The Church in Medieval Life
The church, both the physical church and the institution itself,
had a very active influence in the life of the people. Many leaders of the church were
major players in medieval politics. As mentioned before, at one time the Archbishop
of Canterbury was also the Chancellor of England. This is just one example of a case
in which a bishop or other church leader gained immense political clout. The church
also had a large influence over the people. Because the church derived its power from
God, the people of the time were more inclined to follow its laws. If a person
broke a church law, then he could suffer from a punishment or even expulsion
from the church, almost guaranteeing a long walk to hell. Because of this,
the church, before the advent of the renaissance, was the only universal European
institution. The church was also a source of entertainment as well as punishment.
There were many festivals held to observe various church holidays. The people were
expected to pay many "taxes" to the church, except they
were called tithes. These taxes were
enforced by the manorial court. Most often the
taxes were not paid with money, but with goods. For example, in some places in
England, the second best animal of any serf who died was given to the priest for his
use. Every tenth egg, sheaf of wheat, lamb, chicken, and all other animals were given
church as a tithe. In addition to taxing,
the church also had a sort of welfare
"alms" to the poor, helping them to survive in tough times. The Church also had many
shortcomings. A parish priest often paid a substitute priest, known as a
preach in his stead. This vicar was occasionally corrupt. For example, there are
stories of vicars using the church building as a threshing barn for hay, or for
grazing cattle on the church lawn.
The church building was an impressive site sitting among the hovels and
shacks. It was often the only stone building in the village. The stone was taken
from local quarries or from old, broken-down stone buildings or ruins. The church was
made entirely with peasant contributions of money and work. The physical church
was a monument to the civic pride that villagers held for their often self
reliant community. Even though they were already
working seven days a week, the peasants still gave much of their time to help with
the construction of a parish church. As said before, the church was made mostly of
stone. It had a roof of slate or wooden shingles, supported with wooden
It also had many stained glass windows when the villagers could afford them. The
windows were shaped in the form of a lancet.
This means they were shaped to a point.
Often, different Bible stories were pictorially shown in the windows.
This was often
the only way villagers could learn about the Bible, because most couldn't read
English, let alone the Latin all the Bibles were written in. The Mass was also said
in Latin. This was hard on the villagers because they couldn't understand what was
going on during the Mass. Despite this, most villagers attended church regularly on
the Sabbath. By the fourteenth century, many people began to try to get Bibles
written in English so that the common people could discuss the teachings of their God.
In addition to lancet windows, most
churches also had a crucifix, known as a
There were many crosses located throughout the church, as the cross was the symbol of
Christianity. In fact, many churches were built in the shape of a cross. In a church
the shape of a cross, the upper part would be where the altar would be located. This
is where the priest would stand and say Mass. The lower and middle parts would be
called the nave. This is where the people
sat or stood during Mass. Another
characteristic of a church was its bells. The church bells were very important to the
people because they worked in the field according to when the bells rang. So, the
church bells were essentially an audible clock.
The church was an ever present facet of the average man's life.
From baptism, to marriage, and finally to death it supported, structured, and
sometimes hurt every single person in the medieval community.
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