Roman Church influence on civilization culture and literature

Christian ideology was predominant in feudal Europe, and England was no exception to the rule. The feudal system was interested in strengthening of the Christian religion, a lot of monasteries were opened, and a lot of beautiful churches were built. The majority of the cathedrals and monasteries were built late in the 11th and in the 12th centuries by French architects and craftsmen in the so-called Romanesque style. They were very large and solid with a tall central part. The arches were round with lots brickwork decorations, ornament, beak-head edges and chevron design. The building seemed to be weight down to the ground by solidity of its round-arched shape.

The Gothic style in architecture followed the Romanesque one. It was introduced as it had been before, from Romanic countries, first of all from France. It was a style harmoniously blending architecture, sculpture and pictorial art. Gothic architecture was born out of the experiences gained during the final phases of Romanesque architecture. The new architects took over many features of late Romanesque architecture, subjecting them, however, to a new idea of structural lightness, less massive, and demanding more sophisticated forms. Gothic architecture endeavoured to organize the space of the basilica into a unity, in which the significance of the walls minimized, and the building was raised to soaring heights, stressing the vertical principal throughout in the compositional rhythm of all the parts of the structure. The final and predominant aim was the attainment of imaginary space, elevating human’s mind into the supernatural sphere.

The 12th century marked the beginning of a great movement in religious construction in the form of cathedrals, which proved the greatest design achievement of the age.

Art historians usually distinguish three periods of Gothic architecture in England. An early English cathedral produced an impression of soaring into the air. Salisbury cathedral is usually shown as an example of pure English Gothic.

Later in the 13th century the so-called Perpendicular Gothic was introduced with a lot of parallel-placed tall perpendicular shapes and lines emphasizing the upward directed movement of the structural rhythm.

The 11th – 13th centuries were remarkable for glass-staining. Stained glass with religious themes usually pictures of Saints, etc. was an important element of Gothic church architecture. Pictorial art at that time was often represented by miniature painting and drawing. The 14th century is considered to be the so-called “Decorated Gothic” where the pure Gothic outlines are marred.

During the reign of the first Norman kings three languages existed side by side within the kingdom: Latin as the language of the clergy and the learned, French as the language of nobility and power and the language of polite intercourse and English as the language of the ordinary people. Latin was the language used in nearly all public documents for it was the language of Western Christendom and as such made many contacts possible.

The English or, rather, the Anglo-Norman literature of the 11th – 13th centuries reflected the complex linguistic situation: church literature was Latin; the so-called chivalric poetry was predominantly French while folklore continued to develop in Anglo-Saxon. The language of the common people could not but have words and expressions penetrating from the language of the upper classes, French and Latin.

Thus without losing its native basis, English borrowed a lot of words from those languages, getting a rich sets of synonyms to denote the subtlest shades of meaning or impressions to express the subtlest twist of thought.

The flourishing of feudal culture and the crusades meant contacts with other cultures. English literature could profit by the poetical achievements of other nations.

Church literature was didactic in keeping with the scholastic philosophy of the time it preached asceticism, neglect of earthy existence, preparation for the better world. Didactic poems like “Poema Morale” (ab. 1170, anonymous) or a manual teaching how to avoid sin called “Handlyng Synne” translated from French by Robert Mannyng early in the 14th century characterized this sort of literature.

Chivalric poetry in French at first and later in English was represented by versified romance. Contrary to the Anglo-Saxon epic, it is not self-sacrifice for the good of the people but defence of individual honour and dignity, individual interest that is in the center of attention. King Arthur, the hero of the Celtic anti-Saxon struggle of the 6th century transformed into a hero of knightly literature. The poem was at first written in French in 11th – 13th centuries then it was translated into English in the 13th century. Such knightly poems came to present times as “Arthur”, “Arthur and Merlin”, “Lancelot of the Lake”, “Morte d’Arthur” and a few others.

As it concerned to the folklore it was oral and did not all survived.

The 12th century was the time when the oldest English university was founded in Oxford (1167) to remain the principal center of science and learning. It had a great influence on the development of English culture and science.

In 1209 another university was established in Cambridge. The clerical influence on the universities was very strong. Being founded on the basis of the churches medieval universities became the centers of resistance and struggled for the autonomy. The townsmen and the scholars “the Town and Gown” in the phrase of the time, were two hostile camps, sometimes at war sometimes allies at the time of the Civil war.

All this period the cultural influence of France never ceased. French monks, the religious orders of Franciscans, Dominicans, Carmelites came in the 13th century. Among these monks were the first educated people, who lighted the torch of knowledge in the darkness of the medieval scholastic logics. They made theology the center of all their philosophical searching and made the deduction as their main method of investigation. Their idea was that the earthy life is regarded to be the preparation for eternity.

Robert Grosseteste (died in 1253) the Bishop of Lincoln, was one of the Franciscan monks who actively came out in favour of the monarchy restriction. One of his followers was Roger Bacon (ab. 1214-1292), a great English thinker and philosopher with whose name the beginning of natural sciences in England is inseparably connected. He remarked that science at medieval period tended to encyclopedic form. The follower of the scholastic science Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) stated that the most proper method of cognition is scholastic methods of deduction and reference to authorities made the thing dead for the scientists turned away from facts of changing life which doomed science to failure. Albert Magnus one of Roger Bacon’s teachers had seen the deficiencies of that approach and must have imparted the skepticism to Bacon.


Inner history

The Middle English period was the time of rapid development of the language. For the first three centuries English was a spoken language, and as such had no norm and could develop without any restrain. All the elements of the language changed fundamentally.


The stress is dynamic and fixed in the native words. But in the borrowed French words the stress was on the last syllable:

Licour [li′ku:r], nature [na′tu:r], etc.


New consonant sounds developed in native words:


ME [∫] ship [∫t] child [dЗ] bridge


OE scip cild brycз


The resonance of the consonant does not depend so much on the position of the consonant, voiced consonants can appear not only in the intervocalic, but also in initial and other positions.

Vowels in the unstressed position were reduced:


Old English Middle English


o e [ә]




These sounds were in the end of the word, and it neutralized the difference between the suffixes – the main grammar means.




Old English Middle English

Genitive Singular fiscesfishes

Nominative Plural fiscasfishes


Vowels under stress underwent mainly quantitative changes. In Middle English we observe a rhythmic tendency, the aim of which to obliterate overlong and over short sequences. The tendency is to have in the word one long vowel + one consonant or one short vowel + two consonants.



The grammar system in Middle English gradually but very quickly changed fundamentally: Old English was a synthetic language, Middle English at the end of the period – an analytical language. The principal grammatical means of Old English were preserved, but were no longer principal. At the end of Middle English the analytical means, which began to develop in Middle English, are predominant. They are:


1. Analytical verb-forms (Chaucer: perfect – hath holpen (has helped); passive – engendered is (is born) ;

2. The use of prepositions for grammatical purposes (Chaucer; drought of March);

3. A fixed word-order began to develop.


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