How Did Religion Unify Medieval Society

How Did Religion Unify Medieval Society

Medieval Religion

William the Conqueror imposed a total reorganisation of the English Church building afterward the conquest of 1066. He had secured the Pope’s approval for his invasion by promising to reform the ‘irregularities’ of the Anglo-Saxon Church, which had adult its ain distinctive community. The Church was a pervasive force in people’s lives, with the power and influence of the Catholic Church – then the only Church building in western Europe – reaching its zenith in England in the Centre Ages.

Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire, which was refounded soon subsequently the Norman Conquest

The Norman church

William I’south reforms of the church were almost as much of an instrument of conquest as his knights and castles.

Within a decade nearly all Anglo-Saxon bishops and abbots had lost their positions to Normans. Fifty-fifty native saints came under assail, equally some churches were rededicated to Norman favourites – although certain saints, such equally Cuthbert, Swithun and Etheldreda, were to some extent adopted by the invading force.

The century and a half later the Conquest as well saw a campaign of church, cathedral and monastery building on a scale never before seen in England.

The towers of Reculver church in Kent, known locally as the ‘two sisters’, were added in the 12th century to a much earlier Anglo-Saxon church, built in 669. The church was demolished in 1809, leaving the towers as a landmark for passing ships

The towers of Reculver church in Kent, known locally as the ‘two sisters’, were added in the 12th century to a much earlier Anglo-Saxon church building, built in 669. The church was demolished in 1809, leaving the towers as a landmark for passing ships

Monastic revival

Existing English monasteries, such as Muchelney Abbey, Somerset, were reformed on Norman lines, and many new monasteries were established. In the north, Lindisfarne Priory, Tynemouth Priory and Whitby Abbey were refounded on monastic sites abased during 9th-century Viking raids. These monasteries belonged, like prestigious Battle Abbey in the south, to Benedictine monks, initially the but religious order in England.

The monastic life appealed to a wide range of people. Those who embraced it included aristocrats and knights, a retired ‘pirate’ (St Godric of Finchale Priory, who kept adders equally pets), and the illiterate peasants permitted to join the Cistercian guild equally ‘lay brothers’.

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Equally enthusiasm spread, and so from the late 11th century did the Cistercians and other new religious orders, which often gear up out to reform the practices of their predecessors. Each offered its own version of communal living.

New orders

Cistercian ‘white monks’ (named after the colour of their habits) established, as their dominion demanded, monasteries ‘far from the haunts of men’. These included Rievaulx Abbey, North Yorkshire, which by the 1160s housed 650 monks. The plainness of early on Cistercian architecture reflected the thrift of their lives. But other monastic orders allowed more elaborate decoration, as at Cluniac Castle Acre Priory, Norfolk, and Wenlock Priory, Shropshire.

‘Canons regular’ were communities of priests who often ministered as vicars of parish churches. The early 12th century saw a huge surge in the popularity of communities of Augustinian ‘black canons’, such every bit Kirkham Priory, Northward Yorkshire, and Lanercost Priory, Cumbria.

Little Mattersey Priory in Nottinghamshire is one of the few surviving relics of the just exclusively English gild, the Gilbertines. Some of their other foundations were ‘double monasteries’, housing both men and women.

Quite singled-out from monks because they worked ‘in the earth’ (rather than abbeys and priories) were the four orders of friars: the Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites and Augustinians. They were inspired by the teachings of St Francis of Assisi to commit to a life of evangelical poverty, living amid the poor.

In the afterward medieval menstruation few new monasteries were founded, with the exception of those of Carthusian hermit-monks, such equally Mount Grace Priory, North Yorkshire, in 1398. Simply despite the crunch of the Black Death, many older monasteries revived and thrived, often commissioning lavish new edifice works.

Reconstruction drawing showing the cloister of Lanercost Priory, Cumbria. An enclosed space attached to the priory church, the cloister was a central part of monastic life where monks could also read and meditate

Reconstruction drawing showing the cloister of Lanercost Priory, Cumbria. An enclosed space fastened to the priory church building, the cloister was a central part of monastic life where monks could also read and meditate

© Celebrated England (analogy by Liam Wales)

The Crusades

Different again were the armed services orders, the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, whose English language properties substantially financed their activities in the Holy Land.

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Both were born out of the Crusades, which began in 1095 and in which many Englishmen took role. Though ultimately unsuccessful in their stated goal of wresting Jerusalem from its Islamic rulers, the Crusades had a profound impact on many aspects of life and thought in western Europe. Returning crusaders brought back from their travels new ideas about architecture, health and scientific discipline.

Tile from Cleeve Abbey church, Somerset, depicting Saladin, first Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r.1174–93)

Tile from Cleeve Abbey church, Somerset, depicting Saladin, first Sultan of Egypt and Syria (r.1174–93). Although a fearsome warrior, who recaptured Jerusalem in 1187, Saladin was regarded by many in England as the apotheosis of the chivalric ideal

Belief and prayer

For most people, still, the parish church was the focus of religious life. Here they heard Mass each Sunday and historic the many saints’ days and festivals interwoven with daily life and the agricultural year. Church rituals marked life events from cradle to grave, and the local parish church dominated the spiritual – and indeed physical – landscape for the vast majority of ordinary people.

Some might bequeath money for the priest to pray for their souls after death. They hoped that prayer might shorten their time in Purgatory, where souls not condemned to Hell were ‘purged’ of their sins until they were fit for Heaven.

The wealthy could endow permanent chantry chapels (like the first-class Percy Chantry at Tynemouth Priory, Tyne and Vesture, and the chapel at Farleigh Hungerford Castle, Somerset). Chantry priests were employed solely to pray for the salvation of these benefactors and their families

The chantry chapel at Tynemouth Priory, Tyne and Wear

The chantry chapel at Tynemouth Priory, Tyne and Wear, was endowed in the late 15th century, perhaps by the Percy family. Mass would be regularly chanted for the person or family unit who endowed a altar chapel, every bit it was believed that prayers and Masses could shorten a soul’s fourth dimension spent in Purgatory

Pilgrimage

Many people similarly hoped to achieve spiritual merit or cures for poor wellness by making pilgrimages to holy shrines. For others, like some of the tale-tellers immortalised in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, pilgrimages were an excuse for an enjoyable outing.

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The goal of Chaucer’southward characters was the most renowned English shrine: that of St Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral, where he was martyred in 1170. Pilgrims flocked to it from all over Britain and Europe.

This was part of a wider pattern of pilgrimage across England, oftentimes to places claiming to house saints’ relics. Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, boasted no less a relic than a phial of the supposed Blood of Christ. The ‘Holy Business firm of the Virgin Mary’ at Walsingham in Norfolk brought prosperity to monasteries like Castle Acre Priory and Binham Priory, every bit pilgrims sojourned forth the ‘Walsingham Way’.

This ampulla was found at Finchale Priory, county Durham, a popular pilgrimage destination which housed the shrine of St Godric, a 12th-century ascetic and hermit

Holy h2o containers, or ampullas, were often sold to pilgrims at shrines. This ampulla was found at Finchale Priory, county Durham, a popular pilgrimage destination which housed the shrine of St Godric, a twelfth-century austere and hermit

© Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens/Chapter of Durham Cathedral

Dissent and heresy

Those who disputed the Church’s educational activity were seen as heretics, while other faiths were barely tolerated. During anti-Semitic riots in 1190, the Jews of York took refuge in the royal castle where Clifford’s Tower at present stands. Many took their ain lives instead of risking them with the mob outside, and so set fire to the castle; the few who survived were murdered by the rioters. A century after Edward I expelled all Jews from England.

Though many complained about the clergy, few in England openly questioned the Church’south teachings until the after 14th century.

The Oxford bookish John Wycliffe (d.1384) famously denounced the Church’s possessions and influence. He questioned un-biblical beliefs in Purgatory, pilgrimages and the cult of saints. Most crucially, he as well disputed the power of priests to create the Body and Blood of Christ at Mass.

Wycliffe also pioneered the hitherto forbidden translation of the Bible into English, and though contemptuously nicknamed Lollards (meaning ‘mumblers’), his ‘heretical’ followers initially gained some support in high places. This prompted an alarmed Church to pass the law
De Heretico Comburendo
in 1401, allowing obstinate heretics to be burned. And afterward an bootless Lollard conspiracy in 1414 failed to kidnap Henry V at Eltham Palace in Greenwich, heresy was equated with treason against the country and lost all political credibility.

Not until the Reformation under the Tudors did the land itself overturn the power of the Catholic Church in England.

More most medieval England


  • Medieval: Architecture

    For more than a century after the Battle of Hastings, all substantial stone buildings in England were built in the Romanesque style, known in the British Isles every bit Norman. It was superseded from the afterwards twelfth century past a new style – the Gothic.


  • Medieval: Religion

    The Church building was a pervasive force in people’s lives, with the power and influence of the Catholic Church – then the but Church in western Europe – reaching its zenith in England in the Center Ages.


  • Medieval: Warfare

    The Norman Conquest was achieved largely thanks to two instruments of war previously unknown in England: the mounted, armoured knight, and the castle.

How Did Religion Unify Medieval Society

Source: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/medieval/religion/