Wuffings Study Day: East Anglia’s Catholic Families

Protecting veil

Yesterday I travelled down to Sutton Hoo in Suffolk to deliver four lectures on the history of Catholicism in East Anglia to an audience of around thirty people who had travelled from various parts of Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex and, in one case, from Kent. The study day, entitled ‘Surviving the Reformation: East Anglia’s Catholic Families’ was probably the first one-day event ever dedicated to the history of Catholicism in East Anglia. I am grateful to Dr Sam Newton and Rosemary Hoppitt of Wuffing Education for making this possible.

The first session, entitled ‘Why did Catholicism live on in East Anglia?’, made the case for studying East Anglian Catholicism (and Catholicism in general), before giving a brief chronological overview of the main events of the Reformation as they impacted upon Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire. The second session, entitled ‘Who were the Catholics? East Anglia’s Catholic Families’ focussed in on the main Catholic families of the region, dividing them into four categories: the ancient families, who predated the Reformation; the incomers, who settled in the region after the Reformation; families who vacillated between Catholicism and Protestantism; and finally non-gentry families.

After lunch, the third session was ‘The Catholic Mission in East Anglia’, which examined Catholicism in the region from the perspective of the priests rather than the laity, and traced the evolution of Catholic chapels from small rooms in attics to the earliest Catholic churches. The final session of the day, entitled ‘Surviving the Penal Laws in East Anglia’, examined ten different strategies employed by Catholics to survive or avoid the laws against Catholicism between 1559 and 1829.

Although this study day was in many ways a ‘whistle-stop tour’ of Catholicism in East Anglia and a very brief introduction, it is my hope that it will be the beginning of a renewed interest in the history of Catholicism in the region, and that those who attended will go out and spread the word about this very interesting and promising area of research.

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