Religion and the Victorians – Part 1
Through their strict behavioral codes and their social and cultural structures religion played a big part of Victorian Britain. The Victorian system of etiquette and manners were not just born out of social standing and what class you belonged to, it also was a respect to religion and a way to pass goodwill on. A little-known fact was that in Victorian Britain there was the biggest growth in building brand new churches since right back to the Middle Ages. During Victoria’s reign Britain was predominately a Christian country, with only Judaism threatening its popularity. The latter was mainly due to migrants from Eastern Europe and Russia seeking refuge from unrest and persecution.
Church of England
Ever since the reign of King Henry VIII, The Church of England was predominately the largest church, but since its founding it had changed drastically. Britain had changed greatly due to the Industrial Revolution and new towns and large cities had sprung up. Until 1843 it was law that to create a new parish needed an Act Of Parliament. That meant that in these new urban developments the church was barely represented. But the government was keen to rectify this and was plowing money into the building of new churches.
A movement named High Church Oxford Movement was highly active during Victoria’s reign and nearly two and a half thousand new churches were erected, many in the new towns that had sprung up. These new places of worship were supported by new parishes and religion was flourishing in Victorian Britain.
Changes in the Clergy
Obviously with increased count in churches, new clergymen were needed, and the number of clergymen increased nearly twofold from 1841 to 1875. These clergymen were not all of the same belief, at one end of the spectrum were the Evangelicals who were mostly interested in the teachings of the Gospels and the study of the Bible. At the other end were the clergymen who classed themselves as High Churchmen. These people were mostly interested in what the Church should be perceived as, and bought back old rituals, vestments, images and incense that had not been seen since the Reformation.
The 1820’s had seen all legislation lifted that had previously banned other Christians that were outside The Church of England. So, Methodists and Catholics were once again allowed to hold offices of power and elevated positions in Universities. In 1851 a census was taken and the results quite surprising, it showed that out of 18 million people only just over five million attended Church of England services. Roughly the same number attended other Christian places of worship, this emphasized a big rise of non-Anglican Protestants that amounted to half of the population.
This change of demographics led to other changes in legislation to bring about reform. In 1871, Parliament decided to abolish all religious requirements that were formerly needed to gain entrance into universities in England. It was also during Victorian times that public figures spoke openly about religion, leading scientists were now making discoveries that threatened the very fabric of the Church of England. However, the Victorian populace still upheld their faith, and many held onto their beliefs keeping the Church of England’s beliefs alive.