Irish peasants from placing rosaries on the corpses of young girls believed to have lived a life of special piety,21 any more than it could stop villagers in West Africa from hanging them, like so many charms to ward off evil, on the walls of their homes.22

To assume that the changes in devotional taste and practice which characterised the Catholic Revival stemmed from the Vatican is to credit the Catholic Church with a degree of power no human organisation could conceivably possess. Instead of instigating devotional change, the Vatican appears rather to have struggled to keep up with the veritable explosion of new forms of piety which were brought to its attention by bishops and priests from around the globe, attempting where possible to weed out the doctrinally suspect from the doctrinally irreproachable - not always with conspicuous success - but always with the hope of pleasing, and thus retaining, as many of the faithful as possible.

Why so many novel devotions, all jostling for attention and official approval, should have flooded the Catholic market during the latter half of the nineteenth century is a question which has yet to be satisfactorily accounted for by historians. The phenomenon may have had something to do with the world having become 'smaller' through railway travel, lower publishing costs, and the mass manufacture and export of inexpensive devotional kitsch, so that devotees became more eclectic in their tastes, adding selected foreign devotions to their own, more traditional, favourites. It undoubtedly also had something to do with the sharp increase in interdenominational competition, a change which appears to have been sparked by early nineteenth-century missionary endeavours overseas, but was sustained, from about the middle ofthe century, through the widespread use of revivalist techniques at home, among Protestants and Catholics alike.23

Above all, changes in the tone of Catholic devotion and worship in the nineteenth century seem to have been due to the spread of a new mood of devotional inclusiveness which was as much spiritual as it was pragmatic in its aims. Perhaps the most striking feature of this new piety was the degree to which it not only allowed, but positively encouraged, uneducated lay

21 Gilley, 'Vulgar piety and the Brompton Oratory', p. 20.

22 Hastings, African Catholicism, p. 77.

23 On nineteenth-century British evangelicalism, see especially: David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in modern Britain: a history from the 173 os to the 1980s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989); Richard Carwardine, Trans-Atlantic revivalism: popular evangelicalism in Britain and America, 1790-1865 (Westport and London: Greenwood Press, 1978); John Kent, Holding the fort: studies in Victorian revivalism (London: Epworth Press, 1978).

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment