The Churches of England when it was the
Dowry of Mary
At the Protestant Reformation, some of our churches in England changed their designation. That which is now called St. Saviour's, near London Bridge, was formerly St Mary Overies.
Innumerable churches were pulled down at the Reformation in England. But even to this day there are very few towns which do not have a St Mary's Church, the dedication, if not the fabric, dating from Catholic times.
This custom of dedicating churches to God in honour of Our Lady did not begin in England in the 12th century. It was as common among the Saxons as the Normans; and the Saxons themselves believed that they derived it from the Britons.
It is not necessary to engage in the controversy concerning the introduction of Christianity into England by St Joseph of Arimathea. Even though this be rejected by some, there remains the fact, proved by primitive traditions and by existing charters, that Glastonbury, before the Saxon invasion, there had been a church dedicated to Our Lady.
In 725. Ina, King of the West Saxons, writes concerning the church of the ever-virgin Mary as being the first in the kingdom of Britain, and the foundation of all the Christianity of the island.
Our Lady's abbey of Glastonbury took the precedence of all others, until in the 12th century this was given to St Alban's. It remained famous until the Reformation, when its last saintly abbot Richard Whiting, who had refused to surrender to King Henry VIII at the Reformation, was barbarously hung without trial.
A century before Ina rebuilt Our Lady's church at Glastonbury, St Augustine, England's Apostle (AD 607) built a church in honour of the ever-virgin Mary at Ely. This church, having been destroyed by Penda, was rebuilt and rededicated to Our Lady by St Etheldreda about fifty years later and became famous for miracles.
St Lawrence, Archbishop of Canterbury (Catholic at that time) companion and successor of St Augustine, built a church of the Holy Mother of God in the monastery of St Peter's at Canterbury. St Bede tells us how St Cedd, Bishop of London, who died in 664, was buried in the stone church of the monastery of Lestringham, dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Many more examples in history show us the special devotion to Our Lady learnt by the Anglo-Saxons from their first Christian teachers. We find also from St Aldhelm, who wrote in the 7th century, that these churches were farther intended to recall some special mystery of Our Lady. Thus the festival of the magnificent church built by the Saxon Princess Bugge was Our Lady's Nativity.
In the 12th century arose the orders of Citeaux and of Sempringham, both of which it was a rule that all their churches should be dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. In course of time there was scarcely a town in England without its church of St Mary, and in large cities were two or three or even more.
From Arnold's Chronicle, written about the year 1500, we learn that there were then in London 118 parish churches besides 36 non-parochial. The churches named after Our Lady are 18, perhaps more, for he does not give the titles of some of the churches of the regulars. They were dedicated in honour of the Assumption, of the Salutation, of Our Lady of Bethlehem, of Grace, of Pity etc...but were popularly called from some object in the neighbourhood:
Mary Avery, or Overies
and the rest.
- Our Lady's Dowry, or how England gained and lost that title by T E Bridgett
At the Protestant Reformation, one of the most targeted attacks was upon Our Lady. Statues were smashed, churches destroyed, the carrying of rosary beads forbidden. It seemed that Satan was determined to cast Our Lady out of Her Dowry of England.
Learn the history of England as the Dowry of Mary through film: