BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

18 September 2014
Accessibility help
Church and State

BBC Homepage

Contact Us

Towards the Floodgates of Religious Reform

By Carol Davidson Cragoe
Edwardian reform

Image of Edward VI in feathered hat and fur
Edward VI, architect of Protestant reform ©
When Henry’s young son, Edward VI (reigned 1547-53), came to the throne, he was unlike his father in that he was a true Protestant, who wanted to bring the English church into line with his beliefs. The consequent Edwardian destruction of symbols of popery resulted in the further desecration of shrines and relics, and the destruction of images across the country. The results can be seen in the architecture that surrounds us today.

The boy king ordered changes to the English church that were far more radical than anything his father had ever envisaged. They would leave churches plain, silent, and virtually unrecognisable as the same buildings which had once housed the vibrant ‘machines for worship’ of the late Middle Ages.

In 1547, all chantries were suppressed. At York Minster, for instance, there had been about 50 chantries centred on the altars in the side chapels around the church, but after 1547 the services at these altars ceased.

'Any remaining ornaments set with gold, silver and jewels were seized.'

Previously the Minster had been alive with the sound of a constant round of masses and prayers, but now worship was solely focused on a reduced liturgy in the choir. These services would not have been attended by lay people, who continued to worship in their local parish churches.

The Minster’s nave stood empty and unused as there were no longer any shrines to attract pilgrims. A similar pattern of silence embraced cathedrals across the land.

Any remaining ornaments set with gold, silver and jewels were seized. The great rood, the focus of lay devotion, was destroyed. The young king also seized vestments, as these were silk, embroidered with precious metals and stones. The final blow came in 1554, when biblical texts such as the Ten Commandments were required to be painted above the High Altar in place of the old images of saints that had once aided devotional worship.

'The other major change instituted by Edward was the translation of the liturgy into English ...'

The other major change instituted by Edward was the translation of the liturgy into English as the Book of Common Prayer. The medieval Latin liturgy had been understood only by a few, thus increasing the sense of the service as a secret, holy mystery performed by a specially ordained priest.

This was totally against the Protestant belief that individuals could communicate directly with God without the intervention of the priest. So, in the new Anglican Church, an English liturgy meant that everyone could participate fully in the services.

Published: 2005-02-04

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy