|The Reformation comes to Ecclesfield
Medieval churches were all Roman Catholic. It was the practice to have more than one
altar making chantry chapels where prayers were offered for the souls of the benefactors
and land was given to support a priest to fulfil these duties. In Ecclesfield's oldest
surviving will, dated 1391, Henry of Birley left money for prayers to be said at four stone
altars and the rood, or 'holy cross'. The altars were dedicated to St Mary, St Nicholas, St
Catherine and St John the Baptist. St Mary and St John were also the patron saints of
chantry chapels which stood at either end of the transepts.
During the Reformation of the 1540's all the priories and chantry chapels of the country
were dissolved. The land belonging to St Mary's chantry was passed to charity and is still
administered on behalf of the church and the poor by the Feoffees. The stone altars were
In 1569, after the Reformation, the great crucifix above the Rood screen and the carved
figures of St Mary and St John the Baptist were taken down and destroyed. At this time
there were no seats in the church and the elderly and infirm would stand near the walls to
lean on them (hence the saying, "weak to the wall"). In 1569 the first stall was placed in
the nave by Alexander Hatfield. It was only to be used by the clergy, himself, or "old men
and strangers". Others followed his example and it became the practice to have family
pews that passed from one generation to the next as part of one's estate.
When the Puritans came to power in the 1640's the effects of national policy were felt in
Ecclesfield. The High Altar was replaced by an oak communion table in 1642. The
original stone altar slab is now set in the floor underneath. Another altar slab remains
against the wall in the north transept, and a further slab is in the floor of St Catherine's
chapel, having long been converted into a tombstone.
All the stained glass windows, many dating back to 14th century, were smashed. The
fragments of glass that survived have been pieced together in the westernmost window
of the north aisle and in a small window in the vestry. The churchwarden's accounts of
1642 record that the "passion clothes" were sold and a new Bible and communion book
were bought. In the same year, a clock was placed in the tower.
In 1643 the Vicar, Thomas Wright was ejected and the Puritan preacher Immanuel
Knutton was installed in his place. These times were uncertain and Thomas Wright was
restored to his living in 1660.
|Church History - The Reformation