Polluting the Sacred

Violence, Faith and the 'Civilizing' of Parishioners in Late Medieval England


The influence of Christianity on 'the history of violence' is often exemplified by famous instances of interfaith conflict, like 'The Crusades'. However, as religions develop, they usually marginalize violence against fellow believers long before they ever, if at all, question violence against 'others'. Through an investigation of spiritual and legal sources, this book details how Christian teachings about charity, sin and purity problematized late medieval parishioners' use of violence, and how parishioners actually tried to reconcile these teachings with cultural norms that often honored violent conduct. By illuminating the impact of lessons concerning the sinfulness of violence and piety of self-restraint, this book provides a fresh perspective on the important role of religion in the 'civilizing process' of European history.
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Biographical Note

Daniel E. Thiery, Ph.D. (2003) in Medieval Studies, University of Toronto, is Assistant Professor of Medieval History at Iona College. He is a co-editor of A ‘Great Effusion of Blood’? Interpreting Medieval Violence (Toronto, 2004).

Table of contents

Introduction: Religion and the ‘Civilizing process’

Part 1 Lessons on the value of Violence
Introduction to part 1
1. The Contra: Recognizing a Role for Violence
2. Sacred Space and Ritual: Creating an Expectancy of Restraint
3. The Eucharist and the Clergy: Fostering Charity Incarnate
4. Sermons, Confessions and Private Meditation: Learning that Vengeance Disturbs the Divine
Conclusion to part 1: Do Think Twice, It’s Not Alright

Part Two: Parishioners’ praxis
Introduction to part 2
5. Sacred Space and ritual: Finding Variation yet Common Expectation
6. The Eucharist: Demanding a Dreadful Peace
7. The Clergy: Swinging both Plowshares and Swords
8. Conclusion to Part II: The Reality of ‘Civility’ Spurred by Religion
Conclusion: Finding Religion in Restraint

Manuscript sources
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources


Those interested in English history, medieval and early modern studies/history, cultural history, social history, history of law and order, Church history, history of violence, religious studies, or historical anthropology.


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