When we think of the pre-Reformation parish church, prior to King Henry VIII’s supposed “stripping of the altars”, the image conjured is often of an arena of visual delights; filled to the brim with all the smells and bells of traditional Catholicism—a highly sensory type of worship that offered attractions to the eyes and ears, above all. This stands in sharp contrast to the often austere, suppressed perspective of sixteenth-century Protestantism, with its focus on the Word of God through text, prayer-books, and vernacular scripture. We tend to think of the post-Reformation parish church as an austere devotional environment, devoid of the images, relics, incense, music, vestments, tastes, and textures of late-medieval religion. But, how true is this picture? And was Henry VIII, who we love to blame for the changing of our church in the sixteenth century, really the perpetrator? This lecture will unravel the reality of his role—and who might actually be responsible.
This talk is given by Dr Emma J. Wells. Dr Emma is an Ecclesiastical and Architectural Historian specialising in the late medieval and reformation parish church/cathedral, the senses, pilgrimage, saints as well as built heritage more generally. Her book, Heaven On Earth: The Lives & Legacies of the World’s Greatest Cathedrals, is to be published by Head of Zeus in Autumn 2021.