Altars Restored

Altars Restored: The Changing Face of English Religious Worship, 1547–c.1700 by Kenneth Fincham and Nicholas Tyacke (OUP, 2007, 2010). £96 for 440 page hardback.

This excellent book looks closely at the remodelling of English religious worship by Charles I and William Laud in the context of the English Reformation more widely. More specifically, it examines the changing face of church services under the Laudian regime and the reintroduction of altars after they had been stripped and removed under Edward VI. The seemingly trivial debates about positioning, orientation, fabric, and name of this piece of church furniture are shown to be of crucial importance in understanding the very different conceptions of religion which operated (and still do operate) within the Church of England. Neatly combining local stories (of cathedrals, colleges, and ordinary parishes) with the wider narrative of national church politics over a century and a half, Fincham and Tyacke provide both scale and colour in their account of the to and fro of the ‘Long Reformation’, and show where movements of ritualism and so-called ‘beautification’ led.

This is a major contribution to Reformation studies, and a fantastic way in to the everyday dramas of this formative period with its battles over the sanctity of church buildings and particular areas within them. It also helpfully illuminates the ambivalences of many church interiors today, which often contain both puritan and Laudian elements. It is, however, far too expensive to make the impact that it deserves to make and we hope that OUP will quickly see the need and potential for a more inexpensive paperback edition of what is sure to be a standard work on the subject for many years to come. Surprisingly, it is not a very lavishly illustrated book, and some of the pictures are far too dark and dingy, though perhaps this is an ironic complaint in a more puritan-leaning journal such as this!

This review first appeared in Churchman 126.2 (2012).

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