Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Lay Religious Life in Late Medieval Durham

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Lay Religious Life in Late Medieval Durham

Article excerpt

Lay Religious Life in Late Medieval Durham. By Margaret Harvey. [Regions and Regionalism in History Vol. 6.] (Rochester, New York: Boydell Press. 2006. Pp. xiv, 232. $85.00.)

Recent years have seen a growth in interest in the history of northeastern England, driven to a great extent by historians based at the University of Durham. Margaret Harvey's volume is a significant contribution to this expanding regional historiography, and is also welcome more widely as a valuable addition to work on religious life in pre-Reformation England.

Historical writing on medieval Durham is usually dominated by a focus on the cathedral priory, whose surviving archives are among the most impressive of those still extant for an English monastic house. Analyses of the town's history accordingly tend to be overshadowed by that monastic focus. The priory does indeed overshadow Harvey's volume, but its central thrust is very firmly lay-focused, offering an excellent study of lay religious life in the town. Organized in thirteen chapters (some of them admittedly rather short), it crams in a great deal of information and analysis. The first five chapters focus on the parishes and parish life. They survey the individual parish histories, including internal conflicts; consider the annual rounds of parochial religious observances and the church's disciplinary oversights; and analyze the complex relationships between the laity and the monks and priory (especially in the latter's capacity as patrons and appropriators of the parish churches), their mutual ties, obligations, and discords. Diverse in their contents, these chapters offer a balanced and nuanced picture of a particularly complex set of relationships.

The next seven chapters deal in turn with a range of more specific aspects of Durham's urban religious life. Chapter 6, on "secular clergy careers," may seem inappropriate for a book on lay religious life, but its inclusion is justified by the laity's role as patrons and employers. …

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