Parish Research Today

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8 August 2015

Parishes and migration in the Swiss canton of Ticino

by Marco Schnyder

When I visit the numerous churches and chapels in Ticino, the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland located south of the Alps, I am always struck by their extraordinary artistic and historical richness. One explanation is the flourishing of devotions and religious art which characterised most Catholic countries after the Council of Trent. This is certainly true especially in the Italian area, to whose cultural sphere the Ticino belonged (even though it fell under Swiss political control in the sixteenth century), but there are other reasons. In fact, a crucial further factor needs to be considered: migration. On the one hand, over the centuries, thousands of people associated with the building trades left their homes in the Lake Lugano region to practice their skills as architects, masons, master builders, stucco workers, stonecutters, sculptors and painters abroad. This phenomenon was generally …[Read more]

11 February 2015

Clerics and Witchcraft, Part Two

by Paula McBride

In my first blog entry, we looked at some examples of clerics who warned of the evils of witchcraft and magic, and also met Richard Napier, a cleric who preferred to heal victims of witchcraft and other patients through performing natural magic in the name of God.  However (and perhaps more interestingly), not even members of the Church were safe from magic and witchcraft accusations!  Gilbert Smythe, the minister of Swithland in Leicestershire brought a complaint against Christopher Moncke in 1620 for public slander and for accusing him of being a sorcerer and forsaking God. Moncke also accused Smythe of breaking of his wife’s arm and the reason for his son cutting his own throat, and that Smythe and his three sons were felons.  Smythe further claimed that by slandering him by petition to the King, the mayor of Leicester, the circuit judges and the people of Mountsorel, Leicester and London, ‘hee hath adventured my lyfe goods and reputation thereby and the undoinge of my wife and famylie which lyve by my breath’. …[Read more]

8 February 2015

Clerics and Witchcraft, Part One

by Paula McBride

My area of academic research concentrates on magic and witchcraft in the early modern English Midlands. Both personally and academically, and as a born-and-bred Coventrian, I have always been interested in local history, witchcraft, magic, folk customs, paganism, religion and the unorthodox within Warwickshire and the Midlands, hence the geographical area within which I have focussed my attention. I also like to visit the Midlands parish churches my ancestors worshipped at, as part of my family history research, and visiting churches and cathedrals generally as I have a fascination with ecclesiastical architecture and enjoy taking photographs documenting my visits, concentrating particularly on doors and porches. …[Read more]

Church of St. John, Copston Magna, Warwickshire (Pic: Paula McBride)

20 October 2014

Beyond the Archives

by Kristi Bain

I’ve taken a break from the archives: initially to finish writing my thesis and currently to intern at Norwich Cathedral as a parish heritage adviser, a strange feeling after spending the better part of three years traveling to England to spend as much time in archives as I possibly could. Bound by the limitations of studying medieval parish life while based in an American university, I never took for granted my visits to the record offices of England that held the records necessary to write my thesis. When I finally received the funding I needed to remain in England for several months to conduct full-time research, I prioritized the archives, dividing my time between the Norfolk Record Office, TNA, British Library, as well as record offices in Essex, Dorset and Wiltshire—perhaps not the most glamorous type of research according to some but for me an adventure. …[Read more]

Wymondham Abbey

17 August 2014

Reformed churches on the move

by Beat Kümin

The remarkable mobility of Calvinism has long been noted by religious historians. Soon after its emergence in Geneva, the new confession attracted followers not only in numerous neighbouring territories, but also other Continents. The roots of the Groote Kerk in Cape Town (left) reach back to the establishment of a Dutch staging and supply post at the south-western tip of Africa by Jan van Riebeeck in 1652. Conditions here were very different from its European home base. …[Read more]

Greenock Kirk

21 July 2014

Feastday economies

by Beat Kümin

While working on records of the former Bishopric of Constance (now kept in the archives of the German Archdiocese of Freiburg), I found a petition by the parish republic of Gersau (address page pictured). Sent to the vicar general in 1779, the mayor and council voiced concerns about the large number of Catholic feasts and mounting difficulties to keep them observed. With the backing of the regional dean, no fewer than 26 saints’ days were identified for downgrading (among which the Visitation of Our Lady). …[Read more]

Gersau Address

10 May 2014

Some early modern Gloucestershire bells

by John Morgan

In anticipation of our symposium on ‘Parish Soundscapes’, and having been treated to a preview of the Berkswell Bellringers’ stall, I have been looking into some of the bells of parish churches of my own research area of Gloucestershire. Digging primarily into my favourite local sources, the parish registers, I came across a number of references to bells and the casting of bells. … [Read more]

02 May 2014

Travel note from the parish of Mareta (South Tyrol)

by Joanne Anderson

It’s been a day of travel. Trains, buses, a bit of hitchhiking and as always at the end, in piedi. But the journey was worth it. My destination was the miners’ church of Sankt Magdalena in the Val Ridanna. It’s is a daughter house of the parish church of Mareta, not far as the crow flies but a lot more once you ascend the sides of the valley on the snaking road. A pit stop at a nearby maso procured the key and the custodian, Caterina, who would do the needful with the alarm – important artworks afoot! Sankt Magdalena lies in the foothills of the Snow Mountain, which bears rich seams of ore. … [Read more]


18 April 2014

Catholic Parishes in Early Modern Palestine

by Felicita Tramontana

In her post published in December, Michal Bauwens reminded us about the variety of early modern parishes. Following this suggestion, I would like to draw attention to the Latin parishes in the Middle East and especially to those created by the Franciscans in early modern Palestine. The foundation and the development of these parishes was strictly linked to the missionary activity pursued by the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy land and to the diffusion of Catholicism in the area. … [Read more]

03 February 2014

Republic revived

by Beat Kümin

Having planned the bicentenary ‘Gersau 2014’ celebrations for over two years, it was heartening to see the parish church of St Marcellus – site of the historic assembly which restored the independent republic on 2 February 1814 – packed solid for the commemorative Landsgemeinde exactly 200 years later (see the picture gallery on the project homepage). Following the Candlemas service (which included the blessing of St Blasius, protector against a range of diseases, administered to each parishioner) and an outdoor reception by the District Council (lubricated by a specially commissioned ‘Republic Wine’), the sounds of drummers – not to speak of a cannon salute – summoned the audience back inside. What director Roger Bürgler had prepared surprised everyone: Schiffmeister Balz, Gersau’s mythical resistance hero (impersonated by actor Stefan Camenzind, pictured below on the cover of today’s Bote der Urschweiz newspaper), emerged to challenge the congregation to think not just about the past, but also the future. … [Read more]

Bote der Urschweiz Front Page 3 02 14 CROPPED

29 January 2014

Parishes – A View from the Vatican Archives

by Elizabeth Tingle

A week in the Vatican Secret Archives has caused me to think carefully about the relationship between centre and periphery – papacy and parishes – in Europe of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I am currently working on a Leverhulme-sponsored project ‘Indulgences after Luther: the fall and rise of pardons in Counter-Reformation France’. This involves an examination of how pardons were represented, how they were acquired and how they evolved over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. After a decline in popularity in France across the middle sixteenth century, indulgences again became popular and were created and consumed in large numbers after 1600. The parish church and its associated confraternities, was one of the largest ‘consumers’ of pardons. … [Read more]

20 December 2013

The Council of Trent and the Parish

by Michal Bauwens

From 4 to 6 December 2013 an international conference on the Council of Trent took place in Louvain. It was organized by Violet Soen and Wim François (KU Leuven) and its title ‘The Council of Trent: Reform and Controversy in Europe and Beyond (1545-1700)’ reveals its wide scope; papers discussing religion in oversees Spanish colonies were welcomed along with papers on the Rituale Romanum. Arthistorians, historians, theologians and literary scholars discussed in English, French and German the many perspectives used in their research on Trent and its implications for religious Europe. Keynote speakers were amongst others: John O’ Malley, Emidio Campi, Nicole Lemaitre and Simon Ditchfield. Although the parish was not central at this conference, many lectures and talks touched the subject of the religious community and church. … [Read more]

14 December 2013

Launch of the ‘Gersau 2014′ celebrations

by Beat Kümin

My current research on parish republics has led to a close engagement with the rural community of Gersau on Lake Lucerne. For over 400 years, this remarkable micro-state ran its own political and ecclesiastical affairs, complemented by a defensive alliance with the Forest Cantons (a new local history has just been published). Following their military invasion of 1798, French revolutionary troops turned the loosely structured Swiss Confederation into a centralized puppet state and Gersau lost its independence. However, as soon as Napoleon was defeated and the political future up for negotiation, the communal assembly of 2 February 1814 decided to restore the ‘free land’ of Gersau. … [Read more]

13 December 2013

Parish dikereeves: a conundrum

by John Morgan

Flooding was a persistent threat to coastal, wetland and riverine parishes in early modern England and Wales. My current PhD research is into how communities responded to this threat at a variety of different levels and in a variety of different ways. I look at how flooding and flood risk was managed politically, socially and culturally – through local and national governance, through communal and familial structures, and how those affected understood and conceptualised flooding. I take two case studies, the Upper and Lower Severnside ‘levels’ of southern Gloucestershire and the Parts of Holland in Lincolnshire, as areas subject to significant flooding, and subsequently significant flood risk management, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries…[Read more]


Parish Research Today is a multi-author blog showcasing the cutting edge of parish studies. Posts come from students, academics and independent researchers and feature reflections on projects, sources, methods, archives, writing parish history, publications and more. We welcome all and any contributions. To submit a post to the blog, write a new My-Parish post and assign it the category ‘Parish Research Today’. Our site editors will then collate those posts here.

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