In the 14th century virtually everyone in England believed in God. People thought that if they behaved according to the teachings of Christ, they would go to heaven. Most people had to work very hard and they knew that they could die at any time from disease or starvation. A belief in a better life in heaven was very comforting.
The priest was a very important person in the village. As most people could not read, they relied on the village priest to explain what was in the Bible. The priest also gave church services, visited the sick and helped those in trouble. For a small fee, the priest also performed other services. He christened them after they were born, married them and at the end of their lives carried out their burial service.
The village priest was appointed by the lord of the manor. When Gilbert Hughes died of the Black Death in 1349, Ralph, Earl of Stafford selected Robert Honebergh as his replacement. Honebergh died a few weeks after being appointed and Stafford's next choice was Alfred de Constydde.
Alfred de Constydde was Yalding's priest for the next 46 years. The village priest played an important role in persuading people not to rebel against the feudal system. Priests like Alfred de Constydde told the serfs that feudalism was God's wish and that their position as serfs had been determined by the sins of their ancestors. The serfs were encouraged to believe that their low status was both a punishment and a form of trial. The way that they reacted to their role as serfs would decide whether they went to heaven or hell.
St. Peter and Paul's Church was the most important building in Yalding. The altar stood in the chancel, and like most churches it was placed against the east wall. The reason for this was that when the priest faced the altar he was looking towards the Holy Land. The Church service was in Latin so although the words were familiar the villagers did not know what they meant. West of the chancel was the nave. This is where the villagers stood or knelt during the church service. There were a few seats in the nave but they were for the Earl of Stafford's family. As the Earl of Stafford rarely attended
services at Yalding Church, these seats were usually occupied by Thomas de Edenbridge's family. Thomas de Edenbridge became the estate bailiff after the death of John Giffard in 1366.
The walls of the church were covered in bright paint. These pictures illustrated stories from the Bible and were messages to the villagers from the Church on how God wanted them to behave. It was common for churches to have paintings on the wall that attempted to show what heaven and hell was like.
People in the 14th century believed they could buy their way to heaven. The rich made large donations of money to the church and the poor paid tithes. The tithe was a form of tax. Every harvest the villagers gave 10% of their produce to the church. About 25% was kept by the priest. In times of shortage, this would be used to feed the poor. The rest was sold and the money went to either the Bishop whose diocese the village was in or to Rome.
In the 14th century, all Christians in Europe belonged to the Catholic Church. The leader of the Catholic Church was the Pope who lived in Rome. The Pope was God's representative on earth and every so often he issued rulings on how people should behave. For example, people were expected to confess their sins to the local priest. Failure to do this would prevent entry into heaven. The Pope drew up a list of sins to assist priests dealing with confessions. The first sin listed was the failure to pay tithes. The next two dealt with those people who were late in paying tithes or did not supply the full amount.
The payment of tithes helped to make the Church very rich and vast amounts of money was spent on building churches and cathedrals. Some Christians were very critical of the way the Church spent its money. Francis Bernadone, a member of a rich family in Italy, gave away all his possessions. He claimed that Jesus had said that all priests should live a life of poverty. Dressed in the clothes of a beggar, Francis travelled through Europe taking the message of God to all those who would listen. Soon others followed his example, and these priests, who became known as Franciscans, began arriving in England.
The Catholic Church became concerned about the Franciscans' influence over the serfs. Pope John XII, who was Head of the Church between 1316 and 1334, announced that anyone who claimed that Jesus had lived in poverty was a heretic and would not go to heaven.
1. Write down the names and dates of vicars at Yalding Church between 1330 and 1395.
2. Describe the inside of Yalding Church.
3. How did the village priest help to stop serfs from rebelling against the feudal system?