What If the Reformation never happened?


… this was the Cathedral Basilica of St George at Coverley, the mother church of all England, and of the English Empire overseas. That bright May afternoon it was as full as I had ever been in the three centuries since its consecration… Apart from Wren’s magnificent dome, the most renowned of the sights was the vast Turner ceiling in commemoration of the Holy Victory, the fruit of four and a half year’s virtually uninterrupted work; there was nothing like it anywhere. The western window by Gainsborough, beginning to blaze now as the sun first caught it showed the birth of St Helena, mother of Constantine the Great, at Colchester. Along the south wall ran Blake’s still brilliant frescoes depicting St Augustine’s progress through England. Holman Hunt’s oil painting of the martyrdom of St George was less celebrated for its merits than for tale of the artist’s journey to Palestine in the hope of securing authenticity for his setting; one of the latest additions, the Ecce Homo mosaic by David Hockney, had attracted downright adverse criticism for it’s excessively traditionalist, archaizing style. But only admiration had ever attended… the William Morris spandrels on the transept arches  … and Epstone’s massive marble Pietà.

 Kingsley Amis’ 2004 novel, The Alteration,  is set in 1976 in an alternate world where Arthur Tudor never died, and so Henry VIII never became King, married his brother’s widowed bride or broke with Rome in order to secure their divorce. Martin Luther took his 99 theses toRome, became Pope Germanian I, and was succeeded by Hadrian VII, formerly Thomas More. The Dutch speaking United States, never extending beyond New England, gains independence in 1850, and counts Edgar Allan Poe and Whistler as its greatest military heroes.

The picture painted, of an anti-Semitic, technophobic, sex starved autocracy is similar to Pullman’s His Dark Materials Triology , drawing a “child on the run from papal castration” theme to propel the plot and  predictable (inaccurate[1]) stereotypes for the thematic framework. The delightful off-hand references to AJ Ayer as a Professor of “Dogmatic Theology” and “the De Existentiae Natura of Monsignor Jean-Paul Sartre, the French Jesuit”  manage to be both sardonic and reflective, a tone that is sadly not sustained throughout the novel. This opening passage, though, is a stonker.


[1] See for example, the number of catholics, especially priests and religious involved in scientific discovery, at all points in history, Pope John Paul II’s speech at the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Vashem, and this little footnotes to moral teaching called “The Theology of the Body”.

4 Comments

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4 responses to “What If the Reformation never happened?

  1. Keith Roberts’ Pavane is on a similar theme and also worth reading.

  2. Dear Kathleen,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I’d love to share my thesis with you so far — I think you’d find it particularly interesting, having had a flick through your post! I’m currently trying to write it at the moment, and for now Sparkles&Crumbs is my little place of non-academic sanity to switch off from it and write something frivolous… but as soon as it’s finished, no fear, I’ll be sharing! Thanks for the encouragement :)

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