|The chancel of St Mary's Morthoe, Devon: a Victorian|
restoration of the medieval interior
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‘Never was Britain more religious than in the Victorian age. Contemporaries agonized over those who did not float upon the flood of faith. We marvel at the number who did.’ Theodore Hoppen, The Mid Victorian Generation (Oxford, 1998), p. 425.
|Victorian religious philanthropy|
The denominationsWithin the British Isles there were two established churches, the Church of England (Anglican) in England and Wales and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) as well as a number of other denominations. In Wales Protestant Dissenters were a clear majority. Until 1869 the Anglican Church was established in Ireland though three quarters of the population were Catholic and half the remainder Presbyterian. In Scotland Presbyterianism dominated though since 1843 it had been split between the mainstream Church of Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland (the 'Wee Frees').
'Papal aggression'From the 1840s Irish immigration was changing Britain, adding a new Catholic population to the existing older Catholic families. From being a religion of rural country gentry, Catholicism was rapidly becoming a religion of the urban poor in centres like London and Liverpool.
In October 1850 Cardinal Nicholas Wiseman issued a pastoral letter announcing the reintroduction of the Catholic hierarchy in England and Wales. He himself was to be Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster. The press and the public reacted with outrage to what was dubbed 'papal aggression' and the government of Lord John Russell introduced a bill to make Catholic ecclesiastical titles illegal. (Queen Victoria's reaction was much more measured and sensible.)
|From Punch, November 1850|
The Pope as Guy Fawkes
But in spite of this reaction, the Catholic hierarchy was restored and the ecclesiastical census (see below) recorded that on 30 March 1851 about a quarter of a million Roman Catholics attended mass in England and Wales.