Reformation and reform
In 1534, Henry VIII severed ties between the English Church and Rome. This was an overtly political move as part of his wider European foreign policy, but the implications for the Church in England were immediate and devastating.
'The English landscape was thus altered forever, as abbeys, nunneries and monasteries were reduced to rubble.'
Henry badly needed cash to fund his wars with France, and to achieve his aims he ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries, calling for their lands to be seized and sold into private hands. Within a decade, the entire monastic community had been dismantled, with monks and nuns ejected from the closed world of their institutions.
The English landscape was thus altered forever, as abbeys, nunneries and monasteries were reduced to rubble. A large amount of building material was recycled in new secular buildings, and a few houses were converted into domestic dwellings. However most were left to the elements to survive only as ruins.
The Church was also under attack by religious reformers, pushing for a Protestant Reformation that would change the way people worshipped. They, too, gradually prevailed, and the consequent liturgical changes, and re-interpretation of the relationship between the congregation and the priest, radically altered the use of space within churches. The lavish ornamentation that was a feature of pre-Reformation churches was comprehensively destroyed, along with its symbolism. It is still possible to see the physical scars of this process within today’s churches.
Such momentous events raise important questions. What was it all for? And what were the consequences for the Church, for Britain and for the British people?