The Medieval Church

The Medieval Church

The medieval church was much more dominant in people’s lives than it is today. Everyone from peasants to lords believed in God, Heaven and Hell and at a very young age everyone was made to believe that the Roman Catholic Church was the only way to Heaven. They would all have been extremely afraid of Hell and been warned of what lay in store for them during their attendance of weekly services.

The Church completely controlled everyone and peasants worked free of charge on Church land, which turned out to be difficult for them since the time spent doing this was time that they could not use on their own land to grow food for their family.

Peasants would offer the Church 10 per cent of their yearly earnings (known as tithes) which were paid either in money or goods. Paying by goods was much more common for peasants as they hardly ever had money, so their way of payment was in seeds, livestock, crops etc. However this would prove a loss as seeds were vital to be planted for the next year’s crops.

The Church secured its wealth by telling people that if they did not pay the tithes they owed, this would mean they would go to Hell after their death.

Now a museum, this building was once a tithe barn serving Maidstone, Kent
Now a museum, this building was once a tithe barn serving Maidstone, Kent

One of Henry VIII’s motives for reforming the Church was to access the Catholic Church’s money - everyone was too afraid to not pay tithes even though it was difficult.

Baptisms also needed to be paid for as it was taught people could not enter Heaven without this sacrament, along with marriages and burials - people needed to be buried on ‘holy land’ if their soul was going to reach Heaven.

The Church was also not required to pay taxes which saved it a great deal of money and enabled it to have much more wealth than even the royal family. Grand buildings such as monasteries, cathedrals and churches reflect the Church’s wealth.

Compared to badly built cruck houses which the lower classes would live in and now no longer exist, medieval churches are still around today thanks to the impressive way in which they were built - showing how much money was invested into them by the Church.

Major cities would have contained cathedrals, the most well known ones being Canterbury and York Cathedral. After Thomas Becket died, Canterbury Cathedral turned into a pilgrimage destination meaning the city and the Church grew increasingly rich. Cathedrals are still considered large, but they would have been larger than all existing buildings in medieval England - even royal palaces. This made sure people would be able to view them from miles away and remember the vast power held by the Catholic Church.

To build a cathedral would be thought of as a great honour, and people who worked on them were required to belong to a guild. Only basic tools would have been used but people were told that if they were killed in an accident whilst working on a cathedral or church, they would automatically go to Heaven.

See also: Medieval Church Architecture

MLA Citation/Reference

"The Medieval Church". HistoryLearning.com. 2015. Web.