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Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Extract

In this extract Duffy looks at the physical evidence, as recorded by Sir Christopher, for veneration of the Virgin Mary in the years leading up to, and beyond, Henry VIII’s break with Rome.

The image of the Virgin was a special focus for piety in later medieval England, and appealed particularly to women. The language of that entry in the High Warden’s accounts for 1529, in which the statue features as an executor along with them, suggests a distinctive devotional personalising of the image, and a special sense of clientage to the Virgin on Joan Rumbelow’s part. The phrasing may well be the priest’s, but Sir Christopher was not falsifying the devotional intent: the symbolic force of gifts of kerchiefs, girdles, beads and gowns conveyed much the same sense of intimacy, as do bequests for flowers and lights to burn before specified images between first vespers and mass – that is, all night long – on feast-days. Together, they alert us to the special importance of the cult of images in the symbolic fabric of early Tudor Morebath’s religion. That importance found expression in expensive campaigns of replacement and renewal of the church’s imagery up to the very moment of Reformation: the new statue of the Blessed Virgin, commissioned in 1529, delivered to the church in 1531 and gilded in 1532,1 ‘a nimage of the nativite of our Ladye with her purtenes (appurtenances)’ in 1530,2 a new tabernacle for St Sunday the same year,3 the regilding of St Loy, the erection of new candle brackets before St Sunday and St George, and the commissioning of a new carving of St George in 1531, the gilding of our Lady’s tabernacle and of the other image of Our Lady of Pity in 1533,4 a new High Cross or crucifix over the entrance to the chancel, with Mary and John on either side, commissioned in 1535 and worked at for the next two years,5 a new ceiling of honour over St Sidwell’s altar in 1537 to stop drips from the tiling ‘to the saving of auter clotwhys’.6

Eamon Duffy The Voices of Morebath: Reformation and Rebellion in an English Village (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2001) pp. 76-7.


156 Binney 10/Ms 174; 32/Ms 354; 17/Ms 360.

257 Binney 16/Ms 332.

358 Binney 18/Ms 334.

459 Binney 52/Ms 76.

560 Binney 70/219; 94/104.

661 Binney 26/Ms 349.

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