Popular Piety in Late Medieval England: The Diocese of Salisbury, 1250-1550

Article excerpt

Popular Piety in Late Medieval England: The Diocese of Salisbury, 1250-1550. By Andrew D. Brown. [Oxford Historical Monographs.] (New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press. 1995. Pp. x, 297. $58.00.)

Despite the immense difficulties always inherent in assessing what popular piety" may actually mean, perhaps no topic has come to attract more attention from the most recent church historians of late medieval England. All the more welcome is Dr. Brown's exemplary study of that fundamental if complex theme within the Diocese of Salisbury, a work remarkable not only for its long chronological range (1250-1550) but also for its exploitation of a wide variety of unpublished and hitherto neglected archival material. Here is a book which triumphantly succeeds in living up to its author's objective of revealing "a religious landscape of remarkable depth and vitality." Not that the copious evidence Dr. Andrew Brown brings to light is usually at all easy to interpret; and he deserves congratulations too on the powers of discrimination he brings to bear on the various manifestations of popular piety he exposes to view. Naturally enough, several of the problems he confronts remain problems still; but Dr. Brown is nothing if not judicious, perhaps only seriously and understandably in some difficulties when trying to explain the widespread and comparatively rapid acceptance of sixteenth-century Protestantism in what had hitherto seemed-on his own evidence-a religiously conservative and conventionally pious diocese. However, this is a notorious issue which no ecclesiastical historian can be said to have satisfactorily resolved anywhere else in Reformation England. As it is, Dr. Brown's highly thoughtful chapter (the last in his book) on "The Reformation" is a most valuable contribution to a perennial debate, not least for his somewhat paradoxical conclusion that continuity in pious practices and devotional habits ultimately made religious change more acceptable."

Popular Piety in Late Medieval England is nothing if not a comprehensive as well as an elegantly written monograph. Quite rightly determined that the religious houses of the diocese of Salisbury should not be shunted into some obscure sideline of devotional interest," Dr. …


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