The physical position for Christian prayer that is thought of as
typical today, kneeling, with hands clasped together, originates
from the commendation ceremony. Before this time, European Christians
prayed in the orans, which is the Latin, or "praying"
position that people had used in antiquity: standing, with hands
outstretched, a gesture still used today by eastern and some other
The vassal would then place his hands on a Bible, or a saint's
relic, and swear he would never injure the lord in any way and to
An example of an oath of fealty: "I promise on my faith that
I will in the future be faithful to the lord, never cause him harm
and will observe my homage to him completely against all persons
in good faith and without deceit."
Once the vassal had sworn the oath of fealty, the lord and vassal
had a feudal relationship.
|David Bruce, King of Scotland, acknowledges Edward III of
England as his feudal lord (1346), in a ms of Froissart's Chronicles,
|Mural from Catacombs of Pricilla in Rome, showing the standard
pre-feudal position for Christian prayer.