The Reformation


Detail of Lord Leysters Hospital

Historians are very good at inventing grand terms to sum up time periods. A good example is the Reformation, used to describe the momentous changes in religious belief during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. However, the rejection and reform of the Roman Catholic Church and the emergence of Protestantism was no neat process. For most, religion was at the centre of daily life; any questioning of long-held practices and beliefs resulted in mixed reactions.

This confusion was expressed in architecture. The Reformation brought about great destruction to existing buildings, most obviously the many ruins caused by the dissolution of the monasteries. However, new types and forms of buildings arrived. With the monasteries gone, schools, almshouses and hospitals were built in their place, and great mansions were built by the new landowners of monastic lands. In addition, a new architecture of protest emerged: plain Protestant churches were created; an architecture of stealth arose, Catholic houses often being riddled with priest holes; and symbols became ever more potent.

It may be difficult to ascertain how far people’s beliefs actually changed in this period, but their visual world, the architecture they built and experienced, certainly underwent a reformation.   

About the online exhibition

'How We Built Britain' is a major collaboration with the BBC


Images in the exhibition are from RIBApix, a growing database dedicated to providing you with exceptional and unique images from the RIBA British Architectural Library's collections.

Top of page