The Catholic Church dominates religious life and political thought across 12th century Europe. It has enormous temporal as well as spiritual power, arising from its vast wealth, extensive lands and religious authority.

The Church is led by the Pope in Rome, supported and advised by the College of Cardinals, which is drawn from senior bishops in Rome and throughout Europe. In each country in Christendom, the Church is led by one or more archbishops. The Archbishop of Canterbury is the leader of the Church in England, while the Archbishop of York is the leader of the Church in the north of the country.

Below the Archbishops, the land is divided into Diocese, generally a large town or city and the area around it. In each Diocese the Church is led by a bishop, who in turn is served by the priests who preside over their local parishes. Finally, the bishops and priests are served by deacons, who carry out many tasks on their behalf.

Sometimes archbishops and bishops wield great temporal as well as spiritual power. For example, the Archbishop of York is an important political power in northern England and Scotland, while the Bishop of Durham is known as a Prince-Bishop, in recognition of his rulership of the County Palatinate of Durham.

Outside this hierarchy stand the monasteries and priories of the Church. The monks and nuns in these institutions, and the abbots and prioresses that lead them, are far more removed from everyday secular life than the bishops and priests who minister to the population. As such, they tend to be introspective, and excel as repositories of learning, knowledge and healing. For example, Mother Constance, the Mother Superior of Clementhorpe Nunnery in York, is renowned as one of the greatest healers in the North.

Finally, associated with the Church but not under the direct authority of its bishops and priests, are the Christian Orders of Knighthood: the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar.


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