A story in 100 objects

15: Prieu Dieu

The Prie Dieu chairs in the dressing area of the bedroom suite are Victorian and were almost certainly used by both the 3rd and 4th Earls and their Countesses.

A Prie Dieu is a prayer stool or desk used mainly for private devotional worship. In addition to a kneeler and arm rest a Prie Dieu sometimes had a sloping shelf for a bible or prayer book. Most commonly they were used for prayers that did not need a book or for private non-liturgical prayers. They are sometimes found in churches today where they are most commonly used by a bride and groom during wedding services.

The name Prie Dieu, meaning Pray to God, dates from 17th century France where the aristocracy often had this type of stool in a small room or oratory set aside for private prayer.

England was still staunchly Christian in Victorian times but there were many Christian groups and beliefs. The more evangelical groups emphasised the bible rather than ritual whereas High Church Anglicans emphasised ritual with images, vestments and incense. An increasing number of public figures announced that they had no religious beliefs and scientific advances made it difficult for many people to accept the bible literally.

The Earls of Mount Edgcumbe were committed to the Church of England and to their parish church at Maker which the 4th Earl restored. He also supported the building of Truro Cathedral. Nevertheless in his writings he criticised aspects of the church as in an extract from his book ‘Afterthoughts’ quoted in a newspaper in 1900.

‘Probably if incense had been simply used, as it is in some churches or at some celebrations, there might have been no cause for interference. But anyone who goes to certain churches during the performance of High Mass will see that it is connected with a very complicated ceremonial which is quite unintelligible to an ordinary member of the Church of England. He can, of course, find nothing about it in his prayer book.’

“Probably if incense had been simply used, as it is in some churches or at some celebrations, there might have been no cause for interference. But anyone who goes to certain churches during the performance of High Mass will see that it is connected with a very complicated ceremonial which is quite unintelligible to an ordinary member of the Church of England. He can, of course, find nothing about it in his prayer book.

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