east barnet parish church header image

History

old-parish-mapThe Norman Conquest in 1066 was a significant step in securing Britain in the control of the western [Roman] Catholic Church. In the years following William’s accession, the the feudal system gradually took hold across the land and so put lords, serfs and peasants in their respective places.

Where previously small wooden churches had been established the Normans built stone Churches – the ‘jewels of British Christianity’ – and St Mary’s in East Barnet is a fine example. Just as in previous generations the long barrows and stone circles had played a central role in community life, so the parish churches and cathedrals took on the role as the largest stone structures in a particular locality. Such local churches were open to all, and became the accustomed venue for community meetings, markets, and festivals where the major rites of passage were marked and celebrated. In a community like East Barnet, the Church was the hub of life simply because it was dry, open and useable by the entire community.

In its early days, St Mary’s was probably the only stone-built structure for miles around, and as such acted as a community centre and all -purpose meeting hall – and yet it was also a place of beauty, inspiration and peace.

A major change with the arrival of the stone-loving Normans was that existing churches that had been dedicated to local saints in the Celtic tradition were re-dedicated to the more ‘universal’ saints as the Blessed Virgin Mary, St John the Baptist and St Peter. Already these saints had a growing ‘cultus’ in Europe, with lucrative shrines, pilgrimages and relics to support their competitive economy. The Church also had a keen eye to ‘christianize’ existing pagan shrines and places of worship, and there is a strong possibility that St Mary’s was built on such a site.

Follow the links below for more information on the history of St Mary’s Church:

Information icon The Little Church on the Hill

Information icon Explore the Building

Information icon Explore the Churchyard

Information icon Rectors of East Barnet

Information icon Strange and Wonderfull Newes from Barnet, 1688