Development of the Towns

5b. Borough Origins - Ecclesiastical Centres (Alison Weyman)

It was the Church which was responsible for giving continuity to the life of the town more than any other institution. Christianity was, in origin an urban cult whose organisation reflected that of the state. The church had based its diocesan boundaries on the boundaries of Roman cities. Prior to the twelfth century, the prestige of the bishops was lent to their places of residence, to the old roman cities. Ecclesiastical discipline enforced upon a bishop held him to the city where was established the see of his particular diocese. Each diocese comprised the territory about the city which contained its cathedral. This was made more secure when the Empire of Charlemagne was foundered, the feudal princes who had ruined the power of monarchy left the church untouched as they believed its divine origin protected them, fearing the bishops would excommunicate them. The bishops were revered as the supernatural guardians of order and justice. The ascendancy of the church remained unimpaired through the anarchy of the tenth and eleventh centuries.

The town was composed of clerics of the cathedral church and others which were grouped nearby; monks of the monastries, teachers and students of ecclesiastical schools and servitors and artisans, free or serf. All these accepted the bishops as both spiritual and temporal head of their little world. The bishops also enjoyed very loosely defined police powers, supervising markets, regulating the levying of tolls and taking care of the bridges and ramparts. In all areas of administration of the town he intervened as the guardian of order, peace and the common weal. The town in effect was governed by its bishop,

The cathedral of the bishop stood in most cases beside the market-place, although not a monastic institution, with the exception of Britain, it employed a mere handful of people. It attracted the merchant and pilgrim and was responsible for securing peace and security of the market-place. The maintenance of the elaborate and ordered routine of the cathedral church belonged to the dean and the chapter, while the conduct of the purely diocesan work fell on the archdeacons and rural deans under the supervision of the bishops. By dividing the labour so, the administration of the diocese was unaffected by the existence of a monastic chapter. The monasteries were not formed within the walls of the towns, which has given much credence to the argument that the monks did not want to intrude on the bishops sphere. Or likewise possibly due to the lack of space left in the towns themselves. The monasteries became great areas of production, having in many instances huge surpluses of grain, wine or cloth which they could sell at the market. In fact some monasteries established markets before their gates.

The gilds or fraternities which attracted the allegiance of many townsfolk , by the thirteenth century were often based in one of the parish churches. Although many churches had been foundered originally by families or individuals with a stake in the town, some were established by outside landowners with town property. Most parishes were very small , which was probably a strength as their relative intimacy encouraged neighbourliness. Parishes also provided a framework for directing charitable gifts and bequests from private individuals.