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 involvement.
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.
Katherine L. French is Associate Professor of History at the State University of New York, New Paltz.
"A coherent, well-written, and stimulating survey of parish life."—Catholic Historical Review
"By integrating issues of literacy and gender, and considering the tensions as well as cohesion, this book adds a significant contribution to the developing understanding of the role of the parish in late medieval English religious and social life."—Robert Swanson, University of Birmingham
"Katherine French puts a human face on the history of the English medieval parish between the end of the fourteenth century and the Reformation."—Carol Davidson-Cragoe, The Medieval Review