Rosa Bell (b.1902): Habits and Beliefs – Part 2: Religion

Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, England was a predominantly Christian country. The Victorian Era placed great importance on the significance of the Church in society and witnessed a rise in a “vibrant and often competitive religious culture” [1] that continued throughout the twentieth century. Rosa dedicates a large quantity of her memoir to the discussion of religious culture and her unwavering faith in God. 

Religion and Christianity are not only passions in Rosa’s life, but also what she identifies as being the very reason she was brought into the world. In the first chapter of her memoir, entitled ‘My Dad,’ Rosa describes how her parents (Joseph Holiday and Elizabeth Kennedy) met through the Church: “They used to sit opposite each other in the village Church Choir and in those days found true pleasure in just the simple things for there was nothing else” (p.4). Rosa discusses religion in almost, if not every, chapter of her memoir as her faith comforted her even from before she was born to the later years of her life.

The Village Choir by A. Hunt (1863)

In the same chapter, Rosa describes how, out of all her six other siblings, it was her “who loved my parents more than any other member of the family” (p.9-10) and once again she attributes this love to the times spent in Church with her parents, and specifically the love felt when singing hymns together. She writes: “to stand beside my father in Church & sing with him the wonderful hymns. His favourites were when I sang the Wondrous Cross, The King of Love my Shepherd is and abide with me…Also I remember walking with my mother to the [leuten?] services and singing” (p.10). It is clear from reading her memoir that Rosa’s faith in God is more to her than mere religion, it is the practice through which she showed love and bonded with her parents and was deeply embedded  within her and her family’s lives.

Additionally, hymns in this historical period had a “unique popularity as they were sung regularly at public meetings, political gatherings, trade union rallies and for recreational purposes in private homes and even public houses.” [2] The popularity of these hymns allowed for religion to span all classes, all people and all communities of the era as the hymns were interwoven into social and private lives. This caused religion and the Church to be one of the few practices that was not confined or acceptable to just one class, resulting in inclusivity and community that broke down class boundaries, even if it was only for the time spanning a Church service or religious holiday.

A large portion of Rosa’s entertainment and leisurely activities were dedicated in some way to involvement with the Church. In particular Sundays, traditionally the day of the Sabbath, were dedicated to prayer and her faith: “Then on Sundays, I did take my own Sunday School Class in the mornings and afternoons then go to Miss C’s Bible Class in her sitting room at 5:30pm and then to evening service in our Church. So Sundays were happily full days – so full of joy and contentment” (p.105-106). Sunday Schools in this era were not only to show dedication to God but also a moment of communal teaching and the sharing of knowledge that amassed great popularity in the nineteenth and early twentieth century’s (See: Education and Schooling).

While it is evident that the Church had a huge impact on Rosa’s life, it is also true that her work, specifically teaching at Sunday School, left an impression on the lives of others. Rosa writes that “when I go into the Shop not far away one lady comes in and lets folks know in no certain manner that I used to teach her in Sunday School” (p.163). Rosa spends the majority of her memoir remembering those who had an impact on her life and those who helped her through hard times, it is heart-warming to know that she impacted others’ lives in the same manner.

Finally, in her own words, Rosa describes her dedication to God and all the comfort she found in His presence during hard and joyful times in her life: “These were truly my joys the Lord indeed was my Shepherd, and is still holding my hand in all my joys and tribulations. When I am down in the depths he is there to comfort me and when life is going well I can lift up mine eyes to the Hills and know he is over there” (p.108-109).

Memoir:

Bell, Rosa. “R.M Remembers.” Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collections, 2:59, available at: http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10895

Citations:

[1] ‘Religion’ English Heritage. Accessed: 17/04/2019. Available at: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/learn/story-of-england/victorian/religion/

[2] Carey, Kevin. (2006) Victorian Hymns. Online: Jesus4U Education Site. Accessed: 17/04/2019. Available at: https://www.jesus4u.co.uk/study-sheets/victorian_hymns

Images:

[1] The Village Choir – http://www.wgma.org.uk/Resources/WG%20in%20Art.htm 

[2] Abide With Me – http://michaelkravchuk.com/free-choir-sheet-music-abide/

[3] Sunday School – https://es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escuela_dominical

Hymns:

Wondrous Cross – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9eCUqz_x5A

The King Of Love my Shepherd Is – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iI1OeQfkVyI

Abide with me – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=deJDkU6qiGE

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