The Book of Common Prayer is one of the most influential books in history. First published in the reign of Edward VI, in 1549, it was a product of the English Reformation following the break with Rome. For nearly five centuries, it has formed the order of worship for established Christianity in England. More listeners have heard these prayers, it is said, than the soliloquies of Shakespeare. As British imperial ambitions spread, the Book of Common
Prayer became the primary instrument (at least as much as the King James Bible) of English culture, firstly in Ireland in 1551. When the Puritans fled to America in 1620 it was to escape the discipline imposed by of the Book of Common Prayer, yet the book came to embody official religion in America before and after
Independence, and is still in use.
Today it is a global book: it was the first book printed in many languages, from north America to southern Africa, to the Indian sub-continent.
In this Very Short Introduction Brian Cummings tells the fascinating history of the Book of Common Prayer, and explains why it is easily misunderstood. Designed in the 1540s as a radical Protestant answer to Catholic "superstition", within a century (during the English Civil Wars) radical Christians regarded the Book of Common Prayer as itself "superstitious" and even (paradoxically) "Papist". Changing in meaning and context over time, the Book of Common Prayer has
acted as a cultural symbol, affecting the everyday conduct of life as much as the spiritual, and dividing conformity from non-conformity, in social terms as well as religious, from birth to marriage to death.
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Brian Cummings FBA is Anniversary Professor at the University of York in the Department of English and Related Literature. He was previously Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Professor of English at the University of Sussex, and has also held Visiting Fellowships in California, in Munich, and Toronto. In addition to his academic work he was guest curator at Lambeth Palace for the exhibition Royal Devotion: Monarchy & the Book of Common Prayer in 2012, which was opened by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Prince of Wales. His books include The Literary Culture of the Reformation: Grammar and Grace (2007); and an edition of The Book of Common Prayer, which appeared in Oxford World's Classics in 2013. With Alexandra Walsham (Cambridge) he is leading the three-year research project "Remembering the Reformation", funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council from 2016 to 2019.
1: Ritual and the Reformation 2: The making of The Book of Common Prayer 3: Word, body and gesture 4: Politics and religion 5: Empire and prayer book 6: Modernity and the Book of Common Prayer References Further reading Index