In the Middle Ages, right up to the English Reformation of the 16th century – in which King Henry VIII separated from Rome and the Catholic Church and set up a new Church of England of which he made himself head – the Church wielded more power than the king or queen.

Its leaders were consulted by monarchs of the day, and its cathedrals were places where power struggles were played out, loyalties tested, and enormous wealth put on ostentatious display. The bodies of saints were buried in the crypts, and people were encouraged to make pilgrimages to their shrines in the hope of being cleansed of illness or absolved of sins.

With this year heralding a number of important anniversaries – from the 800th anniversary of

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