The Anglo-Norman Church

The parish

Permanence of the parish, 12th to 18th c. tombs. Excavation of the parish graveyard at the church of Saint-Julien in Caen.During the Merovingian and Carolingian periods, the church was a separate building around which first the graveyard and then the community of inhabitants were gradually established. Generally speaking the parish network seems to have been established by the early 11th century. Its origins date back a long way, with a foretaste in the great country domains of the 6th century. New parishes were, however, still being created in the late 12th century as newly cleared land became available.

Parish church of Saint-Martin-de-la-Lieue, Pays d'Auge. The nave shows traces of 10th c. architecture.Whether drawn from an ancient settlement, a population living near a castle or around a church, a new constituency came into being: the parish. It was primarily a religious community, coming together to celebrate the various rites of the Christian church. It fitted in among the other forms of social and economic spatial organisation: the great domain, the seigniory, where the landowners wielded their power, and the fiefdom, held in exchange for military service or dues paid to those who gained an income from the land. In Normandy however, the parish, the seigniory and the fiefdom rarely coincided.

Fine stonework, "pierre de Caen", on the bell-tower of the parish church at St-Loup-Hors (near Bayeux).The parish was defined by a built-up area and extended to all the adjoining soil, causing a veritable reshaping of the local landscape. The church was then promoted to the status of a building held in common. As often as not, it was the first stone building in the village, constructed following ancient tradition (Pays d'Auge, Pays d'Ouche), with rudimentary masonry, Herringbone stonework (opus spicatum), common in small parish churches (here Vienne-en-Bessin, Calvados)"herringbone work" (Bessin) or in fine dressed stone near the towns and quarries (lower Orne valley).

The church had to be a refuge capable in times of need of taking in men and beasts. However, the fence or thorn hedge around the graveyard marked, first and foremost, the boundary between the sacred and the profane. Very early on, this protective and spiritual as much as material function was embodied in the building and enhanced its role as the kernel of the rural settlement.


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