Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Medieval Church

The Church played an integral role in medieval society. In a time when the majority of Europe followed its teachings, the Church was seen as not only powerful but the keeper of the keys to heaven. Salvation and Heaven could only be obtained by piety, good works, following its doctrine, observing the saint days and paying for your dearly departed to get out of purgatory.

            The Church also attempted to regulate marriage during this period. For a wedding ceremony to take place the couple must be willing and not related by kinship. The laws of consanguinity stated that couples could not be married if they had a kinship tie. This was seen as problematic for some of the population, not because they wanted to marry their siblings but because the kinship link was far reaching. Even if you were distantly related you could not marry, which could vastly reduce your number of suitors if you lived in a small village.  Or another example would be if two brothers from one family wished to marry two daughters from another. Only one couple could wed because as soon as the marriage took place, the family ties merged and the remaining couple would be regarded as brother and sister and forbidden to marry. There were ways around the problem; some chose to ignore the law and risk their souls while others purchased special dispensation from the Church to allow the marriage to go ahead.

            Many of the monasteries were of the Benedictine Order. The Benedictine’s day was organised around a series of religious services called the Divine Office. These included Vespers (sunset), Compline (bedtime), Midnight Office (midnight), Matins (dawn), Prime (7 am), Terce (9 am), Sext (noon) and None, (3pm). The monks followed The Rule of St. Benedict. This set out a daily schedule for work and prayer, and taught them how to lead humble and unselfish live.

            Where some of the monks and nuns had a divine calling, many did not. Many were placed in monasteries and nunneries by their families. This led to unhappiness, frustration and disobedience. For those who refused to obey were punished. First with isolation and then if they continued to misbehave, by public beating in front of the entire monastic house.

Life for the parish or village priest was different. He was appointed by the lord of the manor and was given a house. He was obliged to carry money for alms with him, keep up the church, and provide hospitality to travellers.

The priest was usually a commoner by birth, though serfs were tied to the land and were not allowed to become priests. The priest officiated at church services, weddings, baptisms, funerals, and visited the ill. He earned his living from the income for parish lands, fees for services, and tithe money.
             Tithing was a system whereby each family was expected to give one tenth of their earnings to support the church. The tithe income was divided up evenly between the parish priest, the church maintenance fund, the poor, and the bishop.

In my latest book, Rain, I drew on elements of the medieval church and village life, and mixed it with a touch of the paranormal. And I hope that by joining the medieval period with a little magic, I’ve managed to create a lingering love story and a dark fairytale.

1216 AD
Nuri is caught between heaven and hell. Two men fight for her love and her soul. The first is Maras, an elemental being who follows the storms. The second is Brother Erebus, a pious monk whose tortured soul is twisted by his desire for her. But Nuri may sacrifice more than her heart when the Church brands her angel a demon. As Brother Erebus will do anything to protect her soul from the silver haired devil, even if he has to crush her body to do it.

Erebus woke with a start. Sweat covered his body, and his heart raced. The dream lingered, tormenting him. He sat up and heard the heavy drumming of rain; flashes of lightning lit up the darkness of his room. He rubbed his face with his hands, as if to rub away the very thought of her. Nuri haunted him constantly, not only in his waking moments, but even in his deepest slumber. He tried so hard to banish her from his day, but every night she came unbidden. Slowly, she caught hold of his dreams and beguiled him to the point of madness.
Erebus threw the coarse woollen blanket from him and stood on the cold stone floor of his cell. He went to the small wooden table that held a crude pitcher and bowl. He poured icy water into the large bowl and immersed his face in an attempt to cleanse himself. The water was so cold that it burned his face with tiny pinpricks. He forced himself to stay put until the pain and lack of air forced Nuri’s image from his brain. He sucked in a mouthful of air as he raised his head, and asked himself the same question that had been tormenting him for weeks.  Never before has a woman held sway over my mind and soul, so how has Nuri managed it? How can one small woman have this effect? Am I not devout and pious...and chosen by the Abbott himself?
Erebus took another deep breath. The chilled air made him shudder. He had taken the vows of chastity, obedience, and poverty, vows that he had always adhered to. And nothing and no one would make him renege them. He was Brother Erebus, and soon he would be solely in charge of this church and the souls of the entire village. So why had God seen fit to test him so, to tempt him with a woman? Mayhap it was not God, a small voice echoed at the back of his mind. Nuri, for all her beauty, was obviously the Devil’s device to test his resolve. Again, he dipped his head in the bowl of water – as he stood up, freezing rivulets cascaded down his smooth back.
“I am strong. I will meet this challenge and emerge untainted,” he whispered in the dark as he walked back to his cot and sat on the hard straw mattress. He took several more deep breaths in an attempt to clear his head, then dropped to his knees and bowed his head in prayer. Yet, as he closed his eyes, Nuri’s face floated before him.

Amazon Link -
Manner and Customs in the Middle Ages by Marsha Groves
The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer
Medieval Churches and Monasteries by David Ross.
Images – Illuminated script – public domain.

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