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Photo credit: Nick Pye

It is a sad fact of history, King Henry XIII of England, single-handedly destroyed religion in his country. Destroyed in the essence of it became secular, all the internal turmoil and debauchery of the Catholic Church notwithstanding. Each succeeding generation of English people moved further away from any form of organized religion. Chuch became more of a hobby. A socially acceptable place to be seen. It stands today the English people are surrounded by more breathtaking houses of worship than any place, I have visited, yet are often considered the least religious population in the world. That is not to say there are pockets of religious organizations in England, but they are a meager minority.

By the 19th century, church attendance waxed and waned like the phases of the moon. It appeared the wealthy parishioners are the least likely to attend church for religious reason, if attend at all. Church allowed ladies to show off their new fashions, while still giving the appearance of a virtuous young women by being in attendance. The 19th century women were masters of these types of illusions. It was the mode to be hold propriety in high esteem and to appear as vapid yet virginal as possible. The proper young lady wore tight white gloves even indoors. Her outfit modest in its revelation of skin; yet the dress itself could be rather elaborate. The all important church hat or bonnet was donned to cover the tresses in a place of worship.

Every well-bred women would attend services, but it was too much for her to really be too knowledgable about such things. Religion, like politics, was really no place for a woman. Not any women who hoped to marry, anyways. They were going through the motions, saying prayers by rote, and occasionally assisting the church’s efforts to aid the poor and downtrodden. They were to be Ladies and Ladies did not deal with messy things like religion and heathens. They might romanticize some of biblical stories and dream of heaven but it was not an all-consuming endeavor as was in previous generations. Some old families had pews reserved in the church to show their prominence and their legacy of the family name. It gave many descendants an obligation to attend.

Considering church still plays some part in American life, it is no wonder the English think we are zealot little Puritans. After all these years religion still plays a vastly important, if not peripheral role, in the United States than in England. For the record American religious participation runs the gamut in today’s environment. Most still enjoy dressing up a bit more than their everyday clothes to attend the services. So as long as there is church there will be belles.