Comfort through ‘the lively Word of God’: Katherine Willoughby and the Protestant Funeral Monument


Eva Lauenstein


What does the use of biblical scripture, viewed through the funeral monument’s material and spatial presence in the church building disclose about the role of the places for the dead in establishing and maintaining church practices and ritual during the formative years of the Reformation? Taking the lead from the tomb of early evangelical reformer Katherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk at Spilsby in Lincolnshire, this article examines the relationship between text, space and materiality in the formulation of a protestant rhetoric of congregational equality with its epicentre in the church nave. Tracing the texts and placements of commemorative structures, and their relationship to official as well as more radical protestant texts, including the Elizabethan Injunctions (1559), as well as the writing of John Dod (1615), this preliminary investigation explores the fertile relationship between object and text in the development of Protestant identities.By applying recent archaeological scholarship into the role of ‘presencing’ mechanisms (Graves 2000, & Roffey, 2008) in the medieval and post-medieval church interior to the Willoughby monument in Spilsby’s north chancel, as well as two further examples of the tombs of protestant reformers, the notion of a protestant dismissal of the visual as a tool in devotion will be challenged. By introducing the central role of placement, the approach will destabilize the view that in the protestant church ‘the greatest visual impact came from words’ (MacCulloch, 1999, p. 159), and instead, place language into the wider architectural and spatial narratives of the church interior.


Author Biography

Eva Lauenstein, Birkbeck College, University of London

Eva Lauenstein is a PhD candidate at Birkbeck, University of London, researching the changes and continuities in commemorative spaces in the period marked by the Reformation. With a special focus on women’s place in, and contribution to these developments, the research traces the opportunities opened by a destabilisation of the places for the dead. Suspended between established and emerging beliefs the possibilities for new creative visual and literary engagements that shaped female identity, authorship and patronage are explored.


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