A Puritan Chapel in my village – How did that come about?
“Those who appear the most sanctified are the worst.” ~ Unknown
Mmm.. I’m not too sure about that sweeping statement, though history often confirms this.
On impulse during a walk down to the village this weekend, I had the idea to visit and pay homage to our tiny Puritan chapel. I’ve visited before, but like a lot of things it’s something I take for granted, which is unfortunate because it’s a hidden gem that deserves to be admired and appreciated.
You would never know it was there, turn the corner (more like a bend) and hidden behind the little stone bus shelter, is a tiny stone building dating from 1649.
In March 1962 during high winds of gale proportion, a beech tree crashed through the roof and damaged the belfry.
The chapel now owned and maintained by the Parish council, is normally open to the public on Sunday afternoons, but during my visit this weekend it was closed, which has meant I’m unable to use/show my own photos of the interior. The ones below from Ollievision show the chapel interior to be much lighter than it actually is. In reality it’s darker than shown here.
So how did it come about that we have an old Puritan chapel hiding in our village?
It all began with Henry VIII, his six wives and the creation of a protestant religion now known as ‘The Church of England’ but he’s been well documented so I’ll skip him and move on to his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth and beyond.
Queen Mary l (also known as bloody Mary) was the first child of Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. Elizabeth l was the second child of Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn.
How and why was the Puritan movement established? In order to find out we need to learn a little more of English history and I’ve covered it by using extracts from a very informative leaflet issued by our village parish council.
Oliver Cromwell was a Puritan and the story of the Puritan movement on this blog starts with him in 1640. However, the story really began much earlier with Mary and Elizabeth, but for the purpose of my article I am beginning at the end!
The Rise of the Puritans
“Cromwell was a highly religious man who believed that everybody should lead their lives according to what was written in the Bible. The word ‘Puritan’ means that followers had a pure soul and lived a good life. Cromwell believed that everybody else in England should follow his example.
One of the main beliefs of the Puritans was that if you worked hard, you would get to Heaven. Pointless enjoyment was frowned upon and Cromwell shut many inns and the theatres were all closed down. Most sports were banned. Boys caught playing football on a Sunday could be whipped as a punishment and swearing was punished by a fine, though those who kept swearing could be sent to prison.
Sunday became a very special day under the Puritans. Most forms of work were banned. Women caught doing unnecessary work on the Holy Day could be put in the stocks. Simply going for a Sunday walk (unless it was to church) could lead to a hefty fine.
To keep the population’s mind on religion, instead of having feast days to celebrate the saints (as had been common in Medieval England), one day in every month was a fast day – you did not eat all day.
Oliver Cromwell believed that women and girls should dress in a proper manner. Make-up was banned. Puritan leaders and soldiers would roam the streets of towns and scrub off any make-up found on unsuspecting women. A Puritan lady would wear a long black dress that covered her almost from neck to toes. She would wear a white apron and her hair would be bunched up behind a white head-dress. Puritan men wore black clothes and had short hair.
Cromwell banned Christmas as people would have known it then. By the 17th Century Christmas had become a holiday of celebration and enjoyment – especially after the problems caused by the civil war. Cromwell wanted it returned to a religious celebration where people thought about the birth of Jesus rather than ate and drank too much. In London, soldiers were ordered to go round the streets and take, by force if necessary, any food being cooked for a Christmas celebration. The smell of a goose being cooked could bring trouble. Traditional Christmas decorations like holly were banned.
Back to 1558 and Elizabeth I becomes Queen of England.
“Elizabeth became Queen of England in November 1558 after the death of her sister Mary.
Mary’s persecution of the Protestants had done much damage to the standing of Catholicism in England and the number of Protestants in the country was steadily increasing, and when Elizabeth came to the throne, she started to reverse the stance that Mary had taken.
Although Elizabeth had adhered to the Catholic faith during her sister’s reign, she had been raised a Protestant and was committed to that faith.”
“Elizabeth I re-established Protestantism as England’s official religion but some Protestants thought that the church was still too much like the Roman Catholic Church and these people became known as ‘Puritans’. The Puritans disliked a number of things with church services, such as, ministers wearing surplices; people kneeling whilst taking Communion; ornaments, paintings and stained glass windows; organ music and the celebration of Saints’ days. The Puritans also disliked the power and influence that the Bishops exercised over the Church and they felt that the people who attended the church services should have a say in the appointment of church ministers.
Elizabeth I resisted these changes as she saw the Puritans as a threat to the Monarchy, fearing that Puritans who complained about the wealth and influence of Bishops would one day say the same about the Sovereign.”
A new King – James I of England
“In 1603, Elizabeth I of England died and as she had never married and had no children, the nearest in line to the English throne was James VI of Scotland and so he became James I of England and James VI of Scotland. At this time the Puritans were happy, thinking that under his rule many of the reforms that they favoured which he had introduced in Scotland would now be introduced in England. However, it soon became clear that James intended to continue with Elizabeth’s religious policies.”
Another King – Charles I of England
“King James I died in 1625 and was succeeded by his son Charles I. Charles was a very religious man and liked Church services to be very grand and full of ritual and colour. This was to lead to a clash with many in England who preferred plain and simple services. In December 1634, Charles became the first English monarch since the Reformation to receive an emissary from the Pope.
In 1640 Oliver Cromwell was elected to Parliament for the second time. He openly criticised Charles taxes and the level of corruption in the Church of England. Charles was extremely unpopular and across the country people declared themselves for Parliament and against Popery. King Charles was tried for treason by a High Court of Justice specially set up for the trial. The court found Charles guilty and sentenced him to death and on 30th January 1649 he was executed by beheading. He was buried in St George’s Chapel, Windsor. ”
More about Oliver Cromwell.
“Oliver Cromwell remains one of our most famous characters in history. From 1649 to 1653, Parliament ran England but from Cromwell’s point of view, it was not a system that worked effectively and England, as a nation was suffering. As a result, Cromwell sent home MP’s and he became the effective leader of England from 1653 to 1658.
He was the man who really pushed for the execution of Charles I as he believed that Charles would never change his ways and that he would continue to be a source of trouble until he died. Cromwell’s signature is one of the easiest to make out on the death warrant of Charles; it is third on the list of signatures.”
By the end of his life, both Cromwell and the 11 major-generals who helped to run the country, had become hated people. The population was tired of having strict rules forced onto them. Cromwell died in September 1658. His coffin was escorted by over 30,000 soldiers as it was taken to Westminster Abbey where he was buried.”
It’s 1660 Charles II becomes King of England
“Charles II was asked to return to become king of England. One of Charles’ first orders was that Cromwell’s body should be dug up and put on ‘trial’ as a traitor and regicide. His body was put on trial, found guilty and symbolically hanged from a gallows at Tyburn (near Hyde Park, London). What was left of his body remains a mystery. Some say the body was thrown on to a rubbish tip while others say it was buried beneath the gallows at Tyburn. His head was put on display in London for many years to come!” ~ Parish Council
Footnote: Grateful thanks to Bramhope and Carlton Parish Council for putting the fascinating leaflet into the public domain, parts of which I’ve reproduced in this post.
Killing two birds with one stone – this article was written in response to the daily word-prompt ‘Homage‘ and linked to photo challenge (my own photos) ‘Corner‘
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