Downton is accurate in at least one regard in that it gives us a taster of anti-Catholic prejudice.
Under the radar of other more pressing news, the story that Downton Abbey does not do God has also emerged.
I stopped watching Downton a long time ago, but even then it was clear to me that the absence of God in the show was rather obvious and not at all in keeping with how a great family would have lived in those days.
Back in the day, every Earl in the land would have been in church every Sunday (at least when he was in the country), giving a good example, meeting his tenants, and, of course, meeting the Vicar, whose living might very well have been in the Earl's gift.
The Vicar would have been a frequent guest at the great house, too, a useful person to make up the numbers when necessary. (This is something that you see happening in Jane Austen's novels. Lady Catherine de Burgh doesn't invite Mr Collins around so often for his conversation.)
There would have been grace at meals, and there would have been prayers for the whole household daily in the Servants' Hall, and upstairs on a Sunday. I am not sure when this custom died out, but it would have been universal before the First War, though it had probably gone by the Second.
Incidentally, Protestant grandees would not have employed any Catholic servants, partly because of this matter of prayers. Catholics were forbidden to attend any Protestant services (no 'communicatio in sacris') without special permission, which would only usually be given for occasions such as funerals. Of course, there were other reasons why Catholics did not get employed in great houses too.
“Everyone panics when you try to do anything religious on the telly," said Downton's historical adviser
Downton is inaccurate in that the Crawleys would never have employed an Irish Catholic chauffeur. But Downton is accurate in at least one regard in that it gives us a taster of anti-Catholic prejudice, which was rife at that time in not just the upper classes, but all classes, and has still not entirely passed away. This was, and is, very much a social prejudice, closely allied to the dislike of the Irish and foreigners in general. I have written about this subject before, so will not repeat myself.
It is interesting to note that while the show's producers have banned God, they did not ban anti-Catholicism, which leads one to think that anti-Catholicism is the only palatable form of religion from the perspective of the viewers. In other words, there are people out there (and I know this is true, because I have met some of them) who have no real religion left, and the only trace of their once Protestant faith is a dislike of Rome.
Moreover, as has been often observed, dislike of Rome is regarded as perfectly respectable and capable of expression in polite society. I have met people who have told me that they hate the Catholic Church.
I am stumped to think of any other institutions that can be spoken of in such terms without arousing immediate revulsion. That this prejudice is still with us is a blot on our national consciousness. And the situation in Scotland is far worse. Let's not mention Northern Ireland.
Father Alexander Lucie-Smith. "Downton may not 'do God' but it certainly does anti-Catholicism." Catholic Herald (November 18, 2015).
Reprinted with permission of the Catholic Herald. The Catholic Herald is a London-based magazine, established as a newspaper in 1888 and published in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
Father Alexander Lucie-Smith is a Catholic priest, doctor of moral theology and consulting editor of The Catholic Herald.Copyright © 2015 Catholic Herald
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