Thurrock Local History Society
The Parish Church and Medieval Life
Jennifer Ward, the October guest speaker, gave a detailed account of the parish church and its influence on life in the Middle Ages. The Pope was the head of the church and the bishops and priests ensured that the parishioners followed the tenets of the Christian faith. There were seven sacraments which included baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist at mass, marriage and extreme unction, the last being the anointing of oil, by a priest, at the time of death. Children knew the doctrines of the church by learning the Catechism before their confirmation.
Most of the parishioners were illiterate so the churches were very colourful with wall paintings depicting scenes from the Bible. Stained glass windows and screens portrayed the saints. People would pray to a saint who, they believed, would intercede with the Almighty, on their behalf to answer their prayers. A common wall painting was the Doom which depicted the people being weighed in scales at their death and if found wanting they were shovelled into the fiery mouth of Purgatory while those who had led a virtuous life rose up to Heaven. The well-off, educated members of the parish might own a Book of Hours, an illustrated book of prayers, for private devotions. Wealthy members established Chantries for priests to sing masses for the founder’s soul.
The church services were in Latin. At Mass the communicants received the bread, believed to be the body of Christ, and the priest received the wine, the blood of Christ.
Religion imposed rules relating to food: Wednesday and Friday were non-meat days and Saturday was sometimes a fast day. Fish was eaten throughout Lent and dairy products were prohibited. Feast days were celebrated with fairs, also groups put on plays depicting scenes from the Bible and pilgrimages were made to Canterbury, Rome, Jerusalem and other holy sites.
The next meeting is at the Adult Community College, Richmond Road, Grays on Friday 16th November at 8 pm. The subject is ‘Walking the Mardyke’ by John Matthews.
Visitors are very welcome.