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The Catholic Historical Review 87.4 (2001) 756-757

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Book Review

Rival Jerusalems. The Geography of Victorian Religion

Rival Jerusalems. The Geography of Victorian Religion. By K. D. M. Snell and Paul S. Ell. (New York: Cambridge University Press. 2000. Pp. xiv, 499. $74.95.)

The returns that were made on Sunday, March 30, for the 1851 Census of Religious Worship provide a unique picture of religious practice in England and Wales--comparable material for Scotland has survived less well. The Census has been the subject of an extensive literature, and a number of editions of the original returns, which survive in the Public Record Office in London, have been and continue to be published for various English counties. Those for Wales are also in print.

The authors of this book have taken this unique snapshot and turned it into a richly nuanced portrait of religious practice in England and Wales. Much attention has been focused on the significance of the attendance figures recorded in the Census, but the official report on its findings was also concerned with the provision for religious worship in terms of the amount of accommodation that was available, and the material on this is used to good effect in this book. The returns of Sunday scholars, often a problem because of the lack of clarity with which they were made, have also been exploited to provide a convincing analysis of this important aspect of nineteenth-century religious life, although the lack of surviving returns for the census of educational provision, which was taken at the same time, makes this a more problematical exercise. Sunday schools were part of a wider pattern of provision which included a growing number of predominantly Anglican day schools. It should also be borne in mind that while the Religious Census covered the large number of Sunday scholars who attended worship at the church or chapel to which they were attached, often in accordance with the rules of the school, Sunday schools were also, as is pointed out in the book, held in a variety of premises unattached to places of worship.

Nonetheless, it is a merit of this lucid and well organized book, which is distinguished by its excellent maps, that the sophisticated statistical techniques that are employed in it take full account of, and explore the vagaries of a set of material that emanated from a variety of local circumstances. These techniques are fully explained in text, footnotes, and appendices, but the regional emphasis, which is a strength of the book, means that its authors remain fully alert to the varieties of experience as well as behavior that lie behind the figures, and [End Page 756] which are as important an influence on religious life as the social and economic conditions that they also discuss.

The Census of Religious Worship occurred at a time of considerable change within the Catholic Church in England and Wales. The parish level comparison of the Census returns with earlier official counts of nonconformist and Catholic strength is particularly valuable for the firm context that it provides for developments in the period. There can be no doubt that the migration of Irish Catholics into England, which is given its due emphasis, had a considerable impact on the statistics of church attendance, but despite the degree of continuity in rural Catholicism that can be demonstrated through the use of earlier material, English Catholic congregations were, as the returns of Papists made in the eighteenth century demonstrate, no less immune to the attractions of developing towns than their Protestant neighbors. Here there was the opportunity to develop new patterns of worship organized in new ways. The nature and range of these devotions brought new experiences to Catholic worshipers that are not immediately apparent in the census returns, but which are of profound importance in their interpretation, and which can be lost in an analysis that has, of necessity, to give equal value to the varied types of worship that lie beneath the Census statistics.

The final chapter discusses the significance of regional factors in an...


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