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Placing the people at the heart of sacred space

4 What the church betokeneth: Placing the people at the heart of sacred space In the Middle English translation of the compendium for Lollard preachers, the Rosarium Theologie, the entry for ‘edifiyng’ asks: ‘wilt þou belde þe house of God?’ If so, the reader is instructed to proceed as follows: Giffe to trewe pore men warof þei may liffe and þou has edified a resonable house to God. Men forsoþ duelleþ in beledyngz, God forsoþ in holi men. Wat kynez þerof be þai þat spoilez men & makeþ edifyngz of martirez? Þei made habitacions of men and sturbiliþ habitacions

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

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.

Consecration, restoration, and translation

2 The Book of the Foundation of St Bartholomew’s Church: Consecration, restoration, and translation So al these thyngis that bene seide or shall be seide, they beholde the ende and consummacioun of this document. For trewly God is yn this place.1 This statement appears midway through the Middle English translation of the twelfth-century Latin foundation legend known as The Book of the Foundation of St Bartholomew’s Church. As a foundation legend, the text’s primary aim is to narrate the construction of the church in question: St Bartholomew the Great, in

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

1 The church consecration ceremony and the construction of sacred space The church consecration ceremony was the chief ritual expression of sanctity in the Middle Ages, and the symbolism and practice that the ceremony established were the foundation for all subsequent encounters with sacred space. Despite this fact, surprisingly little research has been done on the ceremony. The most illuminating recent studies are Dawn Marie Hayes’s discussion in Body and Sacred Place in Medieval Europe and Brian Repsher’s The Rite of Church Dedication in the Early Medieval Era

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

5 Canto VI – the Church’s mission to the Gentiles Although canto iii ends with Una’s abduction by Sans Loy (which is clearly only the beginning of a new episode), two cantos intervene before we learn any more of Una’s fate. When, however, this narrative thread is picked up (at I.vi.2–3), the concluding action of canto iii is reiterated. The overlap, which is at one level needless, ensures that we understand that Una’s (still forthcoming) adventures are dependent upon her previous predicament. And (as always) what is literally the case is allegorically telling

in God’s only daughter
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Epilogue By a Chapel as I came is a little-known fifteenth-century carol in which the narrator happens upon Christ, who is on his way to church: And By a chapell as y Came, Mett y wythe Ihū to chyrcheward gone Petur and Pawle, thomas & Ihon, And hys desyplys Euery-chone. Mery hyt ys in may mornyng, Mery ways ffor to gonne.1 The narrator falls into step with Christ and his disciples as they make their way ‘chyrcheward’, and what they discover inside the chapel is truly marvellous: the saints are performing the liturgy. Sente Thomas þe Bellys gane ryng, And

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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Pastoral care in the parish church

3 Sacred and profane: Pastoral care in the parish church The fourteenth-century conduct poem How the Goode Wife Taught Hyr Doughter begins by establishing the centrality of the church in the life of the medieval laywoman. Good conduct on the part of the daughter is founded upon supporting the parish church: spiritually, financially, and through good behaviour. Doughter, and thou wylle be a wyfe, Wysely to wyrche in all thi lyfe Serve God, and kepe thy chyrche, And myche the better thou shal wyrche. To go to chyrch, lette for no reyne, And that schall helpe thee

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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Reading sacred space in late medieval England

glased. Goth up and doth yeur offerynge. Ye semeth half amased’.1 The Pardoner and his companions gaze ‘half amased’ upon the stained glass and, perhaps unsurprisingly given their status as the ‘lewdest’ pilgrims on the road to Canterbury, they are unsuccessful in deciphering the iconography. But crucially, they do try. Even men in a state of sin are conditioned by their pastoral instruction to read the stained glass and to interpret the architecture and symbols that surround them when they enter the medieval cathedral. The church building is at the heart of lay piety

in The church as sacred space in Middle English literature and culture
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James Baldwin and the Broken Silences of Black Queer Men

James Baldwin writes within and against the testimonial tradition emerging from the Black Church, challenging the institution’s refusal to acknowledge the voices and experiences of black queer men. Baldwin’s autobiographical novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, creates a space for Baldwin’s testimony to be expressed, and also lays the foundation for a tradition of black queer artists to follow. In the contemporary moment, poet Danez Smith inhabits Baldwin’s legacy, offering continuing critiques of the rigidity of conservative Christian ideologies, while publishing and performing poetry that gives voice to their own experiences, and those of the black queer community at large. These testimonies ultimately function as a means of rhetorical resistance, which not only articulates black queer lives and identities, but affirms them.  

James Baldwin Review
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If he is known for anything other than his writings, James Baldwin is best known for his work as a civil rights activist. What is often overlooked is Baldwin’s work toward uniting two under-represented and oppressed groups: African Americans and homosexuals. With his first novel, Go Tell It on the Mountain, Baldwin began a career of speaking about and for homosexuals and their relationship with the institutions of African-American communities. Through its focus on a sensitive, church-going teenager, Go Tell It on the Mountain dramatizes the strain imposed upon homosexual members of African-American communities within the Pentecostal Church through its religious beliefs.

James Baldwin Review