25 June 2008

The Edwardian Church

By Evangeline Holland

Religion played its part in the conventional role in the ceremonies for passage rites in all groups, for birth, confirmation, marriage, and death. Though the upper classes felt it their duty to lead the masses in an outward show of piety, by the Edwardian era, religion played a smaller role in the life of society. However, in London, the Sunday morning church parade in Hyde Park was a social event not to be missed, and the upper classes would expect their servants to attend morning prayers, neatly-attired and somber as they marched to chapel--albeit early enough to return and attend to the toilettes and meals of the just-awakening family. But newer habits began to pervade all stratus of society, and week-ends began to eat into church-going habits, and the Anglican churches especially found it difficult to recruit clergymen.

For the Edwardian, there were three religious paths open to her or him: Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Chapel (or the conglomerate of Non-conformist sects). Roman Catholicism did cause a little flutter of horror in the breasts of die-hard Anglicans, but the Catholic sect in English aristocracy did create its own niche, particularly as the highest position in the land (Earl Marshal) had been held by the Catholic Dukes of Norfolk since the 14th century.

Chapel found favor with middle- and lower-middle class society, whilst the Church of England could be divided between High Church and Low Church. Those belonging to High Church were conservative, more aristocratic and had a great fondness for ritual, while those inclined towards Low Church, preferred worship be simpler and to touch the heart.

As church was another social event where one would see and be seen, aristocratic society had its places marked for fashion. In London, favored churches were St George's in Hanover Square, St Paul's in the upper-middle-class neighborhood of Knightsbridge, Holy Trinity in Sloane Street, and St Peter's in Eaton Street. Woe betide anyone who wasn't sitting in their family pew on Sunday in an ultra-fashionable church!