Left: St. Barnabas Church. Thomas Cundy, architect. 1850. St. Barnabas Street, Pimlico, London SW1. Right: Chancel and Sanctuary. [Click on images to enlarge them.]

[The follow passage appears in the author's Redeemed at Countless Cost: The Recovery of Iconographic Theology and Religious Experience from 1850 to 2000 (2017), which is reviewed elsewhere in the Victorian Web —  George P. Landow

From the mid-1840s the “Ritualistic Controversy” rocked and divided the religious nation. Before it finally subsided in the mid-1880s it generated a great deal of litigation and even resulted in the brief imprisonment of four priests. “The Ritualistic Controversy was a dramatic testimony to the determination of many Anglo-Catholic priests,” according to Horton Davies, “to adopt the liturgical practices of the pre-Reformation Church in England and, in a few cases, the extra-liturgical devotions of the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Church in Western Europe.” Rev. William J.E. Bennett’s building of St. Barnabas, Pimlico, in 1850 typified this orientation. This church had a rood screen, stone altar, and all of the windows were stained glass. Among his liturgical practices were the chanting of the Psalms and other parts of the service, closing the chancel gates at the Eucharist, bowing to the altar, and crosses and candles, lighted no less, on the altar. None of this sat too well with the more Protestant Protestants, two hundred of whom attacked Bennett and his church in November of 1850. The following year he took up his bishop’s suggestion that he resign. Before he left, though, Bennett took the opportunity in a few “farewell sermons” to put forth an apologia. The gist of these ran that before the Fall we were able to encounter God directly, face to face, without any intermediary. Since then, we no longer can do so, and now “we walk about in an empty shadow” and “we pant and thirst for a higher degree of holiness.” This is because it is the church’s function to provide a holy space and time through which we may encounter God, but the present church, by forsaking its tradition in pursuit of rational “external, nominal machinery,” makes this impossible. “The Church, in her present very precarious position,” he lamented, “may seem, in our sight, well nigh lost and gone.” Bennett developed this theme in a number of sermons published over the next decade. [8]


Dippel, Stewart, with Rev. Jeffrey F. Champlin. Redeemed at Countless Cost: The Recovery of Iconographic Theology and Religious Experience from 1850 to 2000. New York: Peter Lang, 2017. [Review by George P. Landow]

Last modified 7 March 2018