Church and chapel

Dissatisfaction and variety

During the eighteenth century there had been great dissatisfaction with the established Anglican Church and new religious movements grew up alongside the seventeenth century Baptist Church, such as Methodism. The Congregationalist churches had developed from the Independent churches that seceded from the Church of England at the time of the English Civil War. Collectively, all these movements became known as Dissenting or Nonconformist churches.

These secessions and new sects had arisen because people wanted a simpler, more direct religion and forms of worship without priests or ritual. The congregations, particularly the Methodists and the Baptists, were predominantly lower class and a social distinction was indicated by describing people as either ‘church' (i.e. Anglican) or ‘chapel' (i.e. Nonconformist).

In the countryside, the two main Christian groups or denominations were:

  • The Church of England (known also as the C. of E. or the Anglican Church)
  • The Methodists (known also as the Wesleyans or the Primitives).

The social impact of the established church

The Anglican Church was the official state church and was divided into a system of parishes, usually, but not always, covering the same area as a village or town. Hardy's parish was Stinsford Parish, and comprised the villages or hamlets of Stinsford, Lower and Upper Bockhampton.

The position of the clergy

Most parish churches had a vicar or rector and, if they were big enough, a curate as an assistant. Usually, these people lived in the vicarage or rectory and would be treated with some deference by the local people. Often they would be responsible for making sure the village school functioned, that local council meetings were conducted, and sometimes even became Justices of the Peace, though that was usually left to the local main landowner. They were always university educated, and sometimes were considered removed from the everyday lives of their parishioners.

Church worship

Organ, photo by Johann Jariz, available through Creative CommonsIn the first part of the nineteenth century, the Sunday services would have a band of local musicians to lead worship. Later, most churches copied the big cathedrals and leading city churches by buying an organ and having a choir. In Under the Greenwood Tree, Hardy describes this process of replacement from first-hand experience. In his youth, he was part of his family's music group, which was reckoned the best in the district. The withdrawal of these folk musicians from church music widened the gap between ordinary parishioners and the clergy and church as a whole.

In Tess, Hardy shows most of the country people as being churchgoers. However, he suggests that their beliefs are often a mix of Christianity and paganism. The word ‘pagan' is derived from the Latin word meaning ‘peasant' or ‘rustic,' which is appropriate for Hardy's depiction of rural life. Pagan beliefs usually incorporate ideas of forces in nature itself and Fate.

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