John Bossy (1933-2015)

It is very common for students of history come across scholars whose work is game changing for them. Perhaps a certain argument upends a firmly entrenched assumption, or a particular article, book or whole body of work presents a methodological or theoretical approach that you had never before considered, but becomes fundamental in your own work.

When I was working on my BA, I came across a particular historian whose work completely shattered my preconceived notions about Catholicism (historically and in the present day), especially in terms of the social aspects of life for late medieval and early modern Catholics. This historian radically changed and enhanced the way I think about history at large, and led me to the course of study I am on today. He died last month, and so this week I tip my hat to John Bossy.

I’m not sure it’s possible to overstress the importance of Bossy’s great works, The English Catholic community, 1570-1850 and Christianity in the West, 1400-1700, both of which highlight the deeply communal aspects of late medieval Catholicism and how reform affected important social aspects of shared faith. My first exposure to his work was in reading his seminal 1983 article, “The Mass as a Social Institution 1200-1700,” which shows how deeply connected were the links between the religious and the social in early modern communities and lives, thereby completely overhauling my understanding of what it meant to be a Catholic at this time.

Though his perspective on the social changes wrought by religious reform was more negative than my own, his work is absolutely foundational to the way I think about this period. I could not do the work I do without it. His contributions to the field remain as invaluable today as they were when first published. And they continue to inspire students.


An obituary written by one of Bossy’s friends and colleagues, Simon Ditchfield, can be read here:


The English Catholic Community, 1570-1850. Darton, Longman and Todd, 1975.

“The Mass as a Social Institution 1200-1700.” Past & Present, no. 100 (August 1, 1983): 29–61.

Bossy, John. Christianity in the West, 1400-1700. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985.



John Bossy (1933-2015)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s