Chapter Four – The Mitre Mightier than the Crown
The Normans were masters of the world politically and in military affairs. Yet the Eleventh Century has been called the “beginning of the Age of Faith in Europe”. The Movement of Faith (an amalgam of superstition and pure spirituality) extended into the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. Economic difficulties and the Black Death in 1349 caused a waning in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries.
The Cathedrals and parish Churches of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries witness to this great spiritual phenomenon. Perhaps Chartres Cathedral in France is the greatest witness. The influence of this Age of Faith reached even the remotest Christian villages such as little Maltby. The early Norman tower is a reminder that the Christian presence had reached Maltby by the time of the Conquest. The Saxon “herring-bone” work in the tower suggests an early date – before 1100 AD.
In the Thirteenth Century, a simple spire was added to the tower. Thus communities like Maltby experienced what has been described as an “eternity of satisfaction”. In this world life was brief and hard, full of pain and uncertainty. Only an authority larger than the Norman hierarchy and which looked beyond the harsh material reality of medieval man could help him find peace and assurance. The Universal Church provided that peace and assurance across Europe. Men knew that the “Mitre was greater than the Crown”.
So as Maltby’s Lord of the Manor with his family, his villeins and serfs went week by week to the tiny dark Norman church of St. Bartholomew to hear Mass they would find, through its symbolism and teaching, the image of spiritual changelessness. Maltby Church still has its simple and beautiful Norman font. Baptism in those days was an involuntary entrance into this all-embracing spiritual state. Baptised in Maltby’s font, they all knew themselves to be part of that spiritual society, and to have full rights of citizenship in the City of God. It has been said, “There can be no complete happiness without the vision of God”. Maltby’s story shows that we have lost some of that vision over the centuries.
The Tenth Century is probably to be regarded as the great age for the establishment of parish churches as we know them – that is to say, churches for a local community with a settled parish priest. His “living” was supplied through a legal arrangement with his Thane, which gave him glebe land to farm, the tithes and other dwellings. In order to further the identification of a Universal Church with the whole of society, the Normans quickly completed the system of parishes over the bole country.
The Norman Manorial Lords took over the appointment of the parish priests, who were called Rectors. They held the “rights” of the living. The first recorded Rector at Maltby was Ralph de Wellum, appointed by the Lady of the Manor, Idonea de Vipont. In 1240 the name of the first Vicar, Ralph de Gylbyr appears. The Normans discovered how to work the system. In many parishes (of which Maltby was one) the Patron who “presented” the Rector appropriated most of the priest’s rights by appointing a non-resident Rector, perhaps even a monastic or other institution.
A vice-Rector, or Vicar, was appointed and paid a pittance. The records show that this continued for Maltby until 1369 when to last entry of a Rector, Robert de Aynderby, appears. Always the presenter was a member of the di Viponts and later the great Clifford family. In the 1380’s only a Vicar appears, presented by the prioress and Convent of Arthington in Wharfdale. This was one of the monastic Houses supported by the Clifford family. The convent appears as “presenter” (no doubt with financial gain) until it was dissolved by Henry VIII.
The Norman ideal was for a disciplined and organised clergy directing the thoughts of an obedient and receptive laity! Priestly power was significant even in humble Maltby. The Universal Church influenced the remote parts of Europe. A reminder in Maltby is the seal for a Papal Bull of the Thirteenth Century. It was found on an ancient track from Maltby to Roche Abbey. The Anglo-Saxon priests had to accept the dominance of their Norman over-lords. But they had a weapon with which to maintain Anglo-Saxon culture. The Norman elite spoke Norman-French. Mass and legal affairs were in Latin. But the priests would have the English of the day and instructed the people about the Gospel.
In the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries, changes in the church’s power in parishes like Maltby were taking place. Lay people grew in power. Churchwardens became important. They controlled funds for the letting of lands and the hiring of implements. Churchwardens’ accounts for the period give an interesting picture of life in a village like Maltby in the Fourteenth Century. Though the village clergy were poorly educated, they were not illiterate. There is a Fourteenth Century tract aimed at parish priests. It supplies a good picture of the life of such a village as Maltby. It is called “The Eye of the Priest”.
In confessions the priest is to have a care for those who do not know the “power of wine”. He must be ready with helpful advice to expectant mothers! Besides teaching the great Christian doctrines he is also to teach the simple daily duties. Parents must be reminded of their duties to their infant children. People must be told to receive Holy Communion at Easter. They are to be warned of the danger of resorting to the black arts. The priest is to be severe about avarice. He must teach people about the Seven Sacraments.