Community Conflict and Collective Memory in the Late Medieval Parish Church
Kristi Woodward Bain (Northwestern University)
American Historical Association Annual Meeting: Paper presented, April (2014)
What role does conflict play in the formation of community identity? And how do powerful, even violent, moments sustain that identity throughout centuries of change and transformation? Questions such as these galvanize this present study, which undertakes to illustrate the vibrancy of parish life in late medieval England by examining fifteenth-century monastic-parochial disputes, that is, when parishioners fought against monks with whom they shared their church buildings. Shared churches, in which monasteries and parish churches were physically joined, were not uncommon in late medieval England, whether the monastery was attached to an existing parish church or came to replace the parish church and served both the monks and parishioners.
These disputes over shared space have captivated local historians because of their intensity and violence as well as the parishioners’ relative success in using such violence to gain more control over their churches’ space. But rather than approaching these conflicts under the pretense that they were aberrations in otherwise normal parish life, I will examine how they can shed light on the multi-faceted ways late medieval parishioners habitually tested and negotiated the boundaries of parish life. I will especially explore the function of conflict in forging a link between medieval parish communities and their parish church buildings.