The Norman Church

The English Parish Church

Salton (N.Yorkshire) Norman parish church.  Parishioners on the doorway arch at Healaugh (N. Yorks)The origins of the parish system in England lie in the gradual subdivision of large, ill-defined territories centred on the churches established by kings and bishops in the Anglo-Saxon period. From the 10th century onwards new churches were established by other landlords for themselves and their tenants so that by the 11th - 12th centuries church-going had become organised on a strictly territorial basis.

By 1100 there were 6-7000 parish churches in England, each of which performed pastoral care for a community living within a well-defined area, its size depending on the density of population. For example, in the towns there were many small parishes and parish churches - London Newhaven (Sussex) parish churchhad over 100. In rural areas a parish often, but not always, came to be equivalent to a manor, and the parish church, the property of the manorial lord, was usually located adjacent to his residence. A parish was expected to have sufficient resources to support the church and priest, and to undertake the care of the poor and sick. It was sustained by taxes and tithes levied on agricultural produce, although landlords Baptismal font at Cowlam (East Yorks)took some of the revenue for their own purposes leaving priests as poor as their other tenants.

Until the 11th century many English churches were built wholly, or in large part, of timber, but by the time of the Conquest reconstruction in stone was gathering pace in most regions. The simplest Norman parish churches were small and rectangular in plan; others had a distinct nave and chancel, and a few were cruciform. Early Norman churches sometimes had a semi-circular apse at the east end, but by the 12th century it had usually been removed.

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