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Author: Laura Varnam

The church as sacred space places the reader at the heart of medieval religious life, standing inside the church with the medieval laity in order to ask what the church meant to them and why. It examines the church as a building, idea, and community, and explores the ways in which the sanctity of the church was crucial to its place at the centre of lay devotion and parish life. At a time when the parish church was facing competition for lay attention, and dissenting movements such as Lollardy were challenging the relevance of the material church, the book examines what was at stake in discussions of sanctity and its manifestations. Exploring a range of Middle English literature alongside liturgy, architecture, and material culture, the book explores the ways in which the sanctity of the church was constructed and maintained for the edification of the laity. Drawing on a wide range of contemporary theoretical approaches, the book offers a reading of the church as continually produced and negotiated by the rituals, performances, and practices of its lay communities, who were constantly being asked to attend to its material form, visual decorations, and significance. The meaning of the church was a dominant question in late-medieval religious culture and this book provides an invaluable context for students and academics working on lay religious experience and canonical Middle English texts.

Placing the people at the heart of sacred space
Laura Varnam

’, ‘queynteli’, ‘curiouse’ – he focuses on ‘whough’ (how) the pillers are painted and polished and carved. His attention is not on what is depicted, but how it 214 The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture has been achieved, on the craftsmanship itself rather than what it signifies. The Lollard position on imagery often points out that such objects are ‘maade be werkyng of mannys hand’ and therefore should not be worshipped, but the narrator’s forensic inspection of the craftsmanship almost slips into this very adoration.86 Fortunately, the

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture