Lay Religious Life in Late Medieval Durham

Lay Religious Life in Late Medieval Durham

Margaret Harvey
Volume: 6
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 248
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7722/j.ctt8202b
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  • Book Info
    Lay Religious Life in Late Medieval Durham
    Book Description:

    Although religious life in medieval Durham was ruled by its prince bishop and priory, the laity flourished and played a major role in the affairs of the parish, as Margaret Harvey demonstrates. Using a variety of sources, she provides a complete account of its history from the Conquest to the Dissolution of the priory, with a particular emphasis on the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. She shows how the laity interacted vigorously with both bishop and priory, and the relations between them, with the priory providing schools, hospitals, chantries and regular sermons, but also acting as a disciplinary force. On a wider level, she also looks at the whole question of lay religion and what can be discovered about it. She finishes by an examination of local reactions to the Reformation.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-482-9
    Subjects: History, Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Maps
    (pp. vi-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  6. 1 The parishes
    (pp. 1-26)

    The people who are studied in these pages lived in six parishes, some with subordinate country chapels: St Oswald’s with its three chapels at St Margaret’s in the city, Croxdale (St Bartholomew) and Witton Gilbert, St Giles, St Nicholas, Sts Mary the Less and the Bow and St Mary Magdalen.

    The size of the population of later medieval Durham is of course unknown to us but some estimate of it in 1548 comes from the returns of the parishes made to the royal surveyors of chantries and such institutions.¹ These were of ‘houseling people’ or those over the age of...

  7. 2 The year in the life of the laity
    (pp. 27-40)

    The object of all the institutions which have hitherto been described was to help the salvation of souls. Essential to that, of course, was that Christians should regularly worship God and live holy lives. The laity were reminded in many a sermon of their Christian duties, both those which were regular and regarded as an essential minimum and those which were needed for continuing a truly holy life, which was the church’s aim for everyone but the aspiration probably of only a few. The difference between what would be said to modern Christians and to medieval ones lies partly in...

  8. 3 Lay parish life
    (pp. 41-68)

    Because Durham parishes have left no churchwardens’ accounts it is more difficult to reconstruct some aspects of the activities of lay people in its parishes than it is in some other parts of the country. To try to reconstruct lay concerns from churchwardens’ accounts alone, however, may lead to serious misjudgements and wrong emphases.¹ The laity were not responsible for the whole church. What is left in churchwardens’ accounts is an edited version of what was presented; there were other officials apart from the churchwardens; and many gifts, for instance, may never have come into the accounts at all. In...

  9. 4 The church and the laity: obligations and conflicts I
    (pp. 69-82)

    The parishes of Durham city were of course part of the universal church and it does not do to think of them as closed worlds uninfluenced by the wider church and the state. The discipline which governed the church institutions which I have described was administered by a series of ecclesiastical authorities putting into practice the canon law of the church. At its heart was the Roman curia with its courts and legal system and its power to grant graces and favours. In theory, appeal to this was possible even by the most humble parishioner. The hierarchical church with its...

  10. 5 The church and the laity: obligations and conflicts II
    (pp. 83-99)

    If lay people were most likely to encounter the lower clergy they did nevertheless come up against the higher clergy on occasion. The classic study of the secular rule of the city refers to Durham’s ‘all-powerful ecclesiastical overlords’ and considers that because the bishop and the priory between them ran all the courts the laity were never able to assert their independence of either.¹ In discussing the reasons for the failure of the townsmen to rebel against the bishop or the priory Bonney notes that the priory was more interested in recording its quarrels against the bishop than against the...

  11. 6 Secular clergy careers
    (pp. 100-119)

    A survey of the city and its ecclesiastical institutions reveals an enormous number of secular clergy who were attached in some way to the monastery, the diocese and the churches in the city, not to mention a further but more hidden army of married clerks, who were sometimes notaries and sometimes served the bishop and the priory from father to son. Many of these are only names but some can be traced for some of their career, so that we can see what kinds of living they could earn and even, sometimes, know a little about their relationships.

    In the...

  12. 7 Education
    (pp. 120-131)

    There was a great deal of opportunity to receive a good Christian education in the city, both formally, for the few, and in all sorts of informal ways in the parishes. The main provider was the monastery and this must have been one of the ways in which the monks influenced the local clergy and laity.

    In the first place the priory had its grammar or almonry school, which educated both future monks and the sons of local gentry. By the fifteenth century this school probably recruited largely from the kin of monks.¹ It dated to at least the mid-fourteenth...

  13. 8 Chantries
    (pp. 132-156)

    Once the parishes were in place in Durham city and the arguments about them were settled, from about 1200 onwards, the merchants and clergy of the city below the highest ranks devoted themselves to their parish and very soon began to found chantries. There is no evidence that any below the upper ranks of society ever looked to the monks for specific prayers for individuals, or if they did, the requests were not recorded.¹ The monastery certainly prayed for its founders and benefactors and made provision for some to have confraternity and even, in very special cases, burial and a...

  14. 9 Associations, guilds and confraternities
    (pp. 157-168)

    Those who wished to go beyond the prescribed religious duties which were compulsory in the late medieval church often joined a confraternity or guild which comprised a group who joined together to perform a particular devotion or task, which could include supporting a chaplain to pray for the souls of deceased members. The usual method of finance was from endowments but there was often a subscription for members.¹ Durham apparently had very few religious guilds which were more than parish-based. The only one which we can be certain was city-wide was the very important Corpus Christi guild, and one which...

  15. 10 Hospitals and other charities for non-monks
    (pp. 169-178)

    Most urban centres in the middle ages had hospitals and the founding of these was often the result of lay action. It was one of the ‘works of mercy’ to visit and care for the sick, but also to harbour the homeless, so that some institutions were to house wayfarers, and in Durham of course there were always pilgrims. Durham had several hospitals but the most important in the city itself were run from the monastery.

    Hospitals proper, as opposed to hospices, were usually founded in the first place to house lepers, suffering from what we would now call Hansen’s...

  16. 11 Durham and the wider world
    (pp. 179-184)

    Observance of canon law must have made court officials and even litigants aware of the papacy and its rules, and we have seen ordinary parishioners actually appealing to Rome in the fourteenth century.¹ There were, however, many other ways in which the papacy made itself felt in late medieval Durham.

    The upper echelons of the local church would have been aware of the pope not only as a law-giver but also as a demander of money. How far this was felt by the parishioners unless they were made aware of it is hard to tell. The church in Durham was...

  17. 12 The Reformation in the Durham parishes
    (pp. 185-197)

    The ecclesiastical system and ways of life we have been describing came to an end with the Reformation. When did the Reformation come to Durham? The only way to consider this question is over a very long period. Much that has been revealed in what has gone before suggests that the authorities in the city of Durham in the pre-Reformation period were conservative. Some of the secular encroachments on ecclesiastical jurisdiction, for instance, which begin to be seen in the South under Henry VII, did not appear in the Durham church courts until 1531.¹ The Durham and York courts also...

  18. Conclusion
    (pp. 198-200)

    As far as the evidence will allow, we must acknowledge that the religious institutions of Durham city were flourishing on the eve of the Reformation. Institutions of course are by no means everything in religious matters but there is no evidence that the people of Durham were finding them out of date or unhelpful. The voluntary aspects of religion, such as founding of masses for the dead, seem to have continued right to the end. The chantries show remarkable health, many of those still in existence at the Dissolution dating from the thirteenth century, even though new ones were not...

  19. Bibliography
    (pp. 201-214)
  20. Index Persons, (selected) places and subjects
    (pp. 215-234)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-235)