The Church in Devon 400-1560
Impress Books £14.99
Church Times Bookshop £13.50 (Use code
LOCAL history can seem just a little bit parochial. With global
history now all the rage, and publishers keen to produce big
bestsellers on vast expanses of space and time, Nicholas Orme's
decision to focus on the fortunes of a single county - albeit over
a thousand-year period - is deliberately unfashionable.
It is also brilliant. In this volume, Professor Orme, a noted
medieval historian, triumphantly demonstrates the continuing
importance of local history. This is a book that is essential
reading for anyone interested in Devon and the West Country.
More than that - and more remarkably - this is a book that will
be of genuine use to all those who want to learn about church
history more generally. The result of a lifetime's work, The
Church in Devon 400-1560 vindicates the enterprise of
thinking locally about the past.
Take the Black Death, for example. A genuinely European-wide
cataclysm, the scale of its impact - not least the millions of
deaths it occasioned - is almost impossible to comprehend. Yet its
terrifying presence is superbly captured here in a story about the
little almshouse for aged priests at Clyst St Mary, on the road
from Exeter to Honiton.
On 25 December 1348, 11 residents celebrated Christmas. One died
of the plague on 1 January 1349, another on the 2nd, another on the
6th. Three more passed away in February, and a further three in
March. "By the time that Easter came on 12 April, only two of the
priests were alive."
This book is packed with similar illuminating examples. Indeed,
it is the great achievement of The Church in Devon that,
far from being narrow, it is in fact a wonder-ful history of
religious belief more generally. This may not be global history,
but it opens up the world of the past to great effect.
The Revd Dr William Whyte is a Tutorial Fellow in Modern
History at St John's College, Oxford, and Assistant Curate of