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Images of female piety and the development of post-reformation Catholicism in the diocese of Chester, c.1558 - c.1625

Brindley, Christina Michelle (2014) Images of female piety and the development of post-reformation Catholicism in the diocese of Chester, c.1558 - c.1625. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis demonstrates that Catholic gentrywomen were central to the direction and evolution of post-Reformation Catholicism in the Diocese of Chester. It was women who ensured that the traditional beliefs and practices of the medieval Church were continued, but adapted by post- Reformation Catholics. In taking primary responsibility for sheltering recusant and missionary priests in their houses, gentrywomen also acted as gatekeepers to the clergy. By providing access to priests, women ensured that the Catholic laity were able to continue partaking in sacramental devotion. The use of gentry households as Mass centres provided opportunities for local communities to engage in group worship. By their choice of confessor, gentrywomen guided the confessional direction of Catholicism within the diocese. A woman’s choice of priest determined the routines of personal piety that they constructed for themselves, their families, and their local community. Through their examples of female piety, these women inspired subsequent generations to preserve and rejuvenate Catholic beliefs and practices. A key component of this personal piety was the use of devotional and polemical literature. Some girls were so inspired by these pious female role models that they chose to pursue religious vocations. The types of literature that children had access to was as instrumental in ensuring that they grew up to be Catholic as the religious education provided by their mothers. The popularity of religious vocations can be observed in the great numbers of Catholic gentrywomen from the Diocese of Chester who left their homes to join the exiled English convents. There was regular contact between enclosed sisters in continental Europe and their female relatives in the Diocese of Chester that created a symbiotic Catholic kinship network. Female piety in the diocese was shaped and moulded by its contact with post-Tridentine, Counter- Reformed Europe. Female kinship networks greatly altered the direction in which Post-Reformation Catholicism developed in the Diocese of Chester.

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