Book Review | Going to Church in Medieval England

When did people start to go to church? What was the experience going to church in pre-Reformation England like? How did the congregants behave in that period? How much did people understand their Christian faith? What were the changes in the church during and after the Reformation?

In this fascinating book, Going to Church in Medieval England, renowned British historian Nicholas Orme gives us an account of parish churches and churchgoers in England, from the Anglo-Saxons to the mid-sixteenth century.

In the first half of the book, Orme gives us an accessible account of the origins of churchgoing dating back as early as AD 313, to the establishment of the Parish system. He then gets into detail as to how churches were staffed, how the church building was used, and how the congregations gathered and behaved. You will surely enjoy his narratives because they are not only engaging but also accompanied by vivid photos, illustrations, and graphs.

The second half of the book discusses the regular day and week in the church—what happens in the services; and how churches marked the seasons and the year—celebrating Christmas, Lent, and Easter. The people’s life cycle was also tackled—how they celebrated the great events of life: birth, coming of age, and marriage, and gave comfort in sickness and death. The final chapters cover the English Reformation in the sixteenth century and show how, alongside its changes, much that went on in parish churches remained as before.

From a Reformed individual’s perspective, the subject that this book tackle is essential in many aspects. When we study the Reformation, the reformers, and the puritans without any understanding of the medieval worship experience, we are missing something vital. Without this context, you will always be deficient when it comes to understanding the English Reformers and Puritanism, and the Reformation in general. Without this study, it is hard to grasp and understand the passion behind their causes. From a historical point of view, this book shows us that church and religion are deeply ingrained in our society and in the lives of people that it greatly influenced and shaped history itself and ultimately the way we live today.

Final thoughts

I highly recommend this clear, richly-illustrated, and comprehensive book on the English church experience during the medieval period. Nicholas Orme is a great scholar of English history and culture and he wrote this masterpiece with eloquence and clarity. This book deserves a place in your library.


Disclosure: A review copy of Going to Church in Medieval England (ISBN 9780300266436) was provided for review by Yale University Press, from whom you may purchase a copy.

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