Inculcating the Idea of the Inner Heart into the Laity of Pre-Conquest England
Mirator, Vol. 9:1 (2008)
Introduction: The largely illiterate laity of eleventh-century England have left few hints of their internal spirituality. We simply do not have the same kind of evidence for this period as we have, for example, for the seventeenth century when Puritans kept spiritual diaries, documenting their inner religious lives. This lacuna, I believe, has led to an over-emphasis on the evidence of the external aspects of their piety, particularly on pious gift-giving, which has left more abundant evidence in the form of charters, wills, and obituary lists. This over-emphasis is often accompanied by the anachronistic assumption that their gifts were disingenuous or incongruous to true piety and that the churches and abbeys receiving them were more concerned with contributions than catechizing. Moreover the elite laity of this period of Anglo-Saxon history were becoming increasingly wealthy and among the various outlets for their conspicuous consumption was pious giving to the Church, which serves to eclipse further any internal aspect of their piety.
Frank Barlow recognized in the 1960s that the relationship between the church and the state in pre-conquest England warranted a thorough examination, as it had been, “obscured by two great shadows, the one cast by the Norman Conquest and the other by Edward’s cult and canonization.” Moreover, Barlow observes that by the time of William of Malmesbury, who chronicled the history of the English Church in 1124–25, the history of the last century of the Anglo-Saxon Church was confused by “broken continuity and tradition”. Barlow’s book, therefore, addressed this period of English Church history and specifically the “fruitful cooperation between the royal and ecclesiastical government.” More recently, John Blair has argued for the dynamism of the Anglo-Saxon Church in the period 850–1100: a dynamism which saw not only the transformation of minsters into the nuclei of urban sites but also the development of local churches and the emergence of parishes.