Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Devoted People: Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Devoted People: Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland

Article excerpt

Devoted People: Belief and Religion in Early Modern Ireland. By Raymond Gillespie. [Social and Cultural Studies in Early Modern Europe.] (Manchester University Press. Distributed by St. Martin's Press, New York. 1997. Pp. x, 198. $59.95.)

"This book is about the reality of the religion which survived in the lives of the people in sixteenth and seventeenth century Ireland," writes the author, who has divided his material into six chapters, using an impressive range of sources and providing excellent footnotes. There are many insights into popular belief and practice (both Catholic and Protestant), based on the conviction that religious experience and belief are more fundamental than religious institutions and that belief does not need to be aberrant to be "popular.?Most people learned their religion from their mothers, a process which the author regards as innately conservative. There were tensions between lay belief and church doctrine, between lay concern about devotion and clerical concern about organization. Catholic and Protestant churches offered intellectual systems which were in dialogue with the religious needs of communities and individuals, but Catholics were offered far more symbols.

The author emphasizes the universal belief in providence, in the sacredness of times and places, and in wonders. Few people in early modern Ireland lived far from a holy place. The recurring tendency to resort to astrology and other signs was common to both Protestants and Catholics, neither group being passively receptive of orthodox theological ideas, but rather forging a genuinely lay spirituality.

Gillespie gives many interesting examples of popular practices, such as soldiers carrying written prayers on their persons for protection, and the thirty-four holy days of obligation observed by Catholics. …

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