UWE

Layout, Terms & Church Use

Contents

1 Church Layout

2 Areas within a Church

3 The Church; components and use by parishioners and clergy - Part One

4 The Church; components and use by parishioners and clergy - Part Two

1 Church Layout

Some of the earliest churches were of two cell construction. Celtic churches usually followed this plan. They often had quite high walls. The nave is on the left and the smaller chancel, on the right. The chancel should really be known, in this instance, as the Sanctuary - where the altar stood.

Kilpeck church in Herefordshire is a good example of a Norman three cell church. It comprises a nave, a presbytery and the sanctuary. The apsed end is possibly based on the Roman basilica. The presbytery and sanctuary are often referred to as the chancel.

Semi circular arches divide the three bays. The altar has an apsed end. The church is from about 1130 and is on the site of a previous Saxon church. The Yews in the church yard are thought to be 1000 years old. Kilpeck is well worth a visit; it's about half an hour beyond Monmouth. Excellent tea and cake shop opposite!
As the population grew so did churches. Some developed wings or small transepts to cater for the extra numbers and allow for the more elaborate church ritual which slowly evolved. These changes came about from the early 1300 onwards. Sometimes churches were altered; in some cases (and quite often in the 15th century) they were completely rebuilt. Transepts were also necessary where central towers existed. They formed buttresses to help cope with the loads from the arches below the tower. (see Towers) In fact, central towers in parish churches are quite rare and where they do exist, they tend to 'proclaim' wealth. Burford in the Cotswolds is a typical example.   
Not all churches had transepts and many grew in other ways. On the left you can see a North aisle has been added to the original two cell church. The original external wall is now an arched arcade. On the right hand side you can see a south porch and west tower added. In many cases a south aisle could also be added.
By the Perpendicular period (15th century) many parish churches had floor plans similar to the one on the right. The nave would typically have 3 or 4 pairs of columns - possibly with aisles on one or both sides. Towers were usually at the West end - it was easier than building it over the crossing and a towers at the West end could be added later with minimum disruption to the church. 

South porches often became very elaborate. Click here to see the South porch at Northleach.

 
Providing aisles could be done in a number of ways. On the left a new roof and additional wall has been provided. This causes drainage problems, is expensive and does not look very attractive. On the right the roof has been extended. Again, not very attractive but relatively cheap.
However, when roofs did not have to be steep (because of the introduction of sheet lead in the mid 14th century) the best solution was to raise the nave, form a clerestory, and have lean-to aisles.   
Wraxall church, just south of Bristol, is typical of the Perpendicular period. Many churches in Somerset were rebuilt or re-modelled in this period using wealth from the wool trade. You can just make out the west tower, the south porch and the south aisle. The part nearest to you is the chancel.  
Wedmore, in Somerset, must have been a wealthy area. In 1400 to 1500 the church was rebuilt. The construction is unusual for a parish church in that it has a central tower. Click on the plan for more details. This is quite a complex church.
Cathedrals were obviously grander than parish churches. Most cathedrals vary in their floor plans although Wells is not untypical. Click on the picture for more detail. Further information is on the page (next page).  

2 Areas within a Church

Aisle. The long spaces within a church which run at the side(s) and parallel to the nave and chancel, separated by an arcade. A passage around the apse used for processions.

Apse. The semi-circular eastern end of a chapel or chancel and usually containing an altar. Derived from Byzantine and early Christian architecture of the Mediterranean area. See Basilica.

Ambulatory. The apse aisle of a church, a passage behind the chancel or the gallery of a cloister. Used as part of the route for ceremonial processions in the church. From the Latin ambulans =walker.

Basilica. From a Latin word used to describe an oblong building with 2 or more aisles, where the centre part was higher and wider than the side aisles, and where the east end usually has a semi-circular apse. This shape was used for early Christian churches around the Mediterranean. Some examples of the basilica style churches can be seen in England although many have had so many additions and alterations over the centuries it is hard to distinguish the original shape.

Chancel. The eastern end of a church. It contains the main altar and is reserved for the clergy. It is sometimes subdivided into presbytery or sanctuary (with the altar) and the choir. The chancel was usually apsed at the east end in Anglo-Saxon and early Norman churches. Later churches tended to have square ended chancels. Some purists don't like to see the word used in relation to cathedrals.

Choir. The part of a church where the chorus or choir sings during services, usually fitted with seats called the choir stalls.

Crossing. The space where the nave and chancel axis crosses that of the transepts in a cruciform shaped church. 

Lady Chapel. A chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary in a large church or cathedral, often the largest of the side chapels.

Minster. A ‘mother’ church which served a large area before parish churches and administration were established in that area. Not necessarily a cathedral or abbey church although such an example is York Minster.

Narthex. A porch at the western end which acted as an antechamber for the nave. Sometimes used for baptisms or the withdrawal of penitents, (those making amends for their sins), as it was outside the sanctified (or liturgical) area of the church. In Anglo-Saxon churches the narthex is open to the air with an arcade on its west, (outer), side.

Nave. The western ‘arm’ of a church. It usually forms the main body of the church building and is where the lay public attends church services.

Porticus. (Same word used whether singular or plural). Low arched side openings off the main space of the church and used as chapels, tombs of important people, (in the early church the burial of the dead inside a church was forbidden), or if off the chancel, where the communion vessels were stored. By late Anglo-Saxon, early Norman times the openings of the porticus in some churches became larger and the porticus take on the role of embryonic transepts.

Presbytery. In the eastern ‘arm’ of the church. The area laid out for the priests (presbyteri) performing the ritual of ceremonial or conventual (for the whole congregation or monastery) Mass at the High or main Altar which only they could celebrate. Monks who were also priests could only celebrate private Masses and used the altars in the side chapels

Reredos. The screen or wall set behind an altar. Could be highly decorated .

Retro-choir. The area behind the High Altar in a large church or cathedral.

Rotunda. A building with a circular ground plan and frequently with a dome.

Sanctuary. The part of a church which contains the altar. See chancel.

This is distinct from the other meaning of sanctuary which referred to an area or building, often a church with or without its immediate grounds, where certain categories of lawbreakers could take refuge for specified lengths of time from their pursuers. Severe penalties were enacted upon those who broke the law of sanctuary and arrested someone within the sanctuary area.

Transept. The transverse arms of a cruciform shaped church, usually between the nave and chancel and projecting north and south. Used to house side altars where private masses could be said. Early transepts were reached through small archways from the main body of the church, but as technology advanced larger openings were used until they became completely open to the church nave and chancel. See porticus. In practical terms they also help buttress the arches supporting a central tower.

3 The Church; components and use by parishioners and clergy - Part One

It is hard today to imagine just how much the parish church dominated peoples' lives in the medieval period. The church as much as the seasons dictated villagers' and townsfolks' lives and activities. The church was involved in secular matters as well as religious matters. Whether or not the people had a deep seated religious conviction, (and from the money spent on parish churches and services some at least had deep religious feelings), there was only one Church. Its festivals marked the changing seasons, it took its share, the tithe, of all produce harvested, however meagre. To be excluded from the church meant social exclusion as much as spiritual deprivation. With such a close relationship between the church and parishioners it is worth considering just how they used 'their' churches.

Although we know of changes to liturgy, the calendars of festivals and saints' days and other matters pertaining to the church services, (from papal letters, bishops' registers and correspondence, and the more mundane accounts of churchwardens from the 15th century), we actually know very little of how the people moved around within the church or used the church and its spaces. Some knowledge can be surmised from the shape of the building and what we know of the order of services, but we do not know with absolute certainty how people behaved in, and used, their churches in the medieval period.

The Churchyard to the Porch.

Out in the countryside the church was usually surrounded on all sides by the graveyard, or on at least 3 sides. Parishioners entered the churchyard through the lych-gate, (from the Anglo-Saxon lich or lic = corpse). This gate marked the boundary between unconsecrated ground, and the consecrated land of the churchyard. The bearers could rest their load of the coffin or shroud-wrapped corpse on the coffin-stool or lych stone, while the priest performed part of the funeral service, before the funeral party continued to the church. There are many old lych-gates existing today and hundreds of Victorian replacements - but their position is unchanged.

The churchyard was important for more than burials. In many cases, the churchyard as well as the church, and all the area and buildings enclosed by the boundary wall or fence, was the sanctuary area. Once within such a designated area, someone fleeing from justice or from a mob was safe for a specified length of time. If the right of sanctuary was broken, the Church and secular justice could impose severe penalties on those who had offended and taken or harmed the person in sanctuary. Penalties could involve public humiliation for the offender, as happened in Bristol in the 14th century. Where the churchyard/graveyard was separate from the church, any sanctuary rights would normally only apply to the church itself. Not all churches provided sanctuary.

The churchyard was also used as a meeting place and for recreation purposes. In 1287 the Synod at Exeter ordered that the parish priests should ban dances, sports and the performance of plays in the churchyards. This was hard to comply with, for many naves were too small to allow the performance of miracle plays and accommodate the audience, so it was common for the play to be performed in the churchyard. Once the churches were enlarged by wealthy patrons in later years the problem was solved. Less religious activities such as archery, ball games, wrestling and even cock-fighting continued to take place in the churchyards, as well as fairs and markets, particularly those held on saints' (or holy days). While the higher authorities objected to the fairs, (e.g. the Statute of Winchester 1285), on the grounds that the noise disturbed the holy services, the practice continued; no doubt many impoverished parishes were grateful for the income from the rental of the stall spaces. Such activities were possible in the churchyards in medieval times, because it was not yet common practice to mark burials with gravestones. Sometimes simple wooden crosses might mark a fresh grave, or a small stone would be used, but these would not hinder the use of the churchyard as a public space. The wealthiest might be buried within the churches, either below ground or in 'chest' tombs set against the side walls or in the wings or transepts.

Not until the end of the 1500s did it become usual for the wealthy to buy a plot of land in the churchyard for their family burials and to use large gravestones to mark the name and dates of the deceased buried below, or use chest tombs such as those found at Painswick. Painswick, Glos., has a large variety of chest tombs, all dating from after the Reformation; the wealth of the townsfolk, from the wool trade, 'allied' with the local limestone, meant that elaborately carved chest tombs became commonplace in the churchyard. Most other churchyards have at least one or two examples of chest tombs, e.g. there are several arranged in a row in the churchyard of Long Ashton church, on the outskirts of S. Bristol.

The churchyards were used over and over again for burials. As it was unusual for people to be buried in coffins, but in shrouds, it was possible to do this. Burials normally started close to the south wall of the church, and the ground toward the south boundary was gradually used up. When the boundary was reached, they simply started using the area close to the church wall again. It was this re-use of the same space, over and over again, that accounts for the level of the churchyard frequently being higher than the floor of the church. The northern part of the churchyard was less popular and often strangers, paupers or criminals were buried here in medieval times.
In many churchyards the remains of a free standing stone cross can be seen, although often all that is left is the circular steps at the base and the bottom of the stone shaft. The cross at Mark was restored in the C19th but gives an idea of the original. There is a large one at Wraxall church in Somerset. Many were wholly or partially destroyed during the Civil War in the C17th.but there are still some fine examples, such as those at Bishop's Lydeard, Somerset, or Ashleworth, Gloucester. The stone crosses vary greatly in appearance and in age. (The cross at Altarnun, Cornwall, is possibly C6th, the time of the Celtic missionaries). The crosses often marked the centre of the churchyard, although this can be hard to confirm, some having been relocated during their lifetime, and in many cases the size and shape of the churchyard has been enlarged and altered. The crosses had a function in the great processions of the church year, particularly on Palm Sunday. Indeed , the crosses are sometimes called 'Palm Crosses'. Public announcements were often made from the steps of the cross.
  In towns there were stone crosses outside the churchyards, as well as within. The cross in the grounds of St. Augustine's Abbey, Bristol, (now the Cathedral grounds of College Green) was used for official public sermons to the mayor, town councillors and members of the public. There was also a cross at the crossroads in the centre of some towns, used by itinerant or local friars for sermons, and for more civic, secular announcements and activities.

Some churchyards contain buildings, although often these are school rooms of later date. The remains of the school room can still be seen on the north side of the churchyard at Wraxall, Som., and dates from the C18th. Earlier buildings were often the priest's house, as at Elkstone, Glos. This dates from the C14th., although the present house is largely of the C16th when it was enlarged and remodelled.

Once through the lych-gate, a path led the parishioners to a porch, usually the south porch. In many churches the north door or porch was only used to carry a body out to the graveyard for interment. Nowadays some churches use the north porch as the main entrance to the church, (e. g. Long Ashton or Mark in Somerset, or St. Michael on the Mount in Bristol), but we cannot know if this was so in the medieval period. All except the smallest churches had some form of porch since the 13th century, even if it was only a rudimentary roof covering, providing minimal shelter for social gatherings at the church door. Other porches may have had walls, but few had a door to the space. By the 14th century many of these porches were substantial enough to have acquired a room above them. Sometimes the porch construction cuts across the top of the doorway mouldings, showing it is a more recent addition.

In the towns, matters were slightly different. Churches were much closer together, their church/graveyards were not necessarily at the side of the church. let alone surrounding the church as in the country parish. In Bristol, the priest of St. John's church had to walk up a street and through the Tailor's Guild courtyard to reach the little graveyard. St. Mary le Port and Christchurch did have their graveyards against one side of the church, but the graveyards were surrounded by tenements and inns. However, like country churches, town churches also had porches with rooms above them. The abbots of Cirencester had constructed a 3 storey porch on their church in the market place in Cirencester, whence they conducted their secular business, (they were involved in the lucrative wool trade amongst other things), and Wedmore also has 3 storeys. In most churches, the room above the porch was used for storage of important parish papers, or as a school room, or even as lodging for a sexton.

Porches were used for secular business. Meetings to discuss parish or communal matters would be held here. Business documents could be signed and witnessed here for the literate, or verbal contracts made in front of witnesses for the illiterate. Stone benches were often built along the side walls by the 14th century, for the comfort of the aged or infirm. Godparents took the vows here before carrying the child into the church for immersion in the font at baptisms. Until as late as the 16th century part at least of the marriage service was conducted here. In earlier medieval times the service was conducted wholly at the church door. In the porch, to the right of the door into the church, was the stoup of holy water. Parishioners would dip their right hand into this and then cross themselves, to symbolise their baptism.

4 The Church; components and use by parishioners and clergy - Part Two

The Door.

The south door of a church is often large, sturdy and very heavy. It may be surrounded by ornate and deep bands of mouldings. Romanesque doors often have a tympanum above the door, often showing Christ seated in majesty. The south door (the main entrance) was usually the most magnificent of the doors into the church. Constructed of two layers of wood, extra strength is provided by the boards of one side often being horizontal, the other vertical. The hinges are often extended into long straps which carry across the width of the door, again providing extra strength. These metal straps were sometimes embellished by being wrought into dragon or monster shapes in earlier examples, or later into the formalised leaf shapes seen in the carvings within the church. By the 14th century many doors had wooden carvings attached to them, replicating the patterns of the window tracery. Sometimes it s possible to see the original handmade nails still in the woodwork of a medieval door. 

West End.

Inside the door, in the west end of the church, stood the font, used for the baptism of all infants. Many of these date from  the Norman period, and being of massive and sturdy construction there was no need to carve new ones in the 13/15th centuries. Indeed some churches still have Anglo-Saxon or Norman fonts in use today. These early fonts are often crude bowl-shaped tubs of stone, with crude but lively carvings of figures. It is possible that so many have survived, despite their rough shape and appearance in churches otherwise modernised and beautified in the Gothic style, because they were held in veneration. (Harold was said to have sworn the oath passing his right of kingship over England to William of Normandy over a font, which also secretly contained saints' relics; William, Harold and the churchmen witnesses obviously thought the use of the font gave extra validity to the oath).

When new fonts were made, either for new churches or as replacements, they gradually became higher, facilitating the immersion process. 12th century fonts tend to have a squat shaft and a base similar to contemporary pillars. Octagonal bowls became fashionable in the 13th century, supported by a ring of slender shafts, again reflecting the architectural style of the period. By the 14/15th century font design was complex. Known as the 'chalice' form the bowl, still octagonal, stem and base were arranged as one complete design. Simpler forms were often decorated by incised quatrefoils, while more ornate versions could have a buttressed stem and figures and emblems sculpted on it. The base also is decorated with mouldings and is often mounted on a step. The 14/15th century produced some beautifully carved wooden font covers, often copying the shape of a spire. Earlier covers were often a simple board cut to fit into the bowl. After the Reformation covers returned to the board type, but often with baroque style decoration. Covers were used to keep the fonts clean and to stop anyone stealing the holy water for any sacriligious use.

As the villagers passed the font to enter the nave for services, they would separate, men occupying one side of the nave, the women the other. The priest celebrated mass daily, and the Church encouraged everyone to attend each service. In practice the demands of work, whether in town or out in the fields, meant that at most, mass was attended on Sundays, the more important saints' days and Christmas and Easter.

The nave would look strange to our eyes. Only the wealthier churches would have floors that were tiled or covered in flag stones. Most, particularly those out in the small villages where there was only a small and poor congregation, would have a beaten earth floor. All churches, whatever their floor covering, would have straw or rushes on the floor, to soak up mud from shoes. The churchwarden's accounts of St. Ewen's and of All Saints' churches in Bristol list payments for sweeping out the church and providing new straw and rushes.

It is often stated that medieval churches had no seating in the naves. This was probably true in the earlier medieval period, even into the 15th century in the poorest churches, but certainly the higher social classes expected to sit through a service, separated from their servants and workers. In the towns, the annual 'sale' of seats in the churches provided a useful income for the churches. Some seats were more favourably positioned than others, and their price reflected this; In 1427 at All Saints', Bristol, the price of a seat ranged from 6 pence to 20 pence. St. Ewen's also charged a variety of rates for seating.

Dogs were allowed into churches, from medieval times to more recent times. Some churches paid for a dog-catcher to control unruly dogs, but by the 17th century the problem was so bad that Archbishop Laud of Canterbury ordered all churches to erect railings around the altar to keep it safe from dogs defiling its sanctity. Most churches retain altar railings, some still having the original 17th century rail.

At the east end of the nave was the chancel arch and beyond it the chancel, the area containing the altar, and where the laity were not allowed to enter. The priest celebrated mass at the altar in the chancel, with only a few of the congregation able to see what was happening. Some churches have small oblique openings at the side of the chancel arch. These are called squints and enabled a few of the congregation (or church attendants) to peer through to observe the religious mysteries taking place at the altar in the chancel.
Until the end of the 12th century the chancel arch was often narrow and the chancel itself was either an apse or a square ended small projection. During the 13th/14th centuries, many chancels were lengthened, and sometimes the arch was widened. Why this was done and how the extra space was utilised we do not know, but for over 3 centuries the chancel remained long. The lancet windows changed to fine traceried windows, with stained glass wherever finances allowed. Extending the chancel allowed a 'priest's door' to be cut into the south wall. The extra length allowed, in the wealthier or more important parish churches, the introduction of seating, useful when a church acquired chantry priests. It was a popular practice for people to leave money in their wills to a church, to pay for a priest to say regular masses for the deceased's soul. In churches in wealthy towns, with large well-to-do congregations, several priests could be employed in a church, and they had to be accommodated, during services, in the chancel. This led to the introduction of seating, sedilia and choir stalls, in the chancel. The sedilia, (Latin sedile = seat or bench), are made of stone and are placed on the south wall of the chancel and were for the use of the officiating priest and deacon. The piscina, (Latin piscina = swimming pool or fishpond), the little sink and drain that passed through the church wall to the consecrated ground outside, was often set in a niche as part of the sedilia range. It was used to wash the sacred vessels used in the mass and ensured that the water which had touched the holy objects was disposed of on consecrated ground. (Other altars around the church, in the transepts or wings, would often have their own piscina, and can sometimes suggest where an altar was sited in a side chapel). The choir stalls were usually of wood and were used by other priests attending, but not officiating at the services; these would help the celebrant in singing and chanting the service. Some quite modest churches have elaborately made choir stalls. This may mean that the church in medieval times served a parish of greater financial importance than it does now, or that when a local monastery was closed during the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII and Edward VI, some benefactor bought up the stalls of the monastery to adorn his parish church.

Lengthening the chancel would have meant that the priest celebrating the mass would have been a very long way from the congregation, except for those actually taking communion. (Although people were encouraged to attend services frequently, actually taking communion was less frequent, often only 3 times a year). The longer chancel may have been used to more completely separate the communicants from the rest of the congregation, kept the other side of the chancel arch; making the communicants seem 'special'. Perhaps they approached the altar in a more ceremonial, processional manner. We do not know, and can only guess. It was also at this time that, where possible, churches were adding transepts, which widened the area immediately in front of the chancel arch. Is it possible that more of the service was conducted at the entrance of the chancel than at the altar itself?

In many churches which were enlarged during the later medieval period, the chancel seems small and old-fashioned compared to the remodelled nave. This was because although the upkeep of the nave and tower was the responsibility of the parishioners, the chancel was the responsibility of the priest. While the parishioners grew wealthy, particularly in the wool and cloth areas of East Anglia, the Cotswolds and Somerset, the income of the parish church and the priest remained small, and in real terms, shrank. The priest could not afford to upgrade the chancel as his parishioners could the nave. At Yatton, Som., the chancel is small compared to the rest of the church which was enlarged and remodelled in the Perpendicular style. At Northleach, Glos. the building of the clerestorey in the C15th dwarfs the earlier chancel. Sometimes a wealthier priest would rebuild or enlarge or beautify his chancel, or the parishioners would include it in their plans, but the out-of-scale, small or plain chancel is quite common.

The widened chancel arch necessitated the use of the rood screen, which ran across the width of the entrance, giving privacy when needed. A door in the screen was kept locked, only being opened when a service was in progress. (The Rood was the figure of Christ on the cross, and usually supported by the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist). These screens could be of wood or stone, and varied in style from the most open filigree to an almost solid 'wall'. The screens were usually painted in brilliant colours and gilded. The screen allowed the congregation to watch the actions of the priest at the altar, almost as if they were witnessing rather than participating in the service. It must be remembered that few, if any, of a country congregation and only a minority of a town congregation would understand any of the words of the service, as it was conducted in Latin. Only at set times of the year, when the priest preached on the sacraments, or the 10 Commandments, the Articles of Faith, the 7 Deadly Sins etc., or delivered a sermon on a matter of importance, such as a crusading call, would English be used in the church. Generally, sermons were few in churches, until later medieval and Tudor times. It is little wonder that the travelling friars, preaching in the open, in English and frequently, drew such large audiences. 

The north wall of the chancel housed the aumbry, a cupboard in which was kept the sacred vessels used in the mass. Churches lucky enough to own a relic might keep it in a reliquary, safely locked away in the aumbry. The east wall of the chantry, and of the church, housed the reredos, underneath the window. This could be a devotional picture, of Christ, the Virgin Mary, favourite saints or an incident in the Bible, simply painted onto the wall. As churches accumulated wealth this could be replaced by hangings, carved wooden panels, or a row of stone niches containing statues of saints. Wealthy patrons often donated the reredos to a church, it being a highly visible gift, which advertised their desire to adorn their church and gain spiritual blessings, and was evidence of their generosity and wealth. Sometimes, instead of the reredos, the church had a diptych or triptych - freestanding 2 or 3 panelled paintings. The Wilton Triptych is a well known example of this.

The paintings on the walls and the pictures in the windows would have kept the people interested and instructed them in the Bible stories at the same time. A most popular painting was a graphic depiction of the day of Judgement, usually sited over the chancel arch; a constant reminder of the fate awaiting anyone who faltered in their Christian faith! Another painting, apparently common to all churches, was that of St. Christopher, the patron saint of travellers, but who also gave protection from death for that day to all who saw him. It was usually sited on the north wall opposite the main entrance to the church; it was thus visible to all who looked into the church seeking reassurance of safety that day. In town churches there were frequently paintings, statues and altars dedicated to a local guild's patron saint. The weavers of Bristol held their guild services at Temple church in Redcliffe, Bristol, where they had an altar dedicated to the patron saint of weavers, St. Katharine.

In the medieval period the lectern, the desk used to either for reading out the Gospels or to support the music when a church had a choir, was not sited in the nave as it is nowadays, but was placed in the chancel. Many lecterns took the form of an eagle, its back and outstretched wings supporting the Book. The eagle was the symbol of the evangelist, St. John, the most revered of the Gospel writers. All things in a church were steeped in symbolism, some of which we do not fully understand.
Processions were an important part of religion in medieval times. The guilds used to process through the streets on their way to the guild services, carrying candles and a statue or paintings of their patron saints. On Corpus Christi day, all the clergy, guilds, town council and friars would process together around a town, carrying the Host and the church crosses with great reverence. On Palm Sundays, the priests would lead their parishioners around the churchyard re-entering the church through the west door, the only time this was used. This procession taught the story of Christ's entry into Jerusalem. Easter was a time of high drama for several days in the churches, as the events were enacted to remind the congregation of the resurrection. It was from such clerical drama and ceremonial that the miracle plays evolved.

When moving around the church, look for the tombs within it. The most important ones will be nearest the altar. After the Reformation a transept would sometimes be 'taken over', effectively becoming a family mausoleum. Earlier tombs were set into the church floor, with a slab of stone on top, laid flush with the floor. They usually had a cross carved on them, and possibly a symbol of the deceased's life, e.g. a sword for a knight. Sometimes a metal sheet, similarly decorated, was set over the tomb. Metal monuments were cheaper than a stone carving, so a wider range of people used them. By the 13th century the fashion had changed and box tombs appeared. These are large tombs with a carved effigy, often life-size, on the top. Such effigies are very stylised in their execution. The deceased is always shown with their hands together in prayer. A knight would always be shown in full armour, and any heraldic devices were always shown in full. These effigies, when new, would be painted in bright colours. The sides of such tombs usually had carved figures on them, either angels or the deceased's children. During the 1300s, the styles became slightly more relaxed and varied, and possibly were a more accurate depiction of the deceased. Canopies were sometimes built over the tombs and some of these have extremely fine examples of the latest style of vaulting in use at the time; these are usually found in the larger parish churches.

Susan Marshall

 

 

 

 

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