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The Queen Mary Centre for Religion and Literature in English

QMCRLE Seminar Series 2021-22

Our programme for 2021-22 focusses on religious environments in early modern cities. Papers will investigate church building and decoration, processes for authorising religious worship, lay involvement in urban religious life and diverse methodologies for researching religion in the city (including archival research, book history and locative apps). 

  • Thursday 11 November 2021: Religious Architecture & Visual Culture after the Fire of 1666

speakers: Matthew Walker (QMUL) and Mark Kirby (Oxford). Register here

  • Thursday 9 December 2021: Ways of Knowing Religious Sites in Early Modern Cities

speakers: Kathleen Lynch (Folger Shakespeare Library) and Fabrizio Nevola (Exeter). Register here

  • Tuesday 22 March 2022: Diaspora and Parish: Francophone Art and Enlightenment 1685-1789

speakers: Tessa Murdoch FSA and Hannah Williams (QMUL). Register here

  • Tuesday 17 May 2022: Text and Life: Representation and Experience in Medieval Europe

speakers: Miri Rubin (QMUL) and Mathilde van Dijk (Groningen). Register here


11 November 2021: Religious Architecture & Visual Culture after the Fire of 1666

Matthew Walker (QMUL), ‘Rethinking Nicholas Hawksmoor’s London Churches: Antiquity, Nature, and the Architecture of Eighteenth-Century Anglicanism’

In this paper I will rethink the designs of the six famously striking churches that Nicholas Hawksmoor designed for the New Churches Commission in London beginning in 1715. Although it has been recognised in the past that some of the churches – especially Christ Church Spitalfields – might represent some form of response to the growing non-Anglican protestant communities of London (the Huguenots specifically), the implications of implementing a specifically Anglican program of church design in London has not been fully thought through by architectural historians. Here I will argue that Hawksmoor used numerous references to antiquity in the churches as a way of indirectly referencing nature and, therefore, using the buildings to remind worshippers that Anglicanism was, in the face of the rise of Calvinism in the city, the truest form of Christianity, and the one closest to God’s design. The paper will ultimately show that architectural design was a crucial front in the wider theological conflict between London’s religious communities in the first half of the eighteenth century.

Matthew Walker is a historian of seventeenth and eighteenth-century British architecture and Lecturer in History at Queen Mary University of London. He is the author of Architects and Intellectual Culture in Post-Restoration England, (Oxford University Press, 2017).


Mark Kirby (Oxford), ‘Furnishing Sir Christopher Wren's churches: people and place’

When the churches of the City of London were rebuilt after the Great Fire, parishes were given little input to the design of their buildings. Furnishing them was another matter. Quite apart from the quality of much of what was made, and the iconographical sophistication of the reredos, pulpit and other furnishings, the furnishing exercise itself reveals an Anglican ecosystem at work. Parish patrons, bishops, clergy, vestrymen, benefactors, and parishioners all played a role in making the new churches what they were. In this paper, Mark Kirby looks at how these people operated, and the decisions they made in furnishing their churches. Particularly striking is the way in which parish committees of (mostly) laymen were able to decide upon and commission carved work which presented complex theological and ecclesial messages.

Mark Kirby is Child Shuffrey Fellow in Architectural History at Lincoln College, University of Oxford, where he is currently writing the architectural history of the College’s early seventeenth-century chapel. He is also Chairman of Council of the Ecclesiological Society, and a member of the Fabric Advisory Committee of St Paul’s Cathedral. 



9 December 2021: Ways of Knowing Religious Sites in Early Modern Cities

Kathleen Lynch (Folger Shakespeare Library), ‘“Till a more convenient place can be found”: Licensing non-conformity in 1672 London’
Following King Charles’s Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, a procedure was quickly stood up to create and distribute licenses for congregational worship outside the established church. This short-lived process was abruptly stopped when Parliament forced Charles to withdraw the indulgence the following year. The repurposing, new building, and commissioning of spaces for nonconformist worship neither began nor ended with the licensing. But the process of application enabled a rethinking of the place of churches in the symbolic logic of the city, and this fostered and formalised new patterns of sociability and community.

Issues of safety from obstruction, harassment, bodily harm, and arrest were considered in the selection of sites as were the juxtaposed layers of jurisdictions—ecclesiastical and civic and national—in the London metropolis. The documents provide evidence, not available in the built environment, of the ways place was described—variously locationally, directionally, or relationally. These documents illuminate the processes by which people came to know their city and the place of belief differently in an emerging multi-confessional environment.

Kathleen Lynch is Executive Director of the Folger Institute and author of Protestant Autobiography in the Seventeenth-Century Anglophone World (Oxford UP, 2012) which was awarded the triennial Richard L. Greaves prize by the International John Bunyan Society.

Fabrizio Nevola, ‘Hidden Cities: Early Modern Urban Space, Locative Apps and Public History’   
The Hidden Cities apps grew out of an initial case example of Renaissance Florence (2014) to a further five early modern European cities (2020). The talk outlines the development of the methodologies applied to creating these apps, considering both their potential to shape new research questions and their more obvious public engagement potential. Apps are a little-explored medium for research and communication of place-based academic research, offering real opportunities to shape innovative interpretation for contributors, while providing a novel way to consume research for end users. Using examples from Hidden Exeter and Hidden Florence, the talk considers how the medium structures new methodologies for site-based historical research. In doing so it proposes how the Hidden Cities format might be extended through future collaborations and wider adoption in educational settings.

If audience members have time they may like to try the free apps, available for Android and iOS devices. Links from these project websites:
If you tweet consider using linking to @HiddenFlorence and @HiddenCitiesEU. A book with a surprisingly similar title (!) to this talk is published in January 2022 by Routledge

Fabrizio Nevola is Professor in Art History at the University of Exeter. Street Life in Renaissance Italy was published by  Yale University Press in 2020 and he works and has published on the ritual use of public space, urban identity, the representation and perception of community groups within cities, as well as the relations between commercial and residential spaces in Early Modern Italy.



22 March 2022: Diaspora and Parish: Francophone Art and Enlightenment in Paris and London 1685-1789

Tessa Murdoch FSA, London-based Huguenot Culture in Court Circles 1685-1709
This paper will introduce the network of talented Huguenot artists, craftsmen and designers who attended the conformist and non-conformist Huguenot churches in London's West End. They formed part of the diaspora of over 25,OOO refugees from Catholic France. They supplied fashionable residential London with luxury goods in the latest French styles. They formed part of an international network and exchanged ideas and goods with fellow Huguenots in Northern Europe and North America. The presentation will focus on the period from immediate aftermath of the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to the general act for Naturalization of Foreign Protestants, 1709.

Hannah Williams (QMUL), Religious Enlightenment: Making the Churches of 18th-Century Paris

Tessa Murdoch specialises in Huguenot refugee art and culture with particular focus on London 1550-1780. Her V&A book 'Europe Divided: Huguenot Refugee Art and Culture' was published in Autumn 2021.
17 May 2022: Text and Life: Representation and Experience in Medieval Europe
Miri Rubin (QMUL), Nigra sum: The Possibilities of Blackness in Song of Song Commentaries
This paper presents the first fruits of research on the meanings of Song 1:4 [5], an intriguing verse of a much-discussed book. The Hebrew stated ‘I am black and beautiful’ as did early Latin translations, yet Jerome’s Vulgate translated ‘I am black but beautiful’ and so created a field of difference, between blackness and beauty. Medieval biblical commentators rarely referred to people of African descent in their treatments of this verse. They used blackness as a complex, unstable quality that enabled reflection on human change. This paper will explore the choices of Jewish and Christian commentators over a millennium of entanglement.
Miri Rubin is Professor of Medieval and Early Modern History, Queen Mary University of London. Miri’s most recent book is Cities of Strangers: Making Lives in Medieval Europe (Cambridge 2020). She has also translated The Life and Passion of William of Norwich by Thomas of Monmouth for Penguin Classics (2014).
Mathilde van Dijk (Groningen), Female Piety in the Devotio Moderna
Most adherents of Devotio Moderna were women. In a Low Countries urban context, this is not surprising. From the rise of the Poverty Movement from the twelfth century, contemporary sources report that the ideal of vita apostolica et evangelica appealed to women first and foremost and, moreover, that they often acted as spiritual leaders. This was also the age of the first Beguines, who were very different from other religious women, as they took no vows and lived independently in beguinages, which formed their own parishes and for which they chose their own priests.

In the 1370s, the Deventer canon Geert Grote (1340-1384) intended to put a stop to what was seen as the more undesirable effects of this female prominence. Like his contemporaries, he felt that women were simply too weak, physically as well as morally, to be able to sustain such independence, as was clear from the several Beguines who had been convicted of heresy. As an alternative, he created a female community under strict supervision: Sisters of the Common Life, soon to be followed by similar communities throughout the Low Countries and Middle Europe, and by male counterparts, the Brothers of the Common Life. His sisters were to be supervised by the city government for all material and by the parish priest for all spiritual matters. Grote himself also acted as supervisor; after his death the Brothers of the Common Life took care of the sisters.

Concentrating on the Sisters of the Common Life, I would like to explore what Grote’s format meant for their ability to shape their own lives. How independent could they be? Did they quietly comply to the new regime or are their signs of them opposing it? What did Grote’s format mean for their spirituality? Were the sisters able to develop a specific female form of piety in the male-led Devotio Moderna and if so, what did this consist of? I will study these questions using sources from the original house in Deventer, as well as other communities in that city and beyond, focusing on biographies, convent chronicles and statutes.


Mathilde van Dijk is Assistant Professor of Cultural History of Christianity and Gender Studies and Associate Director Centre for Religion and Heritage at the University of Groningen. She has published widely on queer subjectivities in saints lives and other aspects of hagiography

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