What was the Church of England like before the Reformation? A snapshot comes from Eamon Duffy, in his award-winning book The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580 (second edition, 2005):
“Round the fourteenth-century font in the parish church of Bradley, Lincolnshire, is carved an English inscription, which runs
Pater Noster, Ave Maria, Criede,
Leren the childe yt is need.
“That injunction was directed to the godparents and was a formal part of the rite of baptism in late medieval England. Just before the blessing of the font at baptisms the priest was required to admonish the godparents to see that the child’s parents kept it from fire, water, and other perils, and themselves to ‘lerne or se yt be lerned the Pater noster, Aue Maria and Credo after the law of all holy churche’. The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, and Apostles’ Creed were in fact the irreducible core of a more elaborate catechetical programme for the laity which had been decisively formulated for the English Church at Archbishop Pecham’s provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281.”
Duffy’s book won the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award, for good reason.
Writing in Sixteenth Century Journal, the late Stanford Lehmberg said Duffy’s book “presents a marvelously detailed new picture of traditional religious belief and practice in English during the century prior to the Reformation and it shows exactly when and how the customs of faith and ceremony were stripped away in the sixteenth century. Our interpretation of the Reformation and our understanding of Tudor religion will never be the same.”
In English Historical Review, the late Margaret Aston said Duffy’s book “takes a major step toward better understanding of the English reformation.”