chapter  XV
16 Pages

THE FOURTEENTH CENTURY DIOCESE AND PARISH IN ENGLAND

The ecclesiastical division of the country into provinces, dioceses and parishes was common to Europe, as was also the intermediate division of the diocese into archdeaconries and rural deaneries, and the general constitution of cathedral and collegiate churches. But general similarity of organisation in the middle ages was never strained to an exact uniformity, even within the limits of a single country. Church institutions were of ancient and natural growth, and custom crystallised in different regions in different centuries, producing a very complex whole. The small Italian diocese was not worked by as elaborate a machinery as the large English or German one. The sixth and seventh century archpriest of France persisted in many instances with powers something like those of the English rural dean: he was scarcely known in England. Local churches had their own liturgies, rites and calendars of saints’ days. Of those curious Saturnalian adaptations, the feast of the boy bishop and the feast of the ass, the first was common to England and France, the second unknown in England. Festivals which became common to the whole church usually began as local observances. It seems therefore clearer in discussing the ordinary working life of the fourteenth century church, both in this chapter and the next, to consider England only, though the description would broadly apply to the rest of western Europe as

well. The round of the greater festivals, the sacraments, the Latin mass and offices, the diocese and parish, were common to Latin Christendom.