The Churches Conservation Trust‎ (CCT) – Lunchtime Lectures

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.

Give me my scallop-shell of quiet, My staff of faith…My scrip of joy…And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage. These lines used by John Bunyan in The Pilgrim’s Progress, reveal, quite clearly, the importance of pilgrimage and journeying to visit the relics of saints throughout history. Affecting all walks of life from the lowly peasant to gregarious monarch, these were not only arduous journeys but metaphors for the progress of life from birth to death and from earth to heaven. In this talk, we will discover how the saints came to be such an important aspect of the parish church—and thus how pilgrims and their peregrinations impacted the buildings’ development and evolution over time.

Gazing at the inside or outside of an historic church, your eyes are likely to encounter strange beasts, frolicking figures and twisted foliage staring back at you from doorways, windows, friezes, corbel tables, roof bosses and stained glass – although plenty are just hidden enough to fool the eye. What are these strange images? Hidden messages and tongue-in-cheek depictions were actually widespread throughout medieval churches. Was the period simply rife with satire or did these etchings and carvings hold deeper meanings? Here, we will explore some of the most curious examples.

In fifteenth-century Norfolk, a rector and Master of Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, bequeathed camping-land to his local parish for playing games, such as running and shooting. And this was far from an isolated event. Dances, dogs, football, bartering, trading, courting and gossiping: not how one would typically describe the everyday happenings of the medieval church—but this is no incorrect picture. Throughout the past, our ecclesiastical buildings and lands have been used for a multitude of what we may term “secular” activities or, at least, non-specifically devotional purposes. While the church was of course the holiest of places, ecclesiastical property was not often considered an entirely separate and sacred world—but rather a domain where the secular and sacred crossed paths. In this talk, we will consider an array of these fascinating and sometimes frankly shocking examples. It hopes to be a captivating adventure into the intersecting world of the cultural and religious history of medieval Christendom—one you may not have been privy to before. Dr. Emma J. Wells, Lecturer in Ecclesiastical and Architectural History at the University of York, will deliver the 2020 Candida Lycett Green Memorial Lecture – Holy Inappropriate? “Secular” uses of the medieval church. The event is named in honour of the late Candida Lycett Green, renowned author, journalist, conservation campaigner and critically acclaimed editor of her father John Betjeman’s letters. A lifelong campaigner for conservation, Candida was a commissioner for English Heritage and a much valued supporter and Vice President of the Churches Conservation Trust.