The rise of the medieval church was extraordinary, said Harry Mount in The Spectator: “as early as 1200 there were 9,500 churches in England – all built since 597”. Many are still there – and “must be the highlight of our architectural history” – but it’s hard to imagine what they were like in their heyday.
“Step forward Nicholas Orme, emeritus professor of history at the University of Exeter.” In this “useful, eye-opening book”, he explains in impressive detail what churches (and church-going) were like in the Middle Ages.
At times, the world Orme evokes is familiar, said Duncan Morrison in The Daily Telegraph – with children clattering about at the back and adults nodding off during sermons. Elsewhere, its alienness is striking: parishioners are told to stop licking relics; a knight punches a vicar for “upbraiding him for bringing his hunting hawk to Mass”; and the women of Leicester throw stones at a deranged misogynist preacher.
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A “vast intricate mosaic resting atop a mountain of research”, Orme’s book is “often funny, often moving, and always fascinating”.
Yale 496pp £20; The Week Bookshop £15.99
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