2.2 Reformation

Reformation, to most archaeologists and historians of this period, means the Protestant Reformations of the sixteenth century (see Gaimster and Gilchrist 2003; Dawson 2007; Ryrie 2006; Spicer 2003, 2007; Todd 2002, 2010). The Scottish Reformation is a subject for archaeological research because, to understand it, there is also a need to understand its material side.  The material perspective allows an exploration of how structures, places and things were reworked in and for a new religious environment.  What happened to ecclesiastical buildings and furniture, to burial practices, to foundations and institutions (hospitals, alms houses, schools, etc.) after 1560?  What was the extent of iconoclasm (and reactions to it, such as the concealment and adaptation of ‘Popish’ things) and how did new image theory affect material culture?  How did the Reformation affect life beyond the church, with the redistribution of land in a new hierarchy of political power, for example?

An aerial photograph showing a large church and graveyard on the edge of an urban landscape

Reformation Pleasure Grounds: Lying adjacent to Holy Rude church, between the Valley Cemetery , opened in 1857, and the esplanade of Stirling Castle are the Drummond Pleasure Grounds. These were created by a local nurseryman, William Drummond (1799-1888), and were intended to recreate a Biblical landscape and to memorialise the leaders of the Reformation. Landscape features were given names associating them with the Holy Land and there are statues of Scottish Reformers and a monument to two Wigtownshire girls who were drowned for their Covenanter beliefs. The largest feature is the star pyramid (top centre in the photograph) within which a copy of the confession of faith and the Bible were sealed. The only person buried here is William Drummond himself. Otherwise, these pleasure grounds were presumably intended for contemplation as the visitor walked through a representation of a Biblical landscape in the company of the Scottish Reformers. Research into places such as this explores the intersection of faith, community and landscape and the Reformation as a drawn-out process rather than an event. Image © RCAHMS

The Reformation Parliament in 1560 adopted the Scottish Confession of Faith and passed new legislation rejecting Papal authority and jurisdiction, as well as revoking laws that were regarded as contrary to the Word of God as revealed in biblical texts. The Scottish Reformation has generally been associated with iconoclasm and religious violence, but this has tended to overshadow the more gradual process of alteration and adaptation, concealment and removal of religious imagery and other associations with Catholicism.  The ruins of medieval religious houses appear to stand as testament to the destruction brought about by the iconoclasts, but there was no dissolution of the monasteries in Scotland and these religious communities died out more gradually, in a process beginning before the Reformation.  Although the reformed faith had been adopted as the official faith of the nation, its acceptance varied, with the continuance of Catholic beliefs and practices in some areas, later sustained by the appearance Jesuits and missionary priests – the subject of an archaeology of recusancy . More widely, certain traditions continued in association with holy wells and other religious sites in the landscape.  Yet, although the religious changes of the Reformation were gradual, in some cases taking more than a century, they did succeed in altering the religious landscape of the nation.

The Reformation had wider implications for the Scottish nation than its impact on religious practices and worship.  A new kind of moral discipline and social control was constructed in no small part through a material culture of branks, jougs and sack cloths and through the public ordeal of deviant members of the body corporate both within and outside of the church building.  In areas where the church was a significant landowner, the Reformation contributed to a secularisation of landownership (something which had started before 1560) and to the creation and re-structuring of new landed estates, with changes to the character of their associated architecture, settlement and landscapes.

The Reformation should not be seen in static terms as a single event happening in 1560: it was a process which archaeology, with its concern for the longue durée, is well suited to analyse.  The process of the Reformation began in the earlier 16th century and it has roots extending back further into the medieval period.  After 1560, the Reformation was played out, developed and contested over a long period.  During the course of the seventeenth century, the principles and ascendency of the Kirk of Scotland were challenged and the ‘final form’ of the Reformation was never really settled.  Attempts at religious congruity by James VI and then Charles I led to the signing of the Covenant in 1638 and religious conflict.  (Thus the archaeology of the Reformation entails an archaeology of armed conflict.)  The adherence to this tradition after the religious settlement following the Restoration led large numbers particularly in the south and west into religious nonconformity.  The abolition of the episcopacy at the Glorious Revolution created a new focus of religious dissent.  The development of these differing Protestant traditions and their various negotiations and conflicts with each other were all played out through a material fabric of artefacts, buildings, places and landscapes.  Archaeology can therefore bring significant new insights to our understanding of the long process of the Scottish Reformation.

In addition to its contribution to the grand narratives of the Reformation process, archaeology can contribute significantly to our understanding of localised individual and communal experiences of religion, many of which do not appear to fit with official ‘Reformation’ doctrine.  Archaeology has the power to challenge dominant historiography by, for example, noting the continuity of pre-Reformation practice and the endurance of folk practices, such as holy well and rag well visiting (Todd 2002; Walsham 2011). Antiquarian excavations at several sites have shown that the making of offerings remained a key part of this practice.  When St Queran’s Well, Troqueer, was cleared in 1870, numerous artefacts including pins, coins and other offerings were found: these finds are now held by the NMS (NMRS no NX97SE 12; Starke 1867; Dudgeon 1892).  The on-line Survey of Survey of Scottish Witchcraft (Goodare et al 2003), although constructed with a specific documentary history agenda in mind, provides significant evidence of thriving folk practices in the post-Reformation period, providing an insight into the daily practices of healing and harm and the objects and places integral to these.  For most people, such practices were not alternative to religious faith, but complementary to it.  Practices like well-visiting emerge from the witch trial records and are noted in kirk session records, undermining the tradition for studying the Reformation and witchcraft separately from each other.  Both topics are intimately connected: current PhD research into the relationship between Reformation and witch fears indicates that a more fruitful research direction would be to consider ordinary everyday practices and material cultures of belief and eschatological fear as part of the Reformation process (McCabe 2010; McCabe 2011b).

See also the ScARF Case Study: Bassendean, re-forming a medieval parish

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