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.