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18 September 2014
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The Early Church: The People's View

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
Image of church with believers, bishops and heretics
The Fortress of Faith - a symbolic community of Christian believers in the 15th century ©

The Church was central to community life throughout the Middle Ages, a situation that seems to have suited everyone - until the Lollards started kicking up a fuss. Where did the seeds of change spring from?

Community life

The daily life of the vast majority of England’s population in the late Anglo-Saxon period was closely bound to the local parish church, which by the end of the 10th century was the focal point of a community. Everyone within a church's sphere of influence would gather within it to worship together, and they were led through the mysteries of the sacrament by the local priest.

'The role of the parish church went further than a simple place of worship.'

As with cathedrals, the local parish church was essentially a machine for worship, albeit on a smaller scale. Its architecture performed much the same function as that of the cathedral, and embodied Christ on Earth.

The interiors were intended to contribute to the mystery of the sacrament, and were full of symbolism and devotional aids that helped an uncomprehending congregation appreciate the moment the sacrament occurred.

The role of the parish church went further than that of a simple place of worship. Patronage and private piety were all reflected in the development of new architecture, in private chapels, chantries, tombs and monumental inscriptions within the church itself. Some of these clues still exist in those early churches that survived the Reformation of the 16th century.

Published: 2005-02-02

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