Victorian Reformation: The Fight over Idolatry in the Church of England, 1840-1860

Victorian Reformation: The Fight over Idolatry in the Church of England, 1840-1860

Victorian Reformation: The Fight over Idolatry in the Church of England, 1840-1860

Victorian Reformation: The Fight over Idolatry in the Church of England, 1840-1860

Synopsis

In early Victorian England, the cross was widely thought to be a deadly idol that led worshippers to the devil. Victorian Reformation is a study of the intense anxieties surrounding 'idolatry' which was, in a narrow sense, the worship of idols, but also devotion to anything that intervened between the believer and God. In early Victorian England there was intense interest in understanding the early Church as an inspiration for contemporary sanctity. One aspect of this was a surge in archaeological inquiry and the construction of new churches using medieval models. A number of Anglicans began to use a much more complex form of ritual involving vestments, candles, and incense. They were opposed by evangelicals and dissenters on the grounds that this represented the vanguard of popery. The disputed buildings, objects, and art works were regarded by one side as impure additions to holy worship, and by the other as sacred and beautiful expressions of devotion. Dominic Janes grapples with these accusations of idolatry and the fierce passions that were thereby unleashed. He works through the main disputed practices of Anglo- and Roman Catholics-adoration of the cross, confession, and communion-and probes the disputed boundaries of the physical and spiritual. Radical disagreement was emerging over the way to deal with the abject world of inferior things such as the sinful body. The Catholic response was to recognise that everyone was fallen and that repeated sacramental purification by the Church was required. Many Protestants believed that cleansing was only to be obtained by the faith of the individual sinner. Both of these views were confronted by emerging medical and other secular discourses of purification, all of which revealed a deep concern with the pollution caused by improper sexuality and the alleged fetishisation of the material world. Victorian Reformation is a fascinating study of the anxiety and excitement generated by this dispute.

Excerpt

The important shrine of Our Lady in Walsingham in North Norfolk was suppressed at the Reformation, only to be reestablished by the Anglo-Catholic priest Alfred Hope Patten (1885–1958) in the early twentieth century. An image of the Virgin copied from the seal of the former Walsingham Abbey was carved in 1922 and first taken on procession in 1931. the statue is now carried annually on the Spring Bank Holiday, which has been established as the date of a National Pilgrimage that is attended by both Anglo- and Roman Catholics, as well as by a small group of Protestant protesters. On May 29, 2006, the latter were arranged about the sixteenth-century pump house in the village centre past which the statue was due to progress. Figures 1.1 and 1.2 show the statue of Mary passing the pump house and the calling out of the opposing preacher after the procession had gone past. Here we see a clash of ritual, material, and textual cultures. the Catholics processed singing in English and Latin. They bore on their shoulders the statue of the Virgin Mary adorned with lace and flowers. They themselves wore various forms of ecclesiastical dress. By contrast, their opponents were in no special sort of uniform, which, in the circumstances, was a ritual statement in itself. But they were provided with a series of fascinating banners and placards, notably one providing a pagan genealogy for Mary, and another showing a young girl saying ‘I talk to my dolly’, and the Pope holding a crowned Virgin replying, ‘I pray to mine’. the opposing preacher held the Bible in his hand as he denounced the Catholic procession for its . . .

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