Popular religion of the 16th century was strongly visual and ritually active, which was most apparent in shrines and pilgrimages. Henry VIII's elimination of much of the traditional Medieval culture that infused English religious life effected everyone. Shrines, relics, images, indulgences and pilgrimages, along with most liturgical practices fell victim to the reforming and were destroyed. The exhibiting of relics was notorious and while the Medieval church attempted to control their display, they also made a great deal of money off of the business. By 1536 the practice of pilgrimage was banned and the Dissolution of the Monasteries had begun.

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire.

          By the sixteenth century the church was the largest land owner in England and extremely affluent. Pilgrimages and offerings to relics had given them a steady income, increasing their wealth and power. An inherent mistrust of the privileged clergy was growing within the public, which aided and eventually led to their suppression as the secularization of monastic possessions was what the lay people, both royal and private, coveted. The monastic link to the Catholic church was considered very strong and because of this, they were seen as opponents to the king. Between 1536 and 1539 the government was under the guidance of men who disapproved of monasteries in principle and had better ideas for the usage of their wealth. The crown was greedy for their revenue and the gentry desired their lands. Aristocrats who purchased old monastic lands at bargain prices were more inclined to support Henry and his causes.
          Those monastic buildings that were not sold to the nobility for use as country estates became a source of inexpensive construction materials for local residents. Monasteries all over England were stripped of their riches, disbanded and allowed to fall into ruin. Generally, the monks and nuns of these religious houses were treated well after the dissolution, with only a few protesters summarily executed. Monastic libraries laden with invaluable illuminated manuscripts were destroyed with scant regard for their importance or worth. Also affected were the pilgrimage centers and routes that fell into irrevocable economic depression with no other source of income to support themselves.
Furness Abbey, Cumbria
          However, while the papal connections to London's Westminster Abbey were severed, the cathedral was not allowed to fall into ruins because of its royal tombs and strong historical association with the monarchy. Westminster Abbey became another symbol of the power and authority of royalty over the church. Religious houses were considered the last bastion of popery in England and an obstacle to Henry's religious reform. Not only did their dissolution add to the power and wealth of the crown but it further strengthened Henry VIII's role as head of the Church of England.
Westminster Abbey, London
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