A Story by Peter Rogerson

A look at monumental relgious buildings, bearing in mind the societies that built them.


What might come as a surprise to quite a few people is the stark fact that castles, ruggedly defensive stone creations designed to thwart whatever foe might be around, were not the largest buildings in medieval Britain.

No: there were much huger monstrosities, built at huge financial cost and, to those condemned to accidental death in their construction, even huger real cost. I mean, what cost can be deemed more valuable than your own life?

They were the cathedrals, and they were erected to the greater glory of God as perceived by medieval society.

In those days their deity was everything and those who preached and taught and punished in his name were beyond mortality. Everything was seen as an act of praise or condemnation by the Creator, the force that undoubtedly created the world and everything in it and who gave us glimpses of Eternity through holes in the Primum Mobile high in the sky, that encircling sphere beyond which was Mystery.

Imagine, if you will, that you are an ordinary man or woman living in the thirteenth century. Your home has but the one room and it is smoky and squalid. Your diet is dreadful even though you may labour long and hard producing meat for the Lord of the Manor's table and bread for the priest to grow fat on. The labour may be yours but the food most certainly is not. To you comes the waste, the leavings, the stuff those august gentlemen and their families don't want.

Remember the archetypal image of Friar Tuck, the holy man in Robin Hood's criminal gang? Fat and greasy and overfed, he is the image we have of the medieval man of God.

But back to the buildings, the Cathedrals. Lincoln Cathedral, for instance, dominating the city and the land around can be seen for fifty miles on a clear day. It is so magnificent it takes the breath away even today when we are used to big and mighty things and can build them ourselves, virtually, if we so desire and are happy with a two dimensional image of our creation on a laptop screen. But the reality, stone and magnificently carved wood and stone, are breath-taking despite our twenty-first century wisdom. And they are old. Very, very old. That, in itself, is something that astounds us, we who build a house one day and knock it down less than a century later.

But the humble peasant of long ago in his one-room hovel, he was more than awestruck by the cathedrals if he ever came upon one. His mind would have been blown by their scale. To him they represented the absolute certainty that God is in his Heaven and we are miserable sinners on Earth. Size was everything even then.

The fact that men, fathers, good hard-working artisans and their labouring minions, often fell from rickety scaffolding (wooden, fragile) to their deaths a frightening distance below mattered little. There would always be others to take their place because the work was for their god, yet had little financial reward if all they could do was heave and carry and climb in an unskilled way, and it was a rare privilege to do it.

Wives were often left widowed, but being women they didn't count for much. The faith the monumental cathedrals were built to glorify had long condemned women to an underclass where their opinions didn't count. Biblical yarns has Adam, Noah, other wise and good men, with sons �" but what of the daughters? Daughters (if they existed) were women and hence not accounted as proper people. The problem, I think, is that much preaching and teaching and haranguing was done taking Biblical texts as the word of God and thus inviolable when, in actual fact, they were most likely the musings of bronze age misogynists trying to justify their particularly odd obsessions.

Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” The philosophy may have been archaic but that hasn't stopped it persisting, to the present day in some parts of the world. And we must remember that Islamic belief is that there are seventy-two virgins waiting for us in Heaven. Has anyone asked the virgins what they make of that?

But that's an aside. Back to cathedrals.

Women widowed because their husbands died as the result of an accident at work usually had at fend for themselves despite the fact that the work was of a very holy nature and their menfolk died doing it.

Anyway, whenever I see a cathedral I try to see it through the eyes of people to whom it was an unbelievable and monumental creation, not in any way built on a human scale, so it must be the work of divinity, and I also try to wonder what went through the tortured minds of widowed women with their tribe of underfed sprogs. Everything tells more than one story, even mighty religious buildings, and I find the human story the more touching.

© 2016 Peter Rogerson

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Added on March 3, 2016
Last Updated on March 3, 2016
Tags: huge, cathedrals, religion, danger, construction, poverty


Peter Rogerson
Peter Rogerson

Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, United Kingdom

I am 80 years old, but as a single dad with four children that I had sole responsibility for I found myself driving insanity away by writing. At first it was short stories (all lost now, unfortunately.. more..