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18 September 2014
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The Early Church: Towards Gothic Splendour

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
Image of Edward the Confessor with manuscript illumination
Edward the Confessor, King of England, 1042-1066 ©

From rudimentary beginnings to Gothic splendour - find out how the Church grew in wealth and importance, and how its values were reflected in its architecture.

Anglo-Saxon Church

Early Christianity was a localised affair and reached people through their local lords and leaders. Communities worshipped in small stone buildings, and monasteries were founded where people could dedicate their lives to Christ in isolation from the secular world.

'The country was divided into two archdioceses - Canterbury and York ...'

From these modest beginnings, a network of monastic houses and places of worship began to develop. It survived invasion from the Vikings, and even found converts among the ninth-century Danish settlers who had re-introduced pagan practice to their conquered lands. By the middle of the tenth century, it is possible to talk of an organised English church, with bishoprics, parishes and recognition of the Pope’s authority in Rome.

By the time Edward the Confessor ascended the throne in 1042, the hierarchical structure had become firmly established. The country was divided into two archdioceses - Canterbury and York - each headed by an archbishop. The archdioceses were subdivided into bishoprics, under the authority of a bishop, and their boundaries reflected the former Saxon kingdoms in which they originally developed.

The bishop's seat, his 'cathedra', was located in the kingdom's main town, where the principal place of worship - the cathedral - was constructed. The link between secular and ecclesiastical administration extended all the way down to grass roots, as each diocese was divided into parishes that had its own local place of worship, the parish church.

Published: 2005-02-02

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