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The Catholic Historical Review

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Its religious observances gave shape to the calendar; its sacramental rituals marked important moments in an individual's life including baptism, confirmation, marriage, the eucharist, penance, holy orders and the last rites ; and its teachings underpinned mainstream beliefs about ethics, the meaning of life and the afterlife. Usage terms Public Domain in most countries other than the UK. The headquarters of the Western Church was Rome.

For most of the medieval period, this was the chief residence of the Pope, who was regarded as the successor of St Peter.

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Christ had appointed Peter the chief apostle, and gave him the 'keys to the kingdom of heaven' Gospel of St Matthew which, according to tradition, were inherited by his successors. The Western Church maintained the status and powers of St Peter devolved to his papal successors; however, the primacy of the Pope was rejected by the Eastern Church, which had a distinct hierarchy, theology and liturgy.

In medieval art, the Church was symbolised by a woman, Ecclesia, who was sometimes shown overpowering her blindfolded persecutor Synagoga or Synagogue, the Jewish house of prayer. The success of the Church as a dominant force can be attributed in no small measure to its highly developed organisation, which over the course of the Middle Ages developed a sophisticated system of governance, law and economy.

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The institutional Church can be divided into two unequal parts: the larger of the two was the secular church, and the other was the regular church, so called because its members followed a monastic rule regula, in Latin. The secular church, attended by the general population, was carved into regions governed by archbishops, and their territory was in turn divided into areas known as diocese, which were administered by bishops.

The parish church was the basic unit of the Christian community, providing the sacraments required by the lay community. For most medieval Christians, religious experience was focused on a parish church which they attended, at least in theory, on Sundays and religious festivals.

The regular church, by contrast, consisted of men and women who had sworn vows of obedience, celibacy and poverty.

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Most of these people lived in communities governed by a 'rule', a book of instructions. The most influential and widespread rule was the Rule of St Benedict c. Numerous other religious orders, some stricter and others more lenient, proliferated in the Middle Ages: these can be categorised as monastic orders, mendicant orders, and military orders.

Monks and nuns tried to remove themselves as much as possible from the secular world, ideally living in communities with minimal contact with the outside world. A representation of nuns at a procession to mass, from a collection of moral tracts Yates Thompson MS 11, f.

Derived from the Latin word 'to beg' mendicare , the mendicants were orders who engaged with ordinary people by preaching to them and hearing confession. The military orders were made up of knights who participated in the crusades which sought to capture the Holy Land and convert Muslims to Christianity.

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Pilgrimages to holy places enabled the faithful to atone from their sins, seek miraculous cures and extend their experience of the world. Bodily remains of saints, and also objects associated with them such as the Virgin's mantle, the holiest relic at Chartres Cathedral , were the star attractions for pilgrims. If unwanted church buildings were handed over to parish councils, it is more likely that new people would step forward and take responsibility for them.

The chancels could be allotted to local worshippers of all faiths. Screens could be rebuilt and naves and aisles put to new uses. At this point it becomes justifiable to levy local rates to maintain church fabric, as happens in Germany — and indeed in Britain with gardens and squares. This diversification is already being pioneered in some enterprising places. As the church report indicated, churches are hosting village shops, farmers markets, foodbanks, e-shopping collection points and Wi-Fi cafes.

I recommend the restaurant in All Saints, Hereford.

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According to ChurchCare there are now 35 churches that are also sub-post offices. All Saints in Murston, Kent, even offers a community bank. This network may be failing in its original purpose, but that does not obscure its potential. The essence of most churches is their beauty and physical prominence. This will never happen while they retain their aura of religious exclusivity.

In the s the city of Norwich sold off half its 32 medieval churches as redundant. The buildings today present a sad spectacle, converted into houses, shops and warehouses. In contrast, the city of York held on to its churches and, with considerable difficulty, kept them accessible and in some public use. York showed it could be done.

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Far more people enjoy visiting parish churches than choose to worship in them. More still might make use of them, as retailing and other services dwindle around them. But, as he implies, it is unfair to expect men and women trained for one profession to perform a quite different one, as charity administrators, building surveyors, social workers and postmasters — though many priests I know pride themselves on their diverse talents. The secularisation of churches has been a long time coming.

The reason is because the nationalised Church of England, so avid to reform others, is so averse to reforming itself. It wants public money for its upkeep yet closes its doors to other faiths. Much of the time, it just closes its doors.

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If the National Trust can find thousands of volunteers to keep properties open, why cannot the church? I can stand in the churchyard of St Mary Abbots in Kensington and see round me the ghosts of ancient government. There is the old vestry office, the school, the parish hall, the police station and the almshouses. It was a one-stop shop of a local welfare state.