Defacing the Mass

Missals were books containing the texts used in the Catholic Mass throughout the year. This is an example of the Sarum Use (a rite originating in Salisbury, which predominated throughout southern England). At first, the Mass survived Henry VIII’s Reformation, but Convocation’s attack on purgatory and the cult of the saints affected both the text and the practice of ritual. In 1538, the cult of St Thomas Becket of Canterbury, who had stood up to a king of England on grounds of religion, was denounced. His feast was abolished and his name crossed out or erased from service books. Here, in the Temporale, the Mass for St Thomas Becket has been obliterated with red dye. With the moving effect of time, the initial letters in gilded white shine through, as a suppressed memory from before the Reformation. A note elsewhere in the manuscript shows that the missal was in the church of St John the Baptist, Bromsgrove, when the defacements and alterations were made. It may be that the iconoclastic influence of Hugh Latimer in that diocese as Bishop of Worcester is in evidence, although it is also possible that the parish priest was simply obedient and learned enough to do the job with unusual vigour. BC

Sarum Missal (mid-fifteenth century)

CUL: MS Add. 6688, fo. 28v

Further Reading

Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England, 1400-1580, 2nd Edition (New Haven and London, 2005), 342-60.

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