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Reviewed by:
  • Catholic Culture in Early Modern England
  • Gerard Kilroy
Ronald Corthell, Frances E. Dolan, Christopher Highley, and Arthur Marotti, eds. Catholic Culture in Early Modern England.Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007. 336 pp. index. illus. bibl. $40. ISBN: 978–0–268–02294–5.

"Banishèd," the obsessive refrain in Romeo's conversation with the Friar, could serve as motto for this collection of essays. When the Catholic community was deprived of its ancient rituals and shrines, some found strength in interior spaces in England, like Sir Thomas Tresham's Triangular Lodge, or in relics of ancient and recent English martyrs; others, scattered in colleges and convents abroad, transcribed patristic and contemporary theological texts. A deeply learned, linguistically sophisticated, and European culture developed. From the rubble of ruined choirs flowered a profoundly elegiac nationalism. The statue of the Virgin and Child, mutilated by English troops in Cadiz and moved to the English College in Valladolid in 1601, the "Vulnerata," becomes the "image of England self-wounded by the ignorance and blindness of her children," as Peter Davidson shows (25).

"Even as England's identity as an independent Protestant nation was being forged throughout this period, a Catholic subculture survived in a religiously divided land" (1). Heather Wolfe shows Dame Barbara Constable using her extensive learning to transcribe works that, after the dissolution of the monasteries, were in danger of being lost. Latin learning, Jane Stevenson argues, enabled four [End Page 1012] generations of women in the More family both to pass on the riches of the fathers and doctors of the church and to remain firmly part of an international culture. This was, above all, a culture of the book. The glamorous Jesuit, John Gerard, before climbing onto the rope to escape from the Tower, tried to slide down "a bundle of books and other things" wrapped in his cloak (Autobiography, trans. Caraman [1951], 135). What those "other things" might have been, Anne M. Myers investigates in her essay. Texts and relics ensured "not only the preservation of the sacred objects but the preservation of the community" (234). Later, when Gerard narrowly escaped capture, he had to watch being seized "all my meditation notes, my breviary and several Catholic books, and, what I valued most, my manuscript sermons and notes for sermons which I had collected together over the last ten years. I treasured them more than anything" (Autobiography, 153–54).

William Alabaster's conversion narratives place him, like Petrarch before him, and Sir Toby Matthew after him, within the literary tradition of Saint Augustine where "conversion is always a literary event, a gloss on an anterior text" (Molly Murray, 203). Just as Augustine hears "a child's voice chanting 'tolle, lege', so "Alabaster explicitly likens his conversion to a story that 'St. Augustine reconteth' in book 8 of the Confessions" (202). Always on the move, Anthony Munday (though surely not "a Catholic loyalist," as Donna B. Hamilton calls him, 298), apologizes for his piecemeal writing, "sending leafe by leafe unperused to the Printer" (267).

Even as the new Protestant state was emphasizing its pre-Roman, "British" origins, a fiercely "diasporic nationalism" (Mark Netzloff, 252) developed among the exiles. Richard Verstegan (with Dutch roots and Spanish education) defiantly declared that he "was of the English nation" (248). Traduced by successive proclamations as "vagrant counterfeit persons" (242), Dr. William Allen argued that the Catholics in exile were "not fugitives" and held up Rome as an exemplary place of sanctuary: "the citie of refuge and recourse of al Christians out of al Nations" (244).

The combination of learning with devotion is beautifully illustrated in Sophie Holroyd's account of Lady Helena Wintour's vestments. "While most of the unmarried women in the Gunpowder Plot families . . . left the country to seek refuge in convents on the Continent" (109), Helena Wintour devoted herself to years of meditative and iconographic embroidery of vestments. One of her emblems is the hortus conclusus, an embroidered circle symbolizing the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin. These two surviving collections make one weep for what has been lost.

In Robert Southwell's meditation on Mary Magdalen, "Mary's experience at the empty tomb" (141) serves, Gary...


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pp. 1012-1013
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Archived 2009
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