The invasion of 1066 was a crusade. William, Duke of Normandy, persuaded Pope Alexander II to approve his attempt on the English throne because of his reputation as a supporter of the Church and a builder of monasteries.
Following the conquest the next century saw the majority of medieval churches being founded. Church building had begun in England circa 900 but the Normans often rebuilt – perhaps to leave their mark on the landscape they now owned. Consequentially there aren’t many Saxon churches – though there’s always the possibility of a surprising remnant tucked away in a corner, or in the case of Ripon Cathedral, down in the crypt.
Early Norman churches, though sometimes built from stone, were often wooden. The Domesday Book of 1086 notes some churches but is not a comprehensive audit of churches and monastic buildings. From 1100 onwards parish churches were rebuilt and enlarged, nearly always in stone. The later medieval period saw churches being enlarged depending upon the wealth of each congregation and noble patronage. Following the death of Thomas Becket in 1170, Jenkins makes the point, that many parish churches and monastic foundations were supported by Henry II.
Many churches rebuilt on older sites of worship used pre-existing dressed stone as well as carved stones dating from Roman, Saxon and Viking periods of habitation. Hexham Abbey is a particularly good example of this.
The last quarter of the twelfth century saw architectural change with the arrival from France of the Gothic and the pointed arch. Churches and cathedrals became lighter and airier as well as becoming more ornate. Masons perfected fan vaulting and flying buttresses. Jenkins comments on the windows. It was during this period that rose windows and fanciful tracery became an essential part of any new church of note.
The Black Death left its mark on church buildings and so too did wool sales. Styles changed from Gothic to Perpendicular once again the style is best shown by the shape of the windows and the size of the churches. Perpendicular tends to be big with tall towers. They also have lots of tombs and monuments – largely on account of folk getting themselves needlessly slaughtered during the Wars of the Roses. This is of course rather a simplification but I did title the post a beginning. Norman and Gothic are styles that I recognise quite happily but I will have to confer with my consultant about later styles and no doubt do much more reading.
The Tudor period saw huge changes to the patterns of worship and belief. The interiors of churches underwent huge changes as the bright colours of the medieval period gave way to more austere whitewash of puritan belief. Henry VIII also encouraged the destruction of anything to do with Thomas Becket – taking his distant ancestor’s view that the cleric was a treacherous malcontent.
The Jacobean period saw the introduction of pews and pulpits as well as the return of altars which had been ripped out during the Reformation to be replaced with communion tables- to this day pre-Reformation tone altar slabs are being uncovered from the places where they were hidden when news of Protestant reform arrived ahead of the king’s men .
The nineteenth century saw many churches being restored and extended as well as new parish churches being built in industrial areas. The Gothic style was much favoured during this period. Seventeenth century box pews fell into disfavour and were often ripped out.