Canons of Environmental Law: Pollution of Churches and the Regulation of the Medieval ‘Environment’

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The canon law rules addressing ‘Church Pollution’ provide a long-standing example of social regulation. A survey of historical material,and secondary sources,identifies a sophisticated set of precepts that developed over centuries. This development included application to one of the most important events in medieval England: the murder of Thomas Becket. Perhaps more importantly,the regime was widely used and thus of great significance to the ordinary citizens of the Middle Ages. Though largely historical,more recent examples of employment can also be found. When viewed through a contemporary lens,there are some connections that can be made with modern concepts of ‘pollution’ and contemporary environmental law and policy,such as that relating to contaminated land. While the relationships should not be overplayed,that analysis suggests a social and cultural heritage that has been drawn upon,whether consciously or not. When attempting to view matters from the perspective of medieval society,so conceptualising the ‘environment’ to include consideration and protection of the spiritual environment,further associations can be found. The differences in focus for the regulatory endeavours reflect differing fears,values and priorities. They also identify how these factors influence our definition and regulation of ‘pollution’.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)566-590
Number of pages25
JournalLegal Studies
Issue number4
Early online date13 Jul 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2016

Bibliographical note

This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details. Embargo period : 24 months


  • Environmental Law and Regulation
  • Law and History

Cite this