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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: October 2020

21 - Believers’ Baptism, Commemoration and Communal Identity in Revolutionary England

from Part IV - Rituals and Bodies


This chapter explores literary representations of believers’ baptism published during the English Revolution. It focuses, in particular, on two surviving testimonies recounting participation in the ordinance originating in Fifth Monarchist communities: Anna Trapnel’s prophetic commemorations of her baptism recorded in 1654 and 1657-8, and the spiritual experiences of twelve-year-old Caleb Vernon published in 1666 as a spiritual antidote to the plague. The recounting of believers’ baptism in Fifth Monarchist communities was shaped by various political, social and doctrinal concerns originating both inside and outside the movement. The ordinance became a nexus of various imaginative affirmations of dissenting identity, including the connection of a present, commemorative act with a triumphant vision of the victorious saints in the near future. Baptisands recognised the commemorative function of baptism as a visible demonstration of their own spiritual regeneration and Christ’s resurrection (as well as other biblical models). However, this chapter will also explore how these surviving testimonies verge on bringing the past into the present, sometimes invoking divine presence through the physical gestures they describe. In such accounts, partly designed to urge fellow dissenters to undergo the ordinance, some believers appear to have transposed the pre-Reformation focus on immanence and sensory experience required by ritual acts.