Ecclesiastical - the Middle Ages

In 1199 King John confirmed the grant of Sarratt to St Albans Abbey.

Holy Cross, like all parish churches in the Middle Ages, was beholden to the one Catholic Church of Rome and for a while apparently enjoyed a steady, albeit inauspicious, existence. No incumbent is recorded until the mid-14th century, and its ministry might have been performed by a non-residential parson under the authority of a rector based in St Albans or even by an unbeneficed clerk hired for a small stipend as an assistant priest.

The church would have been a centre of social activity, with the nave - an open space - available to the village for festival events. Villagers were responsible for upkeep of the nave, while the patron, or a local lord, paid for repair of the chancel, which was extended twice within the building`s first 200 years. It was probably not until the 15th century that pews were installed in the nave, about the time when the brick and stone tower was built. The parishioners would have been a driving force in implementing all these changes.

Prolonged over-use of land around Sarratt led to a decline in agriculture; extreme poverty ensued, and by 1300 the population was falling, a trend exacerbated by the Black Death in 1349, its recurrences, and the long subsequent period of severe agrarian blight. The size of the Sarratt community must have been severely reduced. The wall paintings in Holy Cross date from about 1370 and might indicate, as well as a vital interest in the church building, a turning to God by people in distress.

Social unrest was inevitable. The Peasants` Rebellion of 1381 was particularly virulent in Hertfordshire, while the followers of John Wycliffe, a Chiltern rector who translated the Latin Bible into English, inspired a spiritual awakening throughout the region from about 1395. Lollardy, as this movement of freedom and conscience became known, was the first questioning of image worship, pilgrimages and papal authority. It took a hold in Buckinghamshire and neighbouring counties, although frequently subjected to persecution for a century or more. In 1485 Thomas Hemmyngforthe, the rector of Sarratt, was ejected from his living, almost certainly because he supported Lollardy; he moved to Sheephall and was silenced. A dispute in 1462 gave rise to the murder of a parishioner by James Roche, the rector, and others, but the cause can only be guessed. The victim was buried in a field, the affair was discovered, and Roche took flight. The incident says something of the violence of the day.

During the first half of the 16th century the pace of events quickened. On the continent the Reformation began and in 1536 Henry VIII, in dispute with Rome, launched the dissolution of the monasteries. A survey preparing for this had been conducted in 1534 wherein Holy Cross was valued at £9 per annum. St Albans Abbey was dissolved in December 1539 and Holy Cross and other former abbey churches were released from its surveillance and patronage, being placed under the oversight of the King`s Commissioners.