The parish, the lowest level of hierarchy in the medieval
church, was the shared responsibility of the laity and the clergy.
Most Christians were baptized, went to confession, were married,
and were buried in the parish church or churchyard; in addition,
business, legal settlements, sociability, and entertainment brought
people to the church, uniting secular and sacred concerns. In
The People of the Parish, Katherine L. French contends
that late medieval religion was participatory and flexible,
promoting different kinds of spiritual and material
The rich parish records of the small diocese of Bath and Wells
include wills, court records, and detailed accounts by lay
churchwardens of everyday parish activities. They reveal the
differences between parishes within a single diocese that cannot be
attributed to regional variation. By using these records show to
the range and diversity of late medieval parish life, and a
Christianity vibrant enough to accommodate differences in status,
wealth, gender, and local priorities, French refines our
understanding of lay attitudes toward Christianity in the two
centuries before the Reformation.
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