How Medieval People Saw St Andrew’s Church, Hornchurch

All the people you live among will see the Lord’s work, for what I am doing with you is awe-inspiring. Exodus 34:10

In the 21st century people accept high buildings as normal. This wasn’t the case in the Middle Ages and St Andrew’s1 was huge by their standards. Poor people lived in hovels and even merchants lived in relatively small houses. St Andrew’s is built on high ground, so worshippers walked up the hill to the church which loomed above them. Churches were the physical embodiment of God’s power and presence on earth.


St Andrews church exterior showing the bulls horns
In medieval times there wouldn’t have been any furniture and that would have further impressed the congregation with the enormous size of the church

Ordinary people lived in hovels,

“…[hovels are] made out of straw and many other things, including dung and mud. The houses were very simple. A fire in the middle of the house is where all the people would cook. They would have a couple of pots and pans. The furniture was normally a small wooden table and a little stall that they had made themselves. They would have a wooden bowl and spoon to eat with. The floor below them was not floor, it was the earth.”2

For most people the altar window was the only window they saw regularly. As they walked towards the altar rail, during mass, it seemed to increase in size. This was especially true when the sun shone through the glass. The religious artwork was inspirational and compelling.


The altar window is physically impressive towering above the altar

The nave didn’t have furniture, which emphasised the awe-inspiring nature of the building. Its height was a multiple of a person thereby subliminally introducing the idea of heaven as a physical concept. St Andrew’s was a religious building cementing beliefs.

Addendum: St Andrews today

St Andrew’s is a Grade 1 listed building of national importance. The suburban sprawl of Hornchurch hasn’t ‘buried’ St Andrew’s and it retains its classic commanding position.


1 What does grade 1 listed mean (

2 Homes and Lives of the Poor – Tudor Times (