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

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
Fittings and church interiors

Image of medieval worshippers at the altar
Medieval worshippers celebrate mass ©
The lists of fittings and liturgical objects that the rector and the parishioners had to provide for their church sheds light on daily activity within the medieval parish church. According to the mid-13th-century Salisbury diocese statutes, the rector had to look after the chancel and provide:
'a delicate linen corporal for the bread ... suitable flasks for the wine and the water, the thurrible, the candlesticks, and the lantern and bell to precede the priest when he visits the sick with a lighted procession ... [and also] two processional candles.'

In addition to maintaining the fabric of the church to the west of the chancel arch, the parishioners had to find:

'the bells and the bell cords, the crucifix, crosses, and images, and a silver chalice, a missal, and a silk chasuble, sufficient books, and all vestments ... banners [to be carried in processions], altar drapes for feast days, a font with a cover, a bell to be carried at funerals, a litter for burials ... the paschal candle, and all the candles in the chancel, and sufficient lights for the entire year, both for matins and vespers, and for mass. And ... the blessed bread with the taper which is provided each Sunday of the year in all of the churches of the Christian world.'

It is clear that even at this date, parish churches were full of images, crosses, candles and other devotional ornaments. Sadly, virtually all church ornaments from this period were looted in the 16th century during the Reformation, when most items made from precious material were melted down or taken apart in a great frenzy of iconoclastic greed.

A pair of Limoges enamel candlesticks that survived from St Thomas the Martyr church in Bristol provides a sense of the kind of rich ornaments that must have filled medieval churches.

Published: 2005-02-02

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