So short a book is bound to raise a suspicion: that its themes will not be as all-encompassing as the expansive title suggests. The suspicious will not be disappointed. Discussion of the ‘Church’ as an institution is well served elsewhere1 (although this is the sense in which the term is generally used here). I have chosen instead to concentrate on the ‘community of the faithful’ (which was in any case one contemporary definition of the ‘Church’), and on how the religious practices and attitudes, principally of lay people, changed over the period. The ‘community of the faithful’ in medieval terms was of course ‘society’ itself (or at least ‘Christian society’); so to the crime of raising false expectations, the book’s title risks adding the sin of tautology. But more modern definitions tend to allow the distinction, and what is attempted here is an overview of the relationship (to some extent two-way) between religious practices and their social setting: how they were affected by status and gender (and by perceptions of them), and by the vast socio-economic changes which took place over the whole period.
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