Hybrid Lecture: ‘The Concealment of Sacred Objects during The English Reformation: Evidence of Piety or Protest’, Bruce Watson FSA,1st March 2022, 13:00-14:00 (GMT)

One aspect of the English Reformation (1533-53) was a dramatic change of doctrine from Roman Catholic to the Protestant, which involved an attack on ‘traditional religion’, statues were forbidden, the celebration of Mass was banned and finally, all the redundant liturgical goods and vestments were confiscated by the Crown. To what degree were these changes of doctrine welcomed or opposed by the clergy and general population? One overlooked source of information is the evidence for the deliberate concealment of banned goods including censers, crucifixions, saints’ relics and statues. Often these objects were concealed within or adjoining the churches where they had probably been used, but sometimes material was concealed further afield. We only know of this practice due to a handful of historical references and the accidental rediscovery of this material centuries later often during church restoration. Objects were buried under church floors, outside in burial grounds, or walled up inside internal cavities like redundant niches for statues. I started to research this topic some years ago and quickly realised that the concealment of religious objects during the Reformation was an overlooked phenomenon.

The late Margaret Aston in Broken Idols of the English Reformation (2016, p.219) wrote that: ‘the archaeology of concealment [during the Reformation] is a subject that awaits proper investigation’. Often examples of the concealment of objects has not been recognised or properly documented. What interests me is the motivation of those involved, they were disobeying the Crown and risked punishment. Were they pious individuals who that hoped if doctrine changed (as it did the Marian Catholic revival of 1553-58, then this material could be retrieved and reused – this did happen) or were they simply protesting against the theft of their parish’s property by the avaricious, but cash-strapped Crown? Remember these people had recently witnessed the state-sponsored looting of the monasteries and the chantries, so in 1552 when the Crown ordered the compilation of a second inventory of English parish church goods, there was good reason to be concerned.

A short article on this subject entitled: ‘How a passion for toppling statues was subverted’ was published by the author in British Archaeol (no 177, p.10-11) in 2021.

Attendance at Burlington House:

  • Open to anyone to join, Fellows and Non-Fellows.
  • Registration is essential.
  • Places in person will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • The event will begin at 13.00 GMT. Please arrive in plenty of time.
  • All attendees should scan the NHS QR code available at the entrance. For further details on the Government guidelines regarding COVID-19 and track and trace please visit their website here.

Attendance by Live Stream:

  • Open to anyone to join, Fellows and Non-Fellows.
  • The event will be live-streamed to YouTube here
  • The event will begin at 13.00 GMT.
  • You will receive an email reminder with the link to join the day before the lecture.

Please help the Society continue to deliver our FREE online Lecture Programme by making a donation to cover the cost of upgraded IT and software. We would really appreciate your support. Thank you! 

If you have any questions please contact us on communications@sal.org.uk

Book your tickets here.


Published by Ellie Wilson

Ellie Wilson holds a First Class Honours in the History of Art from the University of Bristol, with a particular focus on Medieval Florence. In 2020 she achieved a Distinction in her MA at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialised in the art and architecture of Medieval England under the supervision of Dr Tom Nickson. Her dissertation focussed on an alabaster altarpiece, and its relationship with the cult of St Thomas Becket in France and the Chartreuse de Vauvert. Her current research focusses on the artistic patronage of London’s Livery Companies immediately pre and post-Reformation. Ellie will begin a PhD at the University of York in Autumn 2021 with a WRoCAH studentship, under the supervision of Professor Tim Ayers and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: