Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547-c.1700

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Altars are powerful symbols, fraught with meaning, but during the early modern period they became a religious battleground. Attacked by reformers in the mid-sixteenth century because of their allegedly idolatrous associations with the Catholic sacrifice of the mass, a hundred years later they served to divide Protestants due to their re-introduction by Archbishop Laud and his associates as part of a counter-reforming programme. Moreover, having subsequently been removed by the victorious puritans, they gradually came back after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. This book explores these developments, over a 150 year period, and recaptures the experience of the ordinary parishioner in this crucial period of religious change. Far from being the passive recipients of changes imposed from above, the laity are revealed as actively engaged from the early days of the Reformation, as zealous iconoclasts or their Catholic opponents - a division later translated into competing protestant views. Altars Restored integrates the worlds of theological debate, church politics and government, and parish practice and belief, which are often studied in isolation from one another. It draws from hitherto largely untapped sources, notably the surviving artefactual evidence comprising communion tables and rails, fonts, images in stained glass, paintings and plates, and examines the riches of local parish records - especially churchwardens' accounts. The result is a richly textured study of religious change at both local and national level.