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How accurate is the statement that the eleventh century saw ‘a great religious revival’ in England, and to what extent were the Norman responsible?

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Introduction

How accurate is the statement that the eleventh century saw 'a great religious revival' in England, and to what extent were the Norman responsible? There was much to reform in the English church that Edward the confessor presided over. The original plan for the English church that Gregory the Great had drawn up was differed from in a wide variety of areas, and paid only lip service to in a number of others. For instance, his division of the country into two archbishoprics, Canterbury and York, was obeyed, but while he had imagined them equal in power, there was no doubt by Edward's reign that Canterbury was the more important. While Gregory had envisaged the balance of power held in place by there being twelve dioceses on either side of the Humber and thus presumably twelve in the domain of both archbishops, considerations of relative wealth and power had ensured that that there were thirteen south of the river, and just one North of it. Neither were the dioceses strictly adhered to, for there was a mounting trend of their merger - in the reign of Edward alone, a bishop called Lyfing simultaneously controlled dioceses as geographically disparate as Cornwall, Crediton and Worcester, and he was by no means an isolated example. There were abuses, too, among the clergy. ...read more.

Middle

While the sources for his deeds are admittedly dubious, and frequently hagiographic, his supposed holiness seems the likely reason for his status as William's favoured English clergyman, and for his forgiveness after the revolt of 1070. One aspect of the English church of this time is worthy of special note - the issue of lay investiture. The practices of clerical homage and investiture by ring and staff, which the reformers of the great European monasteries were only just coming to condemn, and which were all but universal in Germany and France, were simply far less prevalent in England. Bishops were usually appointed by a writ sent out to the shire court, which would be then read out by an announcer. It is astounding to think that if the Norman conquest, and with it what is often perceived as the wholesale importation of reforming ideas, had in fact simply kept the law as it was on this issue, the titanic struggles of Anselm might have been quite unnecessary. Lay investiture was not the only issue to suggest the portrait of the Normans as a reforming force may be a false one. Stigand, famously excommunicated by five successive popes, was at first recognized as archbishop of Canterbury, and for his deposal of 1070 political reasons (in light of the recent revolt) ...read more.

Conclusion

If we take 1099 as a stopping point, just before Anselm's Damascene conversion to reform views in Rome, the progress of the reform movement in England can be said to have been steady rather than spectacular. There was less tolerance of Simony and clerical marriage, for which the Normans and their monastic imports can take legitimate credit. Their introduction of church courts also strengthened the church, and their architectural program at least showed a degree of commitment to the English church. Regarding lay investiture, which was becoming the leading issue of the age, however, the conquest had actually been a step backwards for the reform movement, and if there was any independently English reformation occurring with its centres at Glastonbury and Canterbury, Lanfranc and the Normans can be said to have killed it off. That the English church of 1099 was further down the road to reform than it was in 1042 is beyond question, especially with the resolution of the investiture debate in 1105. In that, the ideas the Normans brought with him played a considerable part. Yet to describe the purging of the spirit of Christian optimism that led to the wave of church-building and vernacular ecclesiastical works that characterised the pre-conquest period as a 'great religious revival' would be wrong in the extreme. 2,175 words. 1 At least according to Barlow. 2 Again according to Barlow. ...read more.

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