An illustration of a medieval parish church based on several parish churches I have visited around Ireland but also with evidence from Britain. Parish churches were one of the most important structures ever built in Ireland, as with parish churches came the division of land into parishes. This division seems likely to have begun before the arrival of Normans but it was with the Anglo Normans where it reached its zenith and continues even to this day as one of the ways of dividing the land.
Its hard for us to imagine these days, the power that the church had in the middle ages. It was a power so complete and utter that there was no escaping it. They were the most powerful institution in the middle ages, often in some places, more wealthy than the King himself. Like a local lord, peasants and serfs, had to work some of the year, for free, on their lands. They didnt pay any taxes and they also received tithes from peasants and serfs, that is one tenth of everything they made. You can imagine this made them extremely rich. Also in every important stage of life, there was the church, when you were born, when you died, when you got married, when you gave birth and after, it was always there. And if you shirked your duties to them or didn't pay your tithes, you could be spend time in the stocks or flogging and you may not get your place in heaven in the end. Im sure sometimes they resented this but at the same time, these were extremely devout people and probably believed by doing these things for the church, they were doing it for god too and their place in the after life.
The Church here shows some typical features of parish churches in the middle ages. For instance an embankment is often found to surround an old church, which would have had Lychgate entrance, none survive in Ireland, as with many religious artifices here could be a result of the destruction brought on by the reformation, so this based on British examples. The graves themselves have been found in excavations not to align to east-west, but rather are more often aligned to the element that they are closest to, e.g. aligned to the paths or the church itself. Also a common feature of medieval church graveyards would have been the yew tree, as it was was in prehistory and still to this day, its probably because the yew trees needles sterilize the ground around them, so prohibiting other plants to grow. Also notice the house within the graveyard, this is the priests house, which would have been a common feature within many medieval churches areas.
The Parish church here is the typical of a high medieval church with both chancel and nave. The nave was the part where the parishioners would sit, or more often stand, while the chancel is where the alter was and was the holiest of holy in a church. The nave was the responsibility of the community itself to take care of with their time and money, while the chancel was the responsibility of the clergy. The church also has a double bellcote, the feature with the bells, which is often found in medieval churches in Ireland, this specific one is based on the one in Dalkeys medieval church, in Co. Dublin.
The door is based on one I visited recently in Kilsheelan in Co. Tipperary, which is probably a Romanesque doorway from an earlier church moved to Kilsheelan when the Normans built the church there. The windows are based on ones found in Wells, Co. Carlow, which are high medieval windows, note the sandstone, which is Dundry stone. Dundry stone is often found in churches in the east of Ireland, its an imported stone from Dundry in south west England and is one of the signs of an early or high medieval church. Also note the roof is covered in clay tiles, there has been some found in Dublin during excavations very similar to the ones shown here.
Im nearly finished a cutaway of the interior and shall post it in the next few days or week, we can continue the exploration of medieval parish churches there so stay tuned!