through their itinerancy, as did Moravians or Herrnhutters. But most sermons were held at prescribed times in fixed locations by established clergymen.
Year in, year out, the message of the gospel was broadcast to urban or rural congregations of varying size, gender, profession, and social standing. Social distinctions were significant, perhaps even more so in this period than before. The French priest who addressed one audience as mes sœurs but felt compelled to address another as mesdames is not atypical. In the commercial, bourgeois society of western Europe it was also not unusual to find an audience of highly educated lawyers, magistrates, politicians and academics, such as the Rolls Chapel in London where Joseph Butler (1692-1752) preached as a young man, or the Walloon church at Utrecht where eloquent speakers addressed Francophone high society. The court sermon was an exclusive event, the forum ofthe most articulate and the best paid sermonizers, where dignitaries, despite the protocol, might send their servants to occupy the best pews in advance. At Versailles seats were kept warm from six in the morning when it was known that theJesuit Bourdaloue would preach in the afternoon. A charismatic individual and boundlessly popular sermonizer like George Whitefield (171470) attracted larger crowds, stemming mainly from the lower middle class, and reached an even greater audience through advertisements and press coverage in newspapers.1 The role of listeners before, during, and after the sermon ranged from active participation to passive consumption. There were those who cried out, quaked and fell prostrate, those who read newspapers and those who slept throughout. Inner compulsion and social obligation were obvious reasons for attending a sermon. In this age of perfumes and periwigs, sermon attendance might just as well be an excuse to flirt with an eligible marriage partner, or show off a new dress in the latest fashion, or simply hear the recent news. Good sermons were 'info-tainment', early modern style; an excellent preacher was as worthwhile a visit as a celebrated actor at the theatre. It was said in England in the 1740s that 'those who had not heard Farinelli sing and Foster preach, were not qualified to appear in genteel society'.2
Sermons were held in the mornings, in the afternoons and sometimes in the evenings, usually every Sunday, and on the festive days as well. Extraordinary sermons held during Advent and Lent and missionary sermons were specific to the Catholic world; occasional sermons, on the other hand, were an ecumenical enterprise. Occasions for holding sermons included official celebrations, the jubilees of princely rulers, days of lamentation, the commencement of a war or the signing of a peace treaty. Epidemics, scarcities, natural disasters, fires and omens in the heavens (the latter less frequently as time went on) were all interpreted in sermons. A major catastrophe such as the Lisbon earthquake
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