In the deeply religious culture of early modern Europe, belief in God was generally a given. The grounds of such belief, the authority of the church, and the very principles of religion itself, however, were the subject of vigorous, and sometimes violent, dispute.

‘The Church’ can refer both to a specific building used for religious worship, or to the universal, collective Christian community of believers. In the sixteenth century, this sense of unity was fractured: Reformers, particularly in Germany and England, challenged many of the practices and beliefs of the traditional Catholic Church, leading ultimately to the emergence of Protestantism. They introduced drastically new ideas about how to achieve intimacy with God and live virtuously. Many advocated a rejection of ecclesiastical authorities and traditions in favour of a new emphasis on individual conscience as the site of religious knowledge, and on the text of scripture as its source. These changes were reflected in the physical spaces of churches themselves.