De imago to word

The exile of the dead from parish symbolism in Reformation England

Authored by: Lacy K. Crocker Papadakis

The Routledge Handbook of Death and the Afterlife

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138682160
eBook ISBN: 9781315545349
Adobe ISBN:


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This chapter explores the place of the dead in parish life in sixteenth-century England as the religious scene transitioned its primary medium of communicating religious beliefs de imago to word. In this chapter, I argue that this transition in medium distanced the dead from parish life. I construct this argument by focusing on the removal of art forms and symbolism that relate to the Passion of Christ, Mary, and the saints. I further analyze the place of death for the individual parishioner through the use of the bede-roll, the prayers for the soul, and the eventual silencing of these prayers during the English Reformation. I chart the transitions from art to word by analyzing the records of the churchwardens from St. Mary’s Church in Mildenhall in Suffolk, England, dated from 1503–1553. I additionally draw upon Protestant writings of the period (including writings by Bishop and reformer John Hooper, writings addressed to Elizabeth I, and Certain Sermons or Homilies Appointed to Be Read in Churches in the Time of Queen Elizabeth of Famous Memory) that elucidate the theological impetus for the removal of art and the cessation of certain religious practices. I synthesize how these theological beliefs altered the place of the dead both visually and doctrinally in parish life in sixteenth-century England. This synthesis shows a distancing from Christ’s death, a sharper distinction between the living and the dead, and a contraction of the corporate church’s size as the dead were exiled to the afterlife and were removed from the practices of the corporate church.

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