The Book of Common Prayer and Modern Memory

Wednesday 13 February 2013 18.00-19.30

The Book of Common Prayer and Modern Memory

The Book of Common Prayer is one of the most familiar books in the English language: more familiar, Diarmaid MacCulloch has said, than the works of Shakespeare. It is 350 years since the publication of the 1662 version, and the book was over a hundred years old then. As such, it is seen as a prized object of English heritage or a fossil preserving the past in amber. However, the Book of Common Prayer contains a much more complex version of history than this implies. In 1549, when it was first introduced, it was regarded as an instrument of oblivion and repression, destroying England’s Roman liturgy in one blow. Yet by a deep paradox, in 1645, when it was banned by the Puritan Parliament, it was vilified as a ‘mass-book’, a Papist survival. This lecture examines the Book of Common Prayer as a powerful object of historical memory, a book of controversy as well as cherished legacy, one that challenges our understanding of the past and what it means to us. The lecture will be illustrated with copious examples of original copies and their often surprising life as material objects.

Brian Cummings (University of York)