Le Jour de la Feste: Churching, Honor, and Social Order
As the regulations surrounding churching multiplied, the rite became increasingly precious. If women were excluded because of irregular sexual practices or recalcitrant husbands, those accorded the rite could claim a certain moral propriety. While the impact of this on medieval women was significant, the consequences of this change went much farther. The new regulations granted parish priests the power to admit or deny access to a rite that women and their families now understood as a mark of honor. Some clerics saw this as an opportunity to enhance their power and enlarge their incomes. As French families in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries gradually accepted the Church’s definition of marriage and proper lay sexuality, they also came to embrace the bishops’ definition of churching. By the fifteenth century, they were using the rite to celebrate their marriages and to proclaim the births of their legitimate children. As churching became a privilege of the properly married matron, its celebration became an elaborate event consciously manipulated to enhance her family’s status and create social hierarchy. Consequently, it took on considerable importance for husbands, especially those with social ambitions or reputations to protect. Finally, the public nature of the rite and its frequent celebration within the context of the parish mass extended its influence beyond the limits of individual families.
KeywordsPastoral Care Fifteenth Century Parish Community Church Service Patriarchal Family
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