Wednesday, 6 June 2012

English Piety

© Godric Godricson
  "....loathsome carcase is afterwards laid in the grave. In which action, for the most part, the dead bury the dead; that is, they who are dead in sin, bury them who are dead for sin. And thus the godless and unregenerated worldling, who made earth his paradise, his belly his god, his lust his law; as in his life he sowed vanity, so he is now dead, and reapeth misery. In his prosperity he neglected to serve God: in his adversity God refuses to save him; and the devil, whom he long  served, now at length pays him his wages. Detestable was his life, damnable is his death. The devil has his soul, the grave has his carcase: in which pit of corruption, den of death, and dungeon of sorrow, let us leave the miserable sinner, rotting with his mouth full of earth, his belly full of worms, and his carcase full of stench; expecting a fearful resurrection, when the body shall be reunited with the soul; that as they sinned together, so they may be eternally tormented together."

© Godric Godricson
This posting is about an earthy and quite English understanding of piety understood in the villages and on the Manors of England.  In modern times we can understand that England is not the most religious nation although in the past England was, indeed,  a most pious and religious nation. The Catholicism of England was never questioned and this faith shone forth to other nations with England being the mother nation of the Church in Norway. Piety may have been displayed on Earth in 'good works' although piety was also shown in the respect and duty owed to the dead. Even after the large scale eradication of Catholicism in the 16th Century, in an allegedly Protestant age, we find that King Charles was created King Charles the Martyr and even Saint Charles Stuart, the only saint to be officially canonised within the Church of England, The influence of  Saint Charles Stuart is evident further away as Anglican influence grew. The cult of Charles is an example of 'homespun piety' where a King could be acclaimed as a Saint without reference to the Vatican. English Piety is clear, evident and robust.

© Godric Godricson
Parish Churches witness many examples of native piety from depictions of the saints before the High Altar to numerous wall paintings. The English were clearly hungry for religious art and continued to enjoy such art (in a subdued sort of way) throughout East Anglia into the modern age when it had once more become acceptable to worship in the presence of icons and even statues in Churches. The reforms of the High Church of England over the last 150 years were widespread and the reward of this movement is the contemporary public reaction to religious art. On one level art is simply art although on another level art is an indication of religious observance and piety. Depictions of the saints evidence an artistic piety. The English clearly had a traditional understanding of the Saints and a desire for Saintly imagery, We need only (metaphorically)  scratch the surface of old walls before the medieval pictures come to the surface ready for the whitewash to be taken away.
 
© Godric Godricson
The English instinctively sense a cultic site for the family. We repeatedly witness the family being buried in the same space over time as landowning families sought eternity and possession of worldly domain. The parish Church became a space for reconciliation where we all met again in decomposition. Cultic centres developed and piety comes to the fore as an idea . The headstones and monuments repeatedly have Biblical quotations and we have exhortations to a Godly life. In death we witness the English laid to rest and in a pious manner even if they didn't live in that way. The English have a traditional piety when it comes to a veneration of the Virgin Mary. Modern English people have turned away from this aspect of folk religion although some still hold onto that faith even in the 21st century,


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