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Eamon Duffy, The Voices of Morebath: Commentary

What Happens in this Passage?

There is evidence of special devotion to the Virgin Mary in late medieval England which can be supported from the evidence for Morebath. The High Warden’s accounts show that a statue of the Virgin was named as an executor, and was presented with many intimate gifts as well as devotional services. Images of the Virgin and other associated aspects of the fabric of church buildings, such as candle brackets and tabernacles, continued to be bought, erected or repaired, well into the 1530s, the period of the Henrician Reformation.


Duffy is here making a simple point, that the people of Morebath retained a special devotion to the Virgin Mary, but he makes it by piling on lots of reference to the evidence. Indeed, there is relatively little of Duffy’s own argument in this passage; most of it is taken up with a list of the various artefacts mentioned in Sir Christopher’s accounts which relate to veneration of the Virgin Mary. Duffy points to the importance of the language Sir Christopher uses and acknowledges that it might distort the significance of the objects he records – ‘the phrasing may well be the priest’s’ – but he says that the significance of the actual gifts made to the statue of the Virgin Mary is clear, regardless of Sir Christopher’s phrasing. After outlining the gifts in the first paragraph, Duffy then brings in other examples of Marian iconography, either newly made, restored or repaired. This answers any objection that might be made to the effect that he is making too much of devotion to one particular statue.

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