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The church was not just a place of worship, but also an important communication centre in medieval society. Its basic layout consisted of the central nave or aisle (sometimes with side naves) and a sanctuary, which included the chancel. This housed the main altar, where mass was served. Most churches were aligned with the chancel at the eastern end. At the main entrance was a baptismal font. Another important element was the pulpit, from which the priest addressed the congregation. By contrast with today, the sermon was separate from the mass. During the church service, the priest stood with his back to the congregation and, in keeping with Papal instructions, the mass was said in Latin, which was not generally comprehensible to the congregation. In compensation, the church walls were richly decorated with painted scenes, intended to bring the mystery of the liturgy and especially biblical scenes come alive for the illiterate common people.

When not used for religious services, the church premises would serve, for example, for the temporary storage of grain and other goods that were being traded, or as a place of assembly of the citizenry if the need arose to address some important public issue.

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