This collection of essays examines the place of ‘saints’ and sanctity in nineteenth-century Britain. It argues that holy men and women were pivotal in religious discourse, as subjects of veneration and inter-confessional contention. Protestants were as fascinated by such figures as Catholics were. Long after the mechanisms of canonization had disappeared, they continued not only to engage with the saints of the past but continued to make their own saints in all but name. Just as strikingly, it claims that devotional practices and language were not the property of orthodox Christians alone. Even in an age of confessional strife, doubt and secularisation, devotional practices and language remained central to how both Christians and their opponents reflected on that changing world. Making and remaking saints is significant, then, because until now no-one has explored how sainthood remained significant in this period both as an enduring institution and as a fruitful metaphor that could be transposed into unexpected contexts. Each of the chapters in this volume focuses on the reception of a particular individual or group. Together they will attract not just historians of religion, but those concerned with material culture, the cult of history, and with the reshaping of British identities in an age of faith and doubt
Saints have always been central to Christianity, offering models of how to follow Christ, a parallel that became resonant (and urgent) whenever this involved self-sacrifice, especially the shedding of blood. This introduction, however, suggests that ‘thinking with saints’ became an especial obsession in nineteenth-century Britain, arguing that not just Catholics but Protestants, agnostics and unbelievers, too, invested enormous time and energy into ‘thinking with saints’: using their lives and their legends to debate crucial questions about religious authority, history, miracles, and testimony. Three contexts are offered against which to read the essays that follow. The first section examines the ambivalent legacies of the Reformation for nineteenth-century ideas about sainthood, demonstrating the continuing importance of ideas about the holiness of temporality, materiality and place that Protestants repudiated officially but never entirely eschewed. The next identifies the 1840s as a key moment in which deepening confessional divisions sparked intense debate about how to use the saints of the past, and what saints might look like in the present. The final section explores the enduring importance of sainthood for agnostics and unbelievers. It examines how secularists remoulded sanctity to fit new notions of morality. And it also shows that as the twentieth century dawned, the ‘holy’ and the numinous remained live categories that science promised to develop rather than to debunk.
Ignatius Loyola both attracted and repelled nineteenth-century observers. While on the one hand he stood for everything Protestants hated and feared about Catholicism – extreme asceticism, outré visions and slavish subordination to authority – on the other there was much to admire. The eccentric who licked beggars’ sores was also a tough-minded manly Christian; a spiritual general who, in founding the Society of Jesus in the sixteenth century, provided a potential blueprint for later leaders. Love him or loathe him, commentators found him impossible to ignore, especially in describing religious men of action: John Wesley, John Nelson Darby and William Booth were all referred to as ‘Protestant Loyolas’. This essay argues that the ambivalence surrounding Loyola bespeaks Protestant ambivalence about Catholic saints and their legends. Once one had disentangled facts from the fables, what was left? Were such figures made by divine agency, or were they the just quirky personalities, products of a particular time and place (in this case, Spain’s Golden Age)? Were they to be dismissed as madmen or praised for their self-denial and fortitude? While Loyola continued to appear in ‘traditional’ guise among Catholics, he also fascinated scholars keen to get to the bottom of what made charismatic religious leaders.
While historians of early modern Britain have long noted the ubiquity of Old Testament typology in religious-political discourse, its enduring potency thereafter has received much less attention. In part this is because of the flexibility of such rhetoric, for while posing as a ‘new Israel’ worked for embattled states like sixteenth-century England, this was not the only rhetorical option available; nor was it always the most apposite comparison, especially in the era of British global hegemony. This chapter argues that maritime imperial expansion lent particular weight to one set of passages, those concerning ancient seagoing Tyre and Tarshish. What they stood for was seldom stable: they were read prophetically, as literally presaging Britain’s current greatness; typologically, as warnings against the besetting sins of commercial greed and pride; and moralistically, as examples of the problems caused by imperial overstretch. I seek to show that British people in the nineteenth century continued to map the world and their place in it in biblical terms, to an extent that has sometimes been underplayed. What that meant, however, was increasingly open to interpretation.
Chosen peoples demonstrates how biblical themes, ideas and metaphors shaped narratives of racial, national and imperial identity in the long nineteenth century. Even and indeed especially amid spreading secularism, the development of professionalised science and the proclamation of ‘modernity’, biblical notions of lineage, descent and inheritance continued to inform understandings of race, nation and character at every level from the popular to the academic. Although new ideas and discoveries were challenging the historicity of the Bible, even markedly secular thinkers chose to explain their complex and radical ideas through biblical analogy. Denizens of the seething industrial cities of America and Europe championed or criticised them as New Jerusalems and Modern Babylons, while modern nation states were contrasted with or likened to Egypt, Greece and Israel. Imperial expansion prompted people to draw scriptural parallels, as European settler movements portrayed ‘new’ territories across the seas as lands of Canaan. Yet such language did not just travel in one direction. If many colonised and conquered peoples resisted the imposition of biblical narratives, they also appropriated biblical tropes to their own ends. These original case studies, by emerging and established scholars, throw new light on familiar areas such as slavery, colonialism and the missionary project, while opening up exciting cross-comparisons between race, identity and the politics of biblical translation and interpretation in South Africa, Egypt, Australia, America and Ireland. The book will be essential reading for academic, graduate and undergraduate readers in empire, race and global religion in the long nineteenth century.
The introduction begins by positioning the volume in relation to current debates and developments in a number of related fields: religious history, biblical studies, postcolonialism, literary studies, imperial history and histories of scholarship and the book. Making a claim for the centrality of biblical narratives to the shaping of modern notions of race, nation and empire in the nineteenth century, the introduction discusses some of the reasons why this aspect has been downplayed in accounts of ‘scientific racism’ on one hand and the emergence of European empires on the other. Introducing the two interlinked sections of the book, we stress the importance of biblical ideas of exile, peoples and ‘lands’ to notions of identity and belonging in a variety of nineteenth-century contexts. Furthermore, we explore the explosion of textual transmission and translation in the period, which allowed these tropes and themes to be transmitted across global networks of transport, power and print.