Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Medieval Tithe Barn.

The Medieval Tithe Barn.
The one thing the peasant had to do in Medieval England was to pay out money in taxes or rent. He had to pay rent for his land to his lord; he had to pay a tax to the church called a tithe. This was a tax on all of the farm produce he had produced in that year. A tithe was 10% of the value of what he had farmed. This may not seem a lot but it could make or break a peasant’s family. A peasant could pay in cash or in kind – seeds, equipment etc. Either ways, tithes were a deeply unpopular tax. The church collected so much produce from this tax, that it had to be stored in huge tithe barns. Some of these barns can still be seen today. Some have been converted into luxury houses. It is just a little over 200 years ago in 1798 that Wiliam Pitt the Younger in his budget introduced the first income tax to pays for the arms required for the Napoleonic War.

The priest was usually a commoner by birth, though serfs were tied to the land and were not allowed to become priests. The priest officiated at church services, weddings, baptisms, funerals, and visited the ill. He earned his living from the income from parish lands, fees for services, and tithe money. The tithe income was divided up evenly between the parish priest, the church maintenance fund, the poor, and the bishop.

Pews in the church were not introduced into the church until the middle 15th centuary. The parishioners would stand in front of the pulpit to listen to the sermon. The Chancel or Sanctum Sanctorum (where the altar is) belonged to God. The nave and the tower belonged to the people of the parish. Manor courts were often held in the nave, and tenants came there to pay their rent, or scot. A free meal was given to those who paid their scot, hence our term, "scot free".

There was another chruch tradition which has faded into the past. Gifts of barley to the church were common. The church Verger or Sexton would hare the barley brewed into ale and sold to raise money for the upkeep of the church. The term "church ale" is still used today to describe fund-raising for the church.

Church Services and Plays. Originally, people stood in the nave to hear the church service. Because few could read, Biblical stories were often acted out for the congregation in the form of miracle plays. These plays evolved into cycles or collections, today in some parts of England by "The Mummers."

I may have drifted away from the subject of Tithes and Tithe Barns but, I think you will see how the church and the Royal Manor were very much the center of village life in Medieval Cookham.

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