Sunday, 17 February 2013

Are you going to church today?

Are you going to church today? I've been  reading "Jersey in the 17th Century" by A.C. Saunders, who was librarian at the Societe Jersiaise; the book was published in 1931. It is fascinating to see how different matters were then.

Remember how people used to grumble a lot over Sunday trading rules, when you couldn't buy flowers - or a bible, on a Sunday, and how they grumbled recently about having one day in the year - Christmas day - when all shops had to remain shut. Such small matters as these pall in comparison with the rigor and rules of the 17th Century.

Restoration England had brought a relaxation in attitudes after the Puritan era, but the reign of William III and Mary saw a revived Protestantism which didn't go quite as far as the Puritans, but reigned in some of what they considered excesses in lewd and immoral behaviour. Read this, and be very thankful that you are not living in the 17th Century.

Are you going to church today? It's your choice. But it wasn't always like that!

Sunday Laws in the 17th Century by A.C. Saunders

The States evidently were endeavouring to look after the interests of the Islanders, especially in connection with their morality, and good conduct, in the position which it had pleased God to call them. Evidently the people were spending the Sunday as a holiday and turning it into a day of " debaucheries and profanities." Possibly the Rectors were finding that their congregations were falling off.
The influence of these twelve members of the States may be seen in the Act passed on the 7th November, 1681, which compelled all heads of families, their children, and servants, no matter of what rank, to attend public worship.
The Constable of each parish, and his officers, were directed to watch those who attended at Divine Service, and take the names of those who waited outside the church, sat gossiping outside their houses, and walked in public roads during church service, so that the offenders could be fined for their bad behaviour.
It was also directed that no mills should grind on the Sabbath and no Taverner sell drink, and any person found under the influence of drink on the Sabbath day shall be very heavily punished. The Constable had the power to seize sufficient goods belonging to the offenders to cover the penalty.
Sunday in Jersey in the 17th century was very different from the way it is kept at the present time, and was much more strictly observed than in England, where the "Book of Sports" allowed people to enjoy themselves in dancing and other pleasures, after attending Divine Service.
Towards the end of the century, a change took place in England, and strict regulations were issued that on the Sabbath all persons were directed to publicly and privately apply themselves by exercising themselves in the duties of piety and true religion ; that no tradesmen, artificer, workman or labourer or any other person shall do any work, except works of charity on that day on a penalty of five shillings.
No wares shall be exhibited for sale on the penalty of forfeiture of such wares ; no tradesman shall travel on that day on a penalty of twenty shillings and no person shall travel on a Sunday except in a case of emergency, certified by the Justice of the Peace, on the penalty of five shillings, and that any person committing any offence against such Acts shall be seized and set publicly in the stocks for two hours, and the fines and penalties are to go to the poor of the parish.
And there was one special clause in the Act which directed that any person travelling on the Lord's day who shall be robbed shall be debarred from bringing an action against the said robber.
And then we have the Act of William, dated the 24th February, 1697, against Immorality and Profaneness. " We do expect that all persons of honour or in place of authority will, to their utmost, contribute to the discountenancing men of dissolute and debauched lives, that they being reduced to shame and contempt may be enforced the sooner to reform their idle habits and practices."
This Act was directed to be read from all pulpits four times each year.

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