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Medieval priests were appointed to a parish by a sponsor - either a monastery or a bishop's court. These sponsors were responsible for ensuring that a suitable candidate was chosen and for punishing any wrong-doing by the priest.

In town parishes, priests fared quite well because the congregation would be quite large. Everyone attending services paid a kind of tax, called "church-scot", which went towards feeding and clothing the priest. People attending funerals, weddings or baptisms would also pay a small contribution ("altar-money") which increased the priest's income. The priest also collected tithes, which were one-tenth of the income and produce of everyone in the congregation; these tithes went to the Church as an institution but the priest was entitled to keep a small proportion for himself.

In rural parishes where fewer people could attend services, priests struggled to survive. Their income was meagre, church-scot minimal and tithes would be mainly in the form of cereal crop. A diet of bread and pottage (a cereal and vegetable soup) was often all that a priest could look forward to. Many rural priests had a small patch of ground for growing their own vegetables or raising a few pigs or goats, since the alternative could be gradual starvation.

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