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Medieval Musicians Served as Watchmen Over the City

During the late-Medieval period, London had a strange law on the books—each entry gate into the city had to keep a musician on duty. This could be a dangerous job—city gates were where attackers and other threatening outsiders first appeared. It’s like border patrol nowadays, but they gave the job to musicians.

As strange as it sounds, musicians took charge of many essential services back then. These hired municipal minstrels started showing up everywhere in Europe around the year 1370. They typically played wind instruments—including trumpets, trombones, fifes, bagpipes, and recorders—as well as percussion.

To the modern mind, musical skills and police responsibilities have little in common, but in an earlier age the two roles often overlapped. Musicians not only helped defend the city gate but might also be required to patrol streets at night. In Norwich in 1440 a tax was instituted to pay the waits for their watch—and these musicians were required to take an oath of office. In Germany, a minstrel was expected “to acquit himself well as a swordsman.”

Why musicians? The most obvious answer is that musicians were ideal first responders because they could sound the alarm in case of a major disturbance. Certainly, a loud horn or drum helps in that regard. This signaling capacity of musical instruments also explains their longstanding use in military operations.

Possible Preaching Angles:

In the same way, every follower of Jesus is called to stay awake, to stay at our post, to guard and protect, and pray for the “city gate” where the Lord has posted us.

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