Puritanism and Refinement in Early New England: Reflections on Communion Silver
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The Puritan colonists of seventeenth-century New England were under no theological or ecclesiastical obligation to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper using refined silver vessels for the wine and bread. Yet despite the dire scarcity of precious metals in the colony, they chose to take silver out of circulation and use it to make silver communion vessels. These vessels were in widespread use throughout the region, in churches both rich and poor, and are widely seen as chief exemplars of the Puritans’ finest art. This essay explores the reason for this counterintuitive development by examining the spiritual value of material objects in the development of Puritan religious sensibilities. It argues for a closer connection between early modern religious reformations and the spread of refinement and consumption than previous scholarship has suggested, by showing the parallels in the construction of desire shared by pious and genteel cultures.