Powerful Pennine preaching was a talent much in demand 400 years ago, an academic study has found.
A Huddersfield historian, Margaret Bullett, has completed a thesis on the importance of preaching in Pennine churches in England between 1580 and 1660. According to Dr Bullett, it was the Calvinist doctrine of predestination that made the difference, as the hearers’ reaction to sermons could mean the difference between an afterlife of bliss and an eternity of hellish torment.
She said: ‘The sermon was a feature of religion before Protestantism, but the big difference is that, after the Reformation, it becomes the means of salvation.
‘Whereas, before, people believed they could earn your way into heaven by good works and penance, after the Reformation the doctrine was you are either saved or damned, and your reaction to preaching of the Word showed them whether or not they were one of the elect’.
Dr Bullett has used a wide range of sources, including parish records, court material, ballads and more than 50 sermons to develop a new picture of popular religion in the Pennines in the late Elizabethan and early Stuart periods.
She said the material challenged a view held by many historians that ‘godly’ people were only a small portion of the population.
‘A wider cross section of the population could be involved with preaching. For example, there were collections to rebuild chapels and there was fund-raising to employ preachers. A wide section of the population could be involved, even down to people just donating a few pence. They are simultaneously showing they belong to that local community and taking part in godly action’.