Across Europe, the parish church has stood for centuries at the centre of local communities; it was the focal point of its religious life, the rituals performed there marked the stages of life from the cradle to the grave. Nonetheless the church itself artistically and architecturally stood apart from the parish community. It was often the largest and only stone-built building in a village; it was legally distinct being subject to canon law, as well as consecrated for the celebration of religious rites. The buildings associated with the "cure of souls" were sacred sites or holy places, where humanity interacted with the divine. In spite of the importance of the parish church, these buildings have generally not received the same attention from historians as non-parochial places of worship. This collection of essays redresses this balance and reflects on the parish church across a number of confessions - Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed and Anti-Trinitarian - during the early modern period. Rather than providing a series of case studies of individual buildings, each essay looks at the evolution of parish churches in response to religious reform as well as confessional change and upheaval. They examine aspects of their design and construction; furnishings and material culture; liturgy and the use of the parish church. While these essays range widely across Europe, the volume also considers how religious provision and the parish church were translated into a global context with colonial and commercial expansion in the Americas and Asia. This interdisciplinary volume seeks to identify what was distinctive about the parish church for the congregations that gathered in them for worship and for communities across the early modern world.
Andrew Spicer is Professor of Early Modern European History at Oxford Brookes University.