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MEDIEVAL-RELIGION  August 1999

MEDIEVAL-RELIGION August 1999

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Subject:

gargoyles and prayer books

From:

Madeleine Gray <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Wed, 18 Aug 1999 13:43:26 +0100

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Can anyone recommend a good, detailed but general book on medieval
gargoyles? The parish historian at Gresford (a surprisingly stunning church
in industrial north-east Wales) wants to turn his attention to this aspect
of the building. I contacted him about the stained glass so he
automatically assumed I would know about gargoyles as well!

Back to the prayer books of the C16 and C17 and the vexed questions of
participation, literacy &c. Sharon, I would love to see your thesis. Do you
plan to publish? Was it exclusively concerned with English prayer books or
did you give any space to the versions of the BCP in French and Welsh? How
far do you agree with Judith Maltby's recent book on the subject?

I think there are some things we need to bear in mind. One is the point
implicit in what Sharon says about changes between the Elizabethan and
modern habits of worship. We tend to judge pre-modern liturgies from the
1662 BCP - but this is not a reliable guide to pre-Civil War practice. The
actual liturgy may be similar but in 1662 the ritualists had a lot of input
into the rubrics - e.g. the much harsher restrictions on burials. I'm
theorising without much data, but I *think* there is more flexibility in
the late C16/early C17, which may have allowed more or less participation.
This was obviously a subject for negotiation and possibly  conflict between
clergy and congregation.

The debate over congregational participation goes back earlier that Bucer,
though I am grateful to Julia for the reference to his input into the 1552
prayer book. The ill-fated Thomas Muntzer has some quite sensible ideas
about this, though it was obviously something he felt it necessary to
defend at some length. 

I don't know where the 'Dark Ages' (so-called: the term is anathema here in
Wales, where the early medieval period is one of great spiritual and
cultural achievement) come into the argument. It is dangerous to see
historical change as proceeding in a straight line - from  illiteracy to
literacy, from poverty to wealth, from darkness to light. Peasants of the
'Dark Ages' were probably more prosperous and better-fed that their C12 and
C13 descendants; for those who survived the famines, plagues &c of the C14
there was another period of prosperity before rising population levels in
the late C15 pushed many people back to the margins of subsistence.
Prosperity for some social groups could mean disaster for others.

We also need to be careful what we mean by 'literacy'. Do we mean the
ability to read/decode text, the ability to write (I think it is now
accepted that the two were taught separately, that writing was a craft
skill, and that far more people could read than write in the late
medieval/early modern period), or the intellectual ability to deal with
what is read? Clanchy quotes examples of people who lacked the technical
ability to read text but who obviously revered the written word and made
good use of it. So we cannot discuss literacy levels in C16-17
congregations without being explicit as to what we mean by literacy. I
think, though, that the amount of text on church walls in the late C16-17
suggests that a fair number of people were expected to be able to read it.
so, in a secular context, does the extent to which public proclamations
were being printed and posted in public places.

The medieval-modern interface is a tricky one. We should not expect
everything to change dramatically, or at the same time. But the reformation
does mean  change for many communities, even if it was not as rapid as
central records suggest. For example - we do not know how rapidly many
english parishes acquired the new prayer books (and we strongly suspect
that not many Welsh parishes bothered with the English versions, which
would have been largely incomprehensible outside the towns). But by the
middle of Elizabeth's reign the coverage in England was probably pretty
complete, and the Elizabethan prayer book had also been translated into
Welsh. 

The relevance of all this to medieval religion is I think twofold. How far
can we read the argument that constant repetition of the Prayer Book
liturgy helped the elizabethan settlement to bed in back into the later
medieval period - i.e. what impact did just listening to the Latin liturgy
week after week have on people? The implication of e.g. Mirk's advice on
saying the Paternoster in English is that people could manage a garbled
version in latin and might prefer to use that. Also, if people valued the
element of participation offered by the Prayer Book liturgies, was this
really something which was lacking in late medieval worship: and if not,
what means were used to enhance participation in the late medieval liturgy.

Maddy



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