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Author: Mairi Cowan

This book examines lay religious culture in Scottish towns between the Black Death and the Protestant Reformation. Part I looks at what the living did to influence the dead and at how the dead were believed to influence the living in turn. It shows that the living and the dead shared a reciprocal relationship of obligation and assistance, and that the bonds between the two groups were especially strong when they involved blood or guild kinship. Part II considers the overlapping communities in Scottish towns where people could personalize religious expression in a meaningful social context. Part III focuses on the period between 1350 and 1560 as one of disruption and development. It assesses weaknesses in the Scottish ecclesiastical structure and instances of religious dissent, and then it considers the Scottish Church’s response to these challenges. Two main arguments run through the book. The first is that most laypeople in Scottish towns continued to participate in orthodox Catholic practices right through to the mid-sixteenth century. The second major argument is that Catholic religious practices in Scottish towns underwent a significant shift between 1350 and 1560. This shift, which is most easily perceived when Scotland is considered within the broader European transition from the medieval to the early modern period, brought with it a kind of pre-Reformation reformation in religious practice.

Mairi Cowan

This chapter examines the reciprocal relationship between the living and the dead in Scottish towns by considering how the dead were thought to intervene in the world of the living both by making material claims and also by providing supernatural intercession. The dead, whether sainted or not, maintained a physical and a metaphysical presence in Scottish towns. Their bodies lay under and immediately around the main centres of religious activity, and their names – for a price – were remembered from year to year through commemorative masses, charters, and even inscriptions on church furnishings. Through both burial and remembrance the dead remained present in Scottish towns, enmeshed still within networks of kin, class, and occupation, as they had been during life. Of these networks, the most important for many people was that of their kin. The bond of kinship brought the responsibility of remembrance, since it was kin to whom the dead called, through their religious foundations, for help in the afterlife.

in Death, life, and religious change in Scottish towns, c.1350–1560
Mairi Cowan

This chapter investigates people’s preparations for their own deaths and their sense of responsibility toward those who had already died. Although they sometimes feared death, people did not despair, for they also believed that death was not the end of a person: while the body was part of this world and therefore material and apt to decay, the soul was eternal. With sections on the fear of death, the idea of a ‘good death’, and the importance of remembrance, this chapter shows that Scottish townspeople made arrangements for their own souls to pass as painlessly as possible into a blessed eternity, and that they attended to the souls of those already deceased, especially to the souls of their blood kin and their civic brethren.

in Death, life, and religious change in Scottish towns, c.1350–1560
Mairi Cowan

This chapter examines Scottish townspeople’s personal and private religious practices by considering religious exclusion, private devotion, personal donations to religious institutions, and the case study of Jonet Rynd’s foundation of the Magdalen Chapel and Hospital in Edinburgh. It argues that people often personalized their religious practices to suit individual circumstances, with many of the wealthier inhabitants of Scottish towns taking a growing interest in individualized, private religious experience, but that the trend of individualization evident in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries ought not to be used simplistically as evidence for a breakdown in corporate Christianity of the kind discussed in Chapter 3; rather, inhabitants of Scottish towns joined their individual welfare to that of the wider society so that personal efforts and communal forms of devotion converged in pursuit of salvation. The personal and the particular were important for many in the towns of Scotland, but individual religious responsibility was undertaken in the context of the wider religious society and individuals could establish their own personal religious priorities while remaining connected to others within corporate religious structures.

in Death, life, and religious change in Scottish towns, c.1350–1560
Abstract only
Mairi Cowan

This introduction begins with the description of a bell that was installed at the parish church of St Giles, Edinburgh in about 1460. It uses various features of the St Giles bell as entry-points into the historical context of the book’s subject, including towns in Scotland (their populations, their political hierarchy, their economies, their physical layout); the structure of Scottish Church (similarities to and differences from the Church in other parts of Europe); and a brief historiography of religion in Europe generally and Scotland in particular. It then outlines the scope and structure of the book, which is taken from the Latin inscription on the bell’s surface: ‘defunctos plango: vivos voco: fulmina frango’, which translates into ‘I lament the dead, I summon the living, I subdue thunderbolts’.

in Death, life, and religious change in Scottish towns, c.1350–1560
Abstract only
Mairi Cowan

This chapter examines the period between 1350 and 1560 as one of disruption to the religious culture in Scottish towns. With sections on systemic weaknesses in the Scottish Church, religious indifference among the laity, and outright dissent by Lollards, Lutherans, and Calvinists, it assesses the challenges to traditional forms of religious practice arising both from within and without the Catholic fold. It argues that these challenges were serious but not necessarily ruinous, and it stresses that historians should weigh these circumstances within their contemporary context and not only with the hindsight of a post-Reformation stance.

in Death, life, and religious change in Scottish towns, c.1350–1560
Author: Eyal Poleg

The introduction of a vernacular Bible changed biblical discourse in late medieval England. This book seeks to explore the mundane uses of the Bible and the daily contact with the divine in four instances: liturgical spectacles, talismanic uses, the layout of biblical manuscripts, and sermons. These instances weave a single narrative, which moves between antiquity and change, performance and material culture. Liturgical rites are explored for their texts, as for their use of sacred books, and innovative biblical manuscripts were tied with medieval sermons, the obverse of liturgical rites. The book begins with Palm Sunday, an important liturgical celebration, which provided an opportunity for many to integrate joy and participation into the biblical narrative. Then, it examines the Bible in liturgical spectacles, but in another manifestation. Not only text and narrative, Bibles were also sacred objects, employed in Masses and oath rituals. Innovative forms of biblical manuscripts, however, emerged at the beginning of the thirteenth century. These mass-produced Bibles are examined for their carefully structured array of ink and scripts, rubrics and addenda, for their specific means of engaging with the biblical text. They were utilitarian objects, employed by trained professionals. The book finds a prime audience of these manuscripts among late medieval preachers. Three Advent Sunday sermons demonstrate how the format of biblical manuscripts corresponded to the rise of the new form of preaching. It demonstrates how a new facet of the Bible unfolded in these elaborate sermons to engage with biblical words and texts.

Palm Sunday processions
Eyal Poleg

This chapter follows the course of the Palm Sunday procession in late medieval England. The Liturgy of Palm Sunday enabled lay and clerical audiences in medieval England to take an active part in a re-creation of the biblical event. The chapter focuses on Quasi-biblical language at first station and the Gloria laus and its spectacle at second station. It also focuses on a para-liturgical moment in the speech of Caiphas at the third station and the move into liturgical time in the fourth. The liturgy led believers on an emotional journey, contextualising Palm Sunday within the events of Holy Week and salvation history. The term hosanna In the text refers to the liturgical act of singing the hosanna in Palm Sunday liturgy, subordinating the biblical text to its liturgical performance. The chapter ends with a model for the evolution of Bible and liturgy.

in Approaching the Bible in medieval England
Textus and oath-books
Eyal Poleg

This chapter follows Bible as they were employed as talismans in the most mundane rituals, both civic and ecclesiastical, and questions how the Bible was put to use as a sacred object. It examines two most recurrent rituals including Masses and oaths, which made use of the biblical books. The chapter also examines the medieval Mass through liturgical manuscripts and their vernacular renderings. It questions the transition of the talismanic uses into modernity, addressing the similarities between modern and medieval uses, as well as the changes that were ushered by the coming of moveable-type print and the Reformation. The Lay Folk Mass Book, a Middle English translation of a late twelfth-century manual for lay participation in the Mass commented upon the required mindset and guided lay devotions. Surviving textus and oath-books rarely present a full and accurate biblical text.

in Approaching the Bible in medieval England
Abstract only
Eyal Poleg

The appearance of Late Medieval Bibles and the explorations of the new form of preaching came into being at the same time, both celebrating the textual qualities of the Bible. The creation of a quasi-biblical language rendered biblical and liturgical texts inseparable, while the biblical fabric of sermons was woven with clearly demarcated proofs, relying on identifiable biblical references and quotation formulae. The Interpretations of Hebrew Names was the standard addendum to biblical manuscripts, and its entries received a place of honour in late medieval sermons. The speech of Caiphas was part liturgical performance, part sermon. The few surviving oath-books from secular courts contain oath formulae and legal treatises, alongside quires from liturgical manuscripts. Recalling the talismanic use of Gospel books, we can now better understand the survival rate, which relied less on the practicalities of consultation, and more on sanctity and antiquity.

in Approaching the Bible in medieval England