The Norman Church

Durham Cathedral,
almost completely rebuilt during the Norman period


bullet The Norman monarchy was closely linked to the Church - William I's invasion of England was endorsed by Pope Alexander II (1061-73), and Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) had long been William's friend and advisor.
bullet Soon after the Conquest, William I began the Normanization of the English Church. He co-operated with the Pope in the removal and imprisonment of the Anglo-Saxon Archbishop of Canterbury, Stigand (who starved himself to death, 1072).

William appointed to the Archbishopric of Canterbury an old ally, Lanfranc (died 1089) - a Benedictine monk from Lombardy, who had helped resolve the problems occasioned by William's marriage with his cousin, Matilda.
bullet William also appointed foreigners to the other English bishoprics:  Between 1070 and 1140 only one native Englishman was appointed to any English bishopric. These Norman (or other non-English) bishops had little contact with their English flocks and engaged in jurisdictional disputes (such as a long-running squabble between York and Canterbury over the latter's primacy), or else acted as royal counselors. Lanfranc, for example, helped to foil a plot against William in 1075, and to ensure William Rufus' succession in 1087.

Gregorian Reform

bullet Pope Gregory VII (1073-85) had a high opinion of Papal power and initiated the Gregorian Reform movement in the Church. A major dispute (known as the Investiture Controversy) with the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV soon erupted over the right to appoint bishops, and whether the bishops' main duty of obedience was to popes or secular rulers.
Gregory VII also wanted to enforce canon law rigidly so as to oblige the clergy to adopt ascetic standards of conduct. In particular, he wanted to impose celibacy (a blind eye had been turned to clerical marriage in many places) and to end simony (paying for clerical offices) and nepotism (favoring relatives in church appointments).


bullet Lanfranc tried to introduce Gregorian reforms into the English Church. At Councils in London (1075) and Winchester (1076), canons were passed to enforce clerical celibacy.
bullet Lanfranc also looked to the material conditions of the English Church, initiating the rebuilding of the cathedrals at Canterbury, York (the Minster), and Saint Paul's in London.
bullet Although Lanfranc adopted many of Gregory VII's ideas, he did not embrace his hostility to secular power over the Church and - despite Gregory's urging - largely avoided conflict with William I on this issue.

The vault of Ely Cathedral

Archbishop Anselm

bullet Anselm (died 1109) became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. Like Lanfranc, he was an Italian who had long lived in Normandy. Like Lanfranc, he continued attempts to reform the English Church, especially strengthening the drive for clerical celibacy at the Council of Westminster (1102).
bullet Unlike Lanfranc, Anselm agreed with Gregory VII that lay rulers should not interfere in church matters. He soon quarreled with William II about church lands and feudal dues and went into exile in Rome (1097).
bullet Henry I summoned Anselm back to England, but another dispute soon broke out because Anselm refused to consecrate bishops whom Henry had invested. Anselm returned to Rome (1103-06).
bullet In 1107, Henry and the Pope reached a compromise:  Henry abandoned his claim to invest bishops, and in exchange Pope Paschal allowed them to do homage for their temporal possessions.

Anselm is famous in philosophy as the originator of the "ontological argument" for the existence of God:

1.  By definition, God is the greatest and most perfect being imaginable.
2.  A being that exists is greater and more perfect than one that does not.
3.  Therefore, God exists


bullet Under Lanfranc and Anselm, the organization and administration of the Church were improved. Dioceses were subdivided into archdeaconries and deaneries, and church courts were established.

The church of Caen at the site of one of William I's monastic foundations

Monastic expansion



Between 1066 and 1135, the number of monks and nuns increased from about one thousand to between four and five thousand; the number of religious (i.e. monastic) houses grew from about sixty to over 250.


Before the Conquest, the Rule of Saint Benedict provided the model for all English monasteries, but after 1066 new orders entered England.


Abelard & Heloise

The Cluniac order was introduced into England in 1077. It had twenty-four English houses by 1135. The Cluniacs were a highly centralized order - the abbot of Cluny being the superior of all its houses.
One of the most famous Cluniac monks was Peter Abelard, who entered the order after his disastrous romance with Heloise.
During the 12th Century, the Cistercian order spread rapidly in England. The Cistercians were a severely ascetic order who insisted on strict observance of their Rule, and manual labor.
Cistercians were called "white monks" because of the color of their robes.

Cīteaux, the first Cistercian abbey

The gatehouse of the 12th Century Cartmel Priory in Cumbria

The Augustinian (or Austin) canons had established houses in Anglo-Saxon England, but only spread rapidly after 1066. Between the Conquest and the death of Henry II, about fifty-four houses were founded. The first being Colchester in 1096 and Holy Trinity London in 1106. They had about sixty houses by 1135.

bullet Monks took vows of poverty, chastity and humility (obedience). They were generally from comparatively prosperous backgrounds. Poor peasants sometimes became "lay brethren" and did the dirty work (like laundry, cooking and cleaning)  whilst the monks prayed. (The Cistercians were exceptional in demanding manual labor from monks themselves).
bullet More men than women joined religious orders; by 1250 there were about 550 male religious communities to 150 female. Many girls were 'given" by their parents along with a gift of land while the daughters were still very young. Nunneries also provided a refuge for unattractive spinsters and pious widows.



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