Downton Abbey: Where’s the Church?

I fell in love with Downton Abbey in its first season, largely because of the lines Maggie Smith was given: “What’s a week-end?” for example. And I was delighted to see how many of my facebook friends were equally enthralled. The first episode of the second season seems to have been as popular among Episcopalians as the Presiding Bishop’s latest fashion statement.

That being said, I realized half-way through last season that there was no evidence of religious practice in the show. Neither the upstairs nor downstairs contingent were shown attending services or practicing private devotions.

Trailers for the new season featured prayer prominently, perhaps because of the outset of war.

In spite of the absence of any Anglican presence in the series so far, it hasn’t stopped commentators for speculating on the spiritual lessons we might learn from watching it. Here’s the take from Spirituality and Practice.

Perhaps now that Tim Tebow and the Broncos were soundly defeated and we won’t have to speculate on the religious meaning of football until next July, the commentariate will find new topics to analyze, such as the religious significance of Downton Abbey. I wait with bated breath.

In the meantime, there is no dearth of political and cultural commentary on the popularity of DA on both sides of the pond. From Salon: Why liberals love Downton Abbey. From Slate: The very serious looks of Downton Abbey. Simon Schama writes in Newsweek about its cultural necrophilia. And Kathryn Hughes explores its popularity in America from a London perspective.

But still, the only praying we’ve seen so far (correct me if I’m wrong) comes from Lady Mary, whose pure motives are hardly to be trusted. My knowledge of the Church of England in the 19th and early 20th centuries extends no further than Chadwick’s 2 volumed The Victorian Church, so I’ve got little to go on, but I should think that the country aristocracy would have made a regular show of attending services. Perhaps its a sign of the decline in Christianity’s importance in 21st century England that the show’s writers didn’t feel a need to make even a nod in that direction.

But why are progressive Episcopalians as enamored of the show as everyone else?

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