Catholic Devotion in Victorian England

By Mary Heimann | Go to book overview

I
Received Ideas

CATHOLIC spirituality either fascinates or repels most outsiders. While pious images from the Middle Ages may seem sufficiently remote to be appreciated anthropologically or aesthetically, devotional objects characteristic of the nineteenth century continue to provoke a more naked response. English Catholics have more reason than most to be aware of the incomprehension or revulsion which certain manifestations of devotion, like plaster statues of the Virgin Mary, pictures of the Sacred Heart, or bottles of Lourdes water, can arouse in non-Catholics. These images, all of which were invented or popularized in the nineteenth century, are not only seen as strange or distasteful by many people; the piety they represent is often taken as a reflection of Catholic thraldom to papal authority. Bill McSweeney is not alone in believing that 'Catholic piety in the nineteenth century was a strategy carefully managed by Rome' and that 'the study of the daily rituals and practices of Catholics is important because it is through them that the Church exercises control'.1 That some features of nineteenth-century devotion can still provoke such strong reactions would be reason enough to investigate their origins and context. But any consideration of the subject must start by examining devotion as it was understood by those who actually practised Catholicism in Victorian England.

A great deal of attention has already been devoted to the progress of the Catholic Church in England over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Works abound which concentrate on its institutional development, political affiliations, and social significance. Scores of its bishops, clergy, religious, and laity have been the subject of biographies, both popular and scholarly: works which concentrate on the life and thought of a single Catholic of the period, John Henry Newman, could alone fill a small library. But no systematic account of the explicitly religious, or devotional, dimension of this self-proclaimed religious community has been written.

Given the widespread interest in English Catholicism which exists in

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1
B. McSweeney, Roman Catholicism: The Search for Relevance( Oxford, 1980), 38.

-1-

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Catholic Devotion in Victorian England
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vi
  • Contents *
  • I - Received Ideas 1
  • 2 - Devotions in Common 38
  • 3 - Familiar Prayers 70
  • 4 - A Community Apart 100
  • 5 - An English Piety 137
  • Appendix - Devotional Statistics of the Churches, Chapels, and Stations in England and Wales 174
  • Bibliography 201
  • Index 233
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