Our theme is religion and the early modern state, with all the polarities such a title implies. In this chapter, I want to consider the impact of the Reformation in a community in which “folk belief” and the state religion – or at any rate the religion of the local clerical and social elites – were intimately bound together, and in which the social, economic, and religious dynamics and interests of the community were represented and inscribed in a great building, one of the most harmonious perpendicular churches of fifteenth-century England. I want to explore the way in which that building even now encodes the interplay of social realities and relations within a gentry-dominated community on the eve of the Reformation. I also want to raise some questions about the extent to which the Reformation should be considered not an act of state so much as an assertion of social hegemony, a radical simplification of social as well as religious space, the elimination or overwhelming of some of the key constituent elements in the balance of a late medieval community.
THE PARISH OF SALLE
The great church of Salle stands isolated in the north Norfolk fields near Aylsham: There is no longer anything that could be called a village. The parish was once a rich and important place, weaving linen and Hessian for the region as well as wool, but there were never enough people in Salle to fill the church.