Recycling the Sacred: Material Culture and Cultural Memory after the English Reformation

02 Oct 2017

This article examines medieval liturgical artifacts that survived the English Reformation by being converted to alternative religious and secular purposes. Exploiting both textual and material evidence, it explores how sacred objects were adapted and altered for a range of domestic and ecclesiastical uses, together with the underlying theological assumptions about adiaphora or “things indifferent” that legitimized such acts of “recycling.” These are situated on a continuum with iconoclasm and approached as dynamic and cyclic processes that offer insight into how Protestantism reconfigured traditions of commemoration and patterns of remembrance. Simultaneously, it recognizes their role in resisting religious change and in preserving tangible traces of the Catholic past, showing how converted objects served to perpetuate and complicate social and cultural memory. The final section investigates the ambiguous longer-term legacies of this reform strategy by probing the significance of growing concerns about the sin of ‘sacrilege’ committed by those who had profaned holy things.