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In what ways might a study of Christchurch Priory be used to illustrate the place of the church in Medieval England (1066 – 1540)?

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Introduction

Ciaran O'Neill Christchurch Priory In what ways might a study of Christchurch Priory be used to illustrate the place of the church in Medieval England (1066 - 1540)? Christchurch Priory, Church of the Holy Trinity is situated on the south coast of England and just east of Bournemouth. Previously named Thuinam, or Twynham, which means a settlement between two rivers, the Avon and the Stour, the town was renamed to acknowledge both the geographical and social influence of the church. There is evidence to suggest that there was a Saxon church of some nature before the Norman invasion of 1066, highlighted by reference to a Monastic property owned by Edward the Confessor in the domsday book of 1087, administered by a Dean and 24 secular canons, but was likely to have been of little significance. A 'priory' is the self-sufficient church of a religious house under a prior or prioress but now the priory now holds only 'church' status. Features of the area that remain are the Church itself, the monastic wall, the 'Garda Rode' or toilet, the Twelfth century Norman round tower the Leat, and the Prior's lodge all of which hint strongly at the likelihood of a fully functional priory in previous years. The Anglo-Saxons effectively established the Priory of Christchurch, and building development was instigated in 1094 by the influential figure of Ranulf Flambard after the Norman Invasion. ...read more.

Middle

The Lady Chapel to the far East of the Church was built towards the end of the 14th century, and was started in Perpendicular style, illustrated by the grand windows almost entirely spanning the walls from top to bottom. The 'Great Quire' was also reconstructed in Gothic Perpendicular architecture. The stunningly ornate chantry chapels, Salisbury and Draper, were the last major constructions (decorated in Tudor Renaissance) before the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1530 came the Reformation; Henry VIII joined the Protestants after arguing with the Pope who refused to grant Henry a divorce. Henry established himself as head of the English church and 'Defender of the Faith'. He then began his assault on the Catholic Church; images and statues portraying Catholicism and the 'pagan idolatry' were ripped out and destroyed, churches made generally plainer, and monasteries dissolved. The church at Christchurch was spared, but most other monastic buildings were pulled down. This is the simple answer to the question of where did the 'Priory' go. The effects of the dissolution of the monasteries is still clearly visible today, with empty niches and shelves all around the church, especially in the transepts, the Lady Chapel, and the Quire. It is clear that the Church played an elementary role of the socio-economic structure of Medieval Life. The Church owned around 25 to 30% of the land in Britain, clearly showing power, status and influence. ...read more.

Conclusion

They therefore kept a strong influence over the Church; for example the progression of Ranulf Flambard to a position of prominence that allowed him to proceed to build a Norman Church over the existent Saxon one. The rise of Norman socialism through the church gave rise to a new democracy, mainly through the feudal system. Placing the public in a hierarchy, with the King and the Church at the top, this was another important factor in the establishment of the Church as the nucleus of medieval life. It appears that the rise of Christchurch Priory in its community is reminiscent of the rising status of the Norman religion to the age of the Great Church. This was however decimated in the reign of Henry VIII through the reformation when he stripped the Church of its wealth as well as identity. In conclusion, I would advise that Christchurch Priory illustrates the place of the Church in Medieval Britain well. It seems to have a direct correlation to the advance of the Church in Britain; established after the Norman conquest of 1066, progressing physically and in status, then hugely affected by the reformation and the dissolution of the Monasteries. I believe that the sources such as the representational maps must have at least a certain degree of accuracy, as after a trip to the 'Priory' it is clearly apparent that there was once something more there. For example the huge Priors door on the south side that now leads to nothing would not be there if it had not once been of significance. ...read more.

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