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One Enormous Room

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Council of Trent, 9 May 2013

Trent: What Happened at the Council 
by John O’Malley.
Harvard, 335 pp., £20, January 2013, 978 0 674 06697 7
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... I wonder if a single thought that has helped forward the human spirit has ever been conceived or written down in an enormous room.’ It’s one of the great historical putdowns: the patrician Whig punchline to Kenneth Clark’s scrutiny of Counter-Reformation art and architecture in his incomparable TV series Civilisation, before he turns from the camera and walks away down the considerable length of the Map Room in the Vatican, an Englishman abroad ...

The Chief Inhabitant

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Jerusalem, 14 July 2011

Jerusalem: The Biography 
by Simon Sebag Montefiore.
Weidenfeld, 638 pp., £25, January 2011, 978 0 297 85265 0
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... Where might you seek Jerusalem? You could start in Bologna, which since at least the ninth century CE has boasted a Jerusalem theme park called Santo Stefano, a complex of churches and chapels around the octagon of San Sepolcro. At the centre of San Sepolcro’s columned Romanesque splendour is a full-size medieval reproduction of the superstructure of the Holy Sepulchre, which helps us understand what it looked like before its custodians accidentally set fire to it in 1808 ...

The World Took Sides

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Martin Luther, 10 August 2016

Brand Luther: How an Unheralded Monk Turned His Small Town into a Centre of Publishing, Made Himself the Most Famous Man in Europe – and Started the Protestant Reformation 
by Andrew Pettegree.
Penguin, 383 pp., £21.99, October 2015, 978 1 59420 496 8
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Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet 
by Lyndal Roper.
Bodley Head, 577 pp., £30, June 2016, 978 1 84792 004 1
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Martin Luther: Visionary Reformer 
by Scott H. Hendrix.
Yale, 341 pp., £25, October 2015, 978 0 300 16669 9
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... Next autumn​ marks the half-millennium since an event now so mythic that some have doubted it ever took place. If it did, the date was 31 October 1517. The main actor belonged to a religious Order known as the Hermits of Saint Augustine, Martin Luther by name, though he also tried out a hybrid Greek/Latin polish for his surname by dressing it up as ‘Eleutherius’, ‘the freed man ...

Mumpsimus, Sumpsimus

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Common Prayer, 24 May 2012

Book of Common Prayer: The Texts of 1549, 1559 and 1662 
edited by Brian Cummings.
Oxford, 830 pp., £16.99, September 2011, 978 0 19 920717 6
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... The publication of this definitive edition of the Book of Common Prayer heralds a significant anniversary; it is 350 years since the final version of the book was authorised by Parliament in 1662. It comes hard on the heels of the quatercentenary celebrations last year for another milestone of Stuart English prose composition, the King James Bible, and although I was surprised by the large amount of public interest shown in that commemoration, I doubt whether the Prayer Book will have such an impact ...

Close Shaves

Gerald Hammond, 31 October 1996

Thomas Cranmer: A Life 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Yale, 692 pp., £29.95, May 1996, 0 300 06688 0
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... last few years have seen a remarkable surge in studies of the Reformation period and this book by Diarmaid MacCulloch is the piece which completes the jigsaw, putting at the centre of the first half of the 16th century Thomas Cranmer, the archbishop with the beard who created the Church of England. Cranmer’s beard dominates the cover. Instead of the ...

Wrong Kind of Noise

Marina Warner: Silence is Best, 19 December 2013

Silence: A Christian History 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 337 pp., £20, April 2013, 978 1 84614 426 4
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... it was reported in August that the Bishop of Northampton has begun a suit for his canonisation. Diarmaid MacCulloch doesn’t invoke Chesterton’s miracle-working powers, but he opens this expanded version of his 2012 Gifford Lectures with a Father Brown story, ‘The Oracle of the Dog’: by howling at a certain time, the animal gives the priestly ...

Part of the Fun of being an English Protestant

Patrick Collinson: Recovering the Reformation, 22 July 2004

Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £25, September 2003, 0 7139 9370 7
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... a four-volume set of 72 reprinted essays. It’s still an industry, and hardly a cottage industry. Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation is a better book on the subject as a whole than anyone has managed to write for a long time. The architecture of the book is impressive, both massive and elegant, and above all logical in its progression, and ...

Our Supersubstantial Bread

Frank Kermode: God’s Plot, 25 March 2010

A History of Christianity: The First 3000 Years 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 1161 pp., £35, September 2009, 978 0 7139 9869 6
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... with in the early pages of this book. A thousand pages later, as it reaches a temporary halt, MacCulloch is equably discussing some of the very latest things in religion, and recording the almost incredible success not only of Roman Catholicism but of a great diversity of lesser churches and sects. As nearly always, he explains these diversities ...

Holy-Rowly-Powliness

Patrick Collinson: The Prayer Book, 4 January 2001

Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England 
Churchhouse, 864 pp., £15, December 2000, 9780715120002Show More
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... on the Sundays around Easter. But this was not quite what Cranmer intended. As his biographer, Diarmaid MacCulloch, has insisted, worship for Cranmer entailed the profound commitment of the frequent Eucharist. He would neither have understood nor approved of an ‘Anglicanism’ (a term he could never have encountered) which celebrates, as the jewel ...

Little Bastard

Patrick Collinson: Learning to be Queen, 6 July 2000

Elizabeth: Apprenticeship 
by David Starkey.
Chatto, 339 pp., £20, April 2000, 0 7011 6939 7
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Elizabeth I: Collected Works 
edited by Leah Marcus and Janel Mueller.
Chicago, 436 pp., £25, September 2000, 0 226 50464 6
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... The religion of the Miroir and of its translator is evangelical, but scarcely Protestant. As Diarmaid MacCulloch has recently argued, Elizabeth’s religious style closely resembled that of Catherine Parr, but that allowed room for a deep and old-fashioned love of the symbolic imagery of the cross, which Catherine still called the crucifix. So when ...

What news?

Patrick Collinson: The Pilgrimage of Grace, 1 November 2001

The Pilgrimage of Grace and the Politics of the 1530s 
by R.W. Hoyle.
Oxford, 487 pp., £30, May 2001, 9780198208747
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... to quote the title of a seasoned classic by Anthony Fletcher (1968), recently revised by Diarmaid MacCulloch and reissued (1997). But in the perception of the actors this was not rebellion at all, and when they found themselves described as rebels in intercepted government bulletins, their fury almost turned them into what they were sure they ...

Not Biographable

Patrick Collinson: The Faithful Thomas Cromwell, 29 November 2007

Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister 
by Robert Hutchinson.
Weidenfeld, 360 pp., £20, February 2007, 978 0 297 84642 0
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... There is no engagement with the cluster of ranking Henrician historians, Starkey, Guy, E.W. Ives, Diarmaid MacCulloch, Susan Brigden, nor with Henry VIII’s biographers, J.J. Scarisbrick (here renamed ‘Scarisbrook’) and Bernard. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is tabloid history. It is also the kind of biography which Elton might have ...

‘Just get us out’

Ferdinand Mount, 21 March 2019

... drawn from the fanciful romances of Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose ‘Arthurian fables’, to quote Diarmaid MacCulloch in his Life of Cranmer, ‘have met their nemesis in Walt Disney and Monty Python’. The king lapped it all up, and now so do the Jacob Rees-Moggs and Iain Duncan-Smiths, whose freedom to practise their Catholic faith is no thanks to ...

A Man It Would Be Unwise to Cross

Stephen Alford: Thomas Cromwell, 8 November 2018

Thomas Cromwell: A Life 
by Diarmaid MacCulloch.
Allen Lane, 752 pp., £30, September 2018, 978 1 84614 429 5
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... of master. Cromwell was the boy from Putney who rose and fell at the court of Henry VIII with, as Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography shows, spectacular unobtrusiveness. A man who in life strenuously resisted easy categories, Cromwell has been forced into the competing roles of hero and villain many times over. Neither quite fits him. To his enemies, of ...

Saint Shakespeare

Barbara Everett, 19 August 2010

... historical studies of the Reformation period, like Eamon Duffy’s The Stripping of the Altars and Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation: Europe’s House Divided 1490-1700, may be written from different ideological positions, yet will imply a similar historical picture. The world they describe is one of political confusion, religious bewilderment and ...

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