12 March 2010

Church Dedications

Interest has been shown in this question after my last post, which concerned the large percentage of churches in England dedicated to our Lady.

As a footnote, I draw attention to English Church Dedications by Nicholas Orme (Exeter, 1996). Orme regretfully pointed out that Frances Arnold-Foster was to all intents and purposes useless as far as medieval evidence is concerned, since she relied upon what, in 1899, were regarded as the dedications of English churches and did absolutely no research. Later writers were little better. In fact, Orme's research in medieval sources demonstrated that a very high percentage of such dedications were invented by Georgian antiquaries or Victorian High Churchmen. Earlier writers were unaware of this, and equally unaware that so great were the discontinuities of the English Reformation that pretty well everywhere the dedications were forgotten very soon after the sixteenth century ruptures. Exceptions occurred in towns, where a plurality of churches meant that people had to retain some way of distinguishing each one; and where, in the countryside, two villages needed to distinguish themselves (Snoring S Cosmas; Snoring S Damian).

Thus, in Devon, I had seven village churches. Of these seven, one retained the dedication it can be shown to have had in the Middle Ages. One is now known to have been dedicated to S Andrew, but was assigned in 1742 to S Mary, probably on the ground that the parish fair happened close to February 2. The other five churches have completely lost their original dedications, and the ones they now enjoy are post-medieval conjectures.

That Andrew dedication is interesting. Saxon and Norman bishops going round consecrating unconsecrated churches (a lot of this happened in the twelfth century) worked from books descended lineally from those brought here in the Saxon period, and were marked with a preference for the Saint to whom S Gregory and the Augustinian Mission had been so devoted. So the comparative popularity of S Andrew is yet another indication of the profound Romanita of Saxon England.


Anybody with an academic interest in the assertions I make in my last paragraph will find the evidence in the (fairly) new HBS edition of Leofric.


stjudeschurch said...

The Church of Our Lady Seaton Delaval is an example of a Church of England parish church with the traditional dedication.


GOR said...

Father, any thoughts on why, as you noted earlier, churches of Anglo-Irish tradition tend to be dedicated to “Our Lady”, while English ones favor “St. Mary”. Upon doing a peremptory Google search of churches named “St. Mary’s” in Ireland, I find that most appear to be Church of Ireland.

I’m wondering if this perhaps comes from an Irish Catholic perception that calling Our Lady merely ‘Saint’ Mary was somehow viewed as a demotion and perhaps a ‘Protestant’ influence- given that She is above all the saints and we were frequently accused of ‘overdoing it’ in devotion to Our Lady.

The Irish parish church of my youth was the Church of the Assumption, but the parish hall was called ‘St. Mary’s Hall’. Somehow, I never associated the ‘Mary’ in the hall’s name with Our Lady. I always assumed it referred to another Mary – like Mary Magdalen!

Joshua said...

Of course, the BCP once refers to St Mary the Virgin as "Our Lady" - see the table of Lessons Proper for Holy-Days, which includes those for the "Annunciation of Our Lady".

In the earlier days of the Oxford Revival, this was a useful proof-text for those arguing that the C. of E. named the Blessed Virgin Mary "Our Lady", just like those dreadful Papists.

motuproprio said...

Father, do you know whether the designations 'Lady Chapel' or 'Lady Altar' for a side chapel was a 19th century High Church invention, or whether its revival follows pre-Reformation practice?
St Mary's Church, Lewisham, in south east London is of Saxon origin, and the adjacent area is known as Ladywell after a local holy well; not documentary proof, but highly suggestive of the persistence of the dedication.

Joshua said...

Yes, that is an interesting point - if I did a Doctor Who and travelled back to 1700 or 1800, would I find a Lady Chapel in any Anglican church?

I recall a nice old dear at the local Anglican church (she painted my portrait for an exhibition - a pity it was both accurate and appalling): she did the flowers with another lady there; but the artist was Low while her friend was High (as was the church), so when they came to the Lady Chapel, she would say to her friend, "Let's do the flowers for Your Lady".