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Religious beliefs

The Church at local village level was different from the politically powerful organisation the king had to deal with. At the time of William I the ordinary village priest could hardly read at all, and he was usually one of the peasant community. His church belonged to the local lord, and was often built next to the lord's house. Almost all priests were married, and many inherited their position from their father.

However, even at village level the Church wished to replace the lord's authority with its own, but it was only partly successful. In many places the lord continued to choose the local priest, and to have more influence over him than the more distant Church authorities were able to have.

The Church also tried to prevent priests from marrying. In this it was more successful, and by the end of the thirteenth century married priests were unusual. But it was still common to find a priest who "kept a girl in his house who lit his fire but put out his virtue."

There were, however, many who promised not to marry and kept that promise. This was particularly true of those men and women who wanted to be monks or nuns and entered the local monastery or nunnery. One reason for entering a religious house was the increasing difficulty during this period of living on the land. As the population grew, more and more people found they could not feed their whole family easily. If they could enter a son or daughter into the local religious house there would be fewer mouths to feed. Indeed, it may have been the economic difficulties of raising a family which persuaded priests to follow the Church ruling. Life was better as a monk within the safe walls of a monastery than as a poor farmer outside. A monk could learn to read and write, and be sure of food and shelter. The monasteries were centres of wealth and learning.

In 1066 there were fifty religious houses in England, home for perhaps 1,000 monks and nuns. By the beginning of the fourteenth century there were probably about 900 religious houses, with 17,500 members. Even though the population in the fourteenth century was three times larger than it had been in 1066, the growth of the monasteries is impressive.

The thirteenth century brought a new movement, the "brotherhoods" of friars. These friars were wandering preachers. They were interested not in Church power and splendour, but in the souls of ordinary men and women. They lived with the poor and tried to bring the comfort of Christianity to them. They lived in contrast with the wealth and power of the monasteries and cathedrals, the local centres of the Church.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1510

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