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In the aftermath of the plague epidemic that swept across
Britain and the rest of Europe in the mid fourteenth century,
the church began to weaken as an institution. People started
to seek a more personal relationship with God and questioned
the need for the clergy more and more.

From 1346-1350, the Bubonic Plague swept across Europe,
wiping out around one-third of the population. The
ineffectiveness of the clergy during the crisis led many to believe
that the clergy carried no special favour with God, especially as
many people assumed that the epidemic was some form of
punishment from above.

During the epidemic, many plague victims were buried without
having their last rites read as a result of a shortage of priests.
In 1349, the Bishop of Bath and Wells wrote to his clergy,

"Priests cannot be found for love or money…. to visit the sick
and administer the last sacraments of the church – perhaps
because the fear they will catch the disease".

He went on to say that sins should be confessed to a layperson
if no clergy can be found and even, “to a woman if no man is

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