Religion and the Household (Studies in Church
History, Volume 50)
John Doran, Charlotte Methuen, and Alexandra
The Boydell Press £45
Church Times Bookshop £40.50 (Use code
"WILL Faith, Hope and Charity bring us to heaven?"asked little
Betty. "Yes," rejoined her sister Mall with confidence, "but Faith
and Hope must go back again and only Charity must enter into
Thus the young children of William Blundell, a Roman Catholic
gentleman of Lancashire, taking their own parts in the plays that
he wrote in the 1660s to teach them religion and morality, not
without warnings of whippings.
This is an example from the book under review of the countless
ways in which religion has permeated the home. Jesus visited the
Temple and the synagogue, but most of his recorded teaching was
done in people's houses, often during a meal. St Paul, too,
emphasised the family as a building-block of the Christian faith,
as well as the larger community.
Religion and the Household is a volume of 31 essays
based on papers delivered at conferences of the Ecclesiastical
History Society in 2012-13. They range in coverage from apostolic
times to the late 20th century, although their origin means that
they address discrete topics rather than form a continuous
Most of the essays deal with lay households of families and
servants, and show how religion affected their life in a particular
way or period. A few study artificial households, effectively
religious communities, including those of two popes, the Cathars,
and the nuns of Syon Abbey, who lived in groups for some years
after the dissolution of their monastery.
All the essays are concerned with Christianity except for three
that address medieval Jewry, 19th-century Islam, and modern China.
Not surprisingly, the families studied are wealthy ones whose
records have survived, like those of the Blundell family. Most,
too, are from England. There are some gaps, such as the history of
family religion in the Middle Ages, although the sources for this
are substantial by the 15th century.
Nevertheless, the volume is an impressive and wide-ranging
collection of studies. Besides dealing with core issues such as
religious education and practice, it embraces domestic architecture
and furnishings, the reading of books, and the parts played by
music and the visual arts. The RC families of the 17th century are
illuminating here. Forbidden to worship in public, they devised
ingenious ways of being religious indoors.
When the essays reach the 19th and 20th centuries, it is
possible to move from surveys to biography. There are touching
accounts of Gladstone's sister Anne and her Bible, the death of a
child in the Bloomfield family, and the marriages of John Keble and
Isaac Williams. An analysis of the census of 1881 in Lincolnshire
shows that the average clergyman employed two or three servants;
Nonconformist ministers, on the other hand, were confined to
This collection will be a valuable resource in the future. One
feature that emerges is the continuity of religious life across the
great divide of the Reformation. We are shown more than once that
Catholics and Puritans had much in common. Saying prayers when
rising, grace before meals, fasting, reading godly works, and
displaying religious art continued from one era to another.
What we need next is for historians to peer lower down in
society. How godly were the homes of the lower orders, given their
lack of the time and resources enjoyed by their betters?
Professor Orme's recent books include histories of the
Church in Devon, medieval clergy, and the teaching of Latin in
early modern England.