Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Calling all historians

(. . . or just scholars better trained in historical research than I.)

I'm trying to find out what happened to a minor--but long-standing and very public--religious practice that seems to have stopped abruptly with the English Reformation. It's of interest to me because I've turned up an extended literary allusion to the practice in a well-known work written a couple of generations after the Reformation. For the allusion to work, however, the audience would have to have real familiarity with the practice (not just a vague cultural memory of its existence).

So basically, we're talking about something that might have persisted in practice or in oral culture, but without textual traces. I can't find any mention of it in scholarship on early modern popular religion (though it's such a minor practice that it's not something anyone would be looking for specifically, and the evidence would be easy to miss).

I think I've done as much as I can do combing through early printed books and the existing historiography. If I'm to do any more research, I suspect it would have to involve manuscript archives--probably something like parish records and churchwarden's reports. But a) I have no experience working with such sources, and b) sifting through all the surviving records would require a massive amount of time, travel, and effort for what might be zero result.

Anyone have any thoughts or advice?


squadratomagico said...

I'm assuming you know Eamon Duffy's work, which is the most recent discussion of popular religious practice in England, leading up to and thru the Reformation. If you don't, then start there.

I *might* be able to help if I knew what the practice is. I have a decent background in these sorts of questions, so if you'd like, send me a gmail message with some more deets and I'll see if I can be of assistance.

Flavia said...

Hi Squadrato, and thanks!

Yep, I've been through all the historiography on popular religion, etc., that I can think of (and I've asked several friends who work more immediately in the field for their recs and have gone through those, too). But I'll email you!

Janice said...

David Cressy's "Birth, Marriage and Death" might be a useful ticket. He tracks many of social and religious practices that come under attack or slide into private rituals during and after the Reformation. Churching, for example, came under attack not just doctrinally but with regards to what was the individual's role in the community.

Rose said...

I'm a historian, and I work on these topics but in a different country. If you provide more specifics, I can give it a shot. I don't know that I know more than those you have already consulted, but it's worth a try.

Flavia said...


Thanks for the reference! I know Cressy's work in a general way, but haven't consulted him.


Thanks for your offer, too. It's very much an England-specific issue, though.

(And thanks to those who emailed me off-blog, too. My readers are great.)

Withywindle said...

Adam Fox, Oral and Popular Culture in Early Modern England, 1500 - 1700. And you might drop him a line by e-mail, since he doubtless has an encyclopedic knowledge of the sources.

Which practice, dare I ask? Churching of women?

You might look at Puritan sermons, etc., that denounce relics of Papist practices.

Flavia said...


Thanks! Didn't know that one, but will check it out.

Nope: not churching. And I've done lots of EEBO searching for the relevant terms. But happy to chat about it via email (on sidebar) if you're truly curious.

CattyinQueens said...

Have you tried the CSP? I've subscribed (out of my own pocket) to British History Online and use the searchable database on it for all kinds of stuff and have found quite a lot of fun and cool things in addition to things I actually intended to look for. Sometimes things that aren't about "official" things aren't visible in the print index to the calendar, but now that you can search the calendar itself, you can find all sorts of gems. Lately, I've been searching for proper names and have had a lot of fruitful searching, though the tricks of searching took me a while to figure out...

Mira said...

Maybe it is the 'celtic' you are looking for? Part of England (Wales and the north) were converted to christianity by missionaries from Ireland (about 550 onwards). These areas were
somhowe seperated from the western Catholicism. Some variety of Christianity is therefor referred to as 'celtic'.

In the south and east of England missionaries came from mainland Europe and converted the people.
The 'celtic' began to accept alignment with Rome in the year of 664. During all those years the 'celtic' get their own practises with great variations between the areas. But with the reformation they began to be catholics. Maybe som of those 'celtic' areas stayed in their own traditons as long as they could?

Forgive my bad english (I'm from Sweden).