Yesterday evening, I went to the village of Bradbourne, to talk about ‘what the Reformation ever did for Bradbourne’ as part of the 500 Reformations project. It was my first visit to the village, and I’d like to go back: Apart from anything else, I arrived and left in the hours of darkness and have yet to see the wall painting which provided the local jumping off point to my talk. Also, my co-speaker and I had a warm reception from an audience of 38 people and a dog. That’s about a third of Bradbourne’s population.* It was a full house.
How did I come to be talking Reformation in this small Peaks village? –Well, the invitation arose from the interdisciplinary MA module I’m convening this semester. The official focus is early modern studies, but to improve the cohesiveness we added an additional thread: each session should have some kind of local connection. To make sense of that across different themes and disciplines, we’ve had to operate a pretty loose definition of local.
And our Reformations session began with Bradbourne, where several Sheffield archaeologists carried out excavations in the early summers of this millennium. It takes time (and money) to figure out, write up, and publish findings from such work. Tangential to the main research, John Moreland has continued to explore what is known (and what can be known) about the destruction of the village’s Anglo Saxon cross—the remaining pieces of which have since been reassembled in the church yard (ca. 1947).
In the 18th century, a piece of the cross that had been incorporated into the foundations of the church porch was misidentified as Roman remains. Yet the more probable explanation for the cross’s destruction was some phase of Reformation iconoclasm. John has drawn together a considerable body of evidence pointing toward the most likely occasion of its destruction. Drawing on some 19th century discoveries, chronicled in a 1940s journal article, and partially extant inside the church, I was able to apply my own expertise in early modern bibles to support John’s hypothesis.
I particularly delighted in the opportunity to share a few words from Thomas Becon, whose fictional “friend” Philemon ventured “into the Peke”, encountering in the neighbouring village of Alsop-en-le-Dale one Lord Alsop, in possession of a well-thumbed Coverdale New Testament. This was a text I came across inadvertently while considering the challenge of categorising texts in Early English Books Online as part of my Linguistic DNA work. I continue to revel in Becon’s witty script, and am pleased that colleagues agreed to attempt a live reading of some sections as another 500 Reformations event in 2018. Here’s a tiny taster:
The Q&A outed a Bangor biblical scholar who made a useful point about how exile prompted a reorientation in religious practices, contributing to the biblical discourse about burnt offerings. (At a distance from the Temple, if all God really wants is a particular sacrificial rite, it becomes impossible to please God.) As I returned my empty cup and saucer, the volunteer serving drinks said, “You’ve got everyone talking. I’d not really thought of different reformations before. Just, that it happened with Henry VIII.” As 500 Reformations feedback goes, that’s right on target.
* Source: 2011 census. In fact, not everyone there was a native Bradbournian. Notably, Jean Yates, a historian working on medieval connections between Bradbourne and her native town of Dunstable had made the 120-mile trip to hear what we had to say. And admittedly, the dog made the trip over from Sheffield with us.