​​​Churches, commemoration, and settlement in Anglo-Norman northern England

The centuries on either side of the Norman Conquest were a period of fundamental change for English landscape and society, and the manorial and parochial infrastructure which underpinned them. This is particularly true in northern England, where the Conquest was not as smoothly realized, and where a variety of cultural traditions were already well established by 1066. Quite apart from the military and political upheaval of the Conquest itself, these turbulent and influential times were marked by transformations in lordship and land organization, cultural contact and integration between Saxon, Scandinavian, and Norman settlers, and the eventual consolidation of a truly Anglo-Norman social and material culture. These socio-political developments all played crucial roles in shaping patterns of patronage in church architecture and commemoration, particularly at the level of the parish church, an institution which experienced unprecedented expansion during this period.

Parish churches were one of the most meaningful arenas of social interaction in the medieval world, yet the very ubiquity and mundanity which made them so central to life in the Middle Ages has sometimes led to their significance being overlooked by scholars. Local churches served not only as the focal point in the community for religious worship and commemorative practice, but they were also key places in the landscape and settlement, and physical spaces in which patronage and material display were used to create and manage social identities, expressions of status, and political connections.

Utilizing evidence from church buildings and commemorative sculpture in the northern counties of Anglo-Norman England, this lecture will explore parish churches as both meaningful places and material spaces, and highlight how they were used by patrons and understood by audiences as part of the important processes that were playing out during the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Particular attention will be paid to the role of manorial lordship, the various cultural, political, personal, and regional identities that were embodied in ecclesiastical material culture, and how church buildings and monuments helped both Normans and natives negotiate a period of intense change.