In the morning I went to Mr. Guning’s, where he made an excellent sermon upon the 2 of the Galatians, about the difference that fell between St. Paul and Peter (the feast-day of St. Paul being but a day or two ago); whereby he did prove that contrary to the doctrine of the Roman Church, St. Paul did never own any dependence or that he was inferior to St. Peter, but that they were equal; only, one a perticular charge of preaching to the Jews and the other to the Gentiles.
Samuel Pepys, 29 January 1660 
The extract above, taken from one of the earliest entries in Samuel Pepys’s diary, provides a valuable insight into a contemporary auditor’s experience of a sermon in early modern England. Pepys informs us of the preacher’s name (in this case, Peter Gunning, future Bishop of Ely); the chosen biblical text which formed the foundation of the sermon, albeit with only the chapter specified as opposed to the exact verse; the occasion; and the key Protestant lessons to be derived from the sermon. This excerpt constitutes a window into the world with which the GEMMS database is preoccupied: namely, the central ritual events of the English Reformation and their surviving manuscript remains.
The sermon in early modern England was the most important form of communication for Protestants and the dominant genre of religious literature in the English Reformation. The sermon in this era was, broadly speaking, an analysis of a passage from Scripture that was ‘applied’ to the audience and occasion of its delivery. Ordained ministers would choose a single extract from the Bible, which usually comprised no more than three verses, and structure their sermon around the interpretation of this passage. First, the preacher would explicate the text; that is, decipher it in a way that revealed its meaning. This would frequently involve a discussion of the verse’s context within the Bible and its grammatical construction. He would then proceed to explain the doctrines which the scriptural text contained, often with recourse to various Bible translations, patristic writings, and theological works and sermons composed by contemporary Protestant clergy. After the explication came the application, in which the preacher would explain why such doctrines were necessary and relevant to his hearers.
|Figure 1: A Ramist diagram demonstrating the parts of a sermon. George Downame, Abrahams Tryall. LONDON[:] Printed for Humfrey Lownes, 1602. Bodleian Library, Oxford, Mason AA 50.|
|Figure 2: Late seventeenth-century sermon speech timer. St. Vedast-alias-Foster, City of London.|
|Figure 3: John Gipkyn, Old Saint Paul’s (1616). Diptych, verso of left panel. Oil on panel. 127 × 101.6 cm. Society of Antiquaries of London.|
It is a daunting task for researchers to reconstruct these vivid events. Fortunately, the GEMMS database provides invaluable assistance to such researchers who are attempting to capture these moments of performance in order to assess their significance. The types of sermons which are recorded on our database include, inter alia, notes taken by listeners in addition to those taken into the pulpit by preachers, drafts displaying the compositional processes involved in writing sermons, and full transcriptions of complete sermons copied from manuscript or print. We have also documented reports of sermons, most commonly found within diaries, personal notebooks, and letters (see ‘GEMMS’s Sermon Taxonomy’ for more details). While printed sermons have been able to tell us much about their role as religious and political pamphlets and their prevalence within the book market, sermons in manuscript can reveal a greater diversity of religio-political issues, including those too seditious to be published. In some cases, it has been possible to chart the editorial progress from script to print and investigate the parts of the sermon which were excised and those which were expanded. The manuscript sermons composed by laypeople show the extent of the sermon genre’s influence upon the writing cultures of the period. Indeed, renowned literary figures such as Daniel Defoe were keen attendees of sermons; his notebook, held at the Henry E. Huntington Library in San Marino, California contains six full transcriptions of sermons preached in 1681 (Huntington Library, HM 26613; GEMMS-MANUSCRIPT-001204).
What other resources are available which bring the early modern sermon back to life? The Virtual St. Paul’s Cathedral Project is one means by which academics, students and curious laypeople alike can gain insights into the experience of listening to a sermon preached by Donne at St. Paul’s. Also available is a period performance of two abridged sermons originally dating from the English Civil Wars, filmed at All Saints Parish Church, Middle Claydon, Buckinghamshire, illustrating the sermon’s vital role as a political instrument of the state. These resources, together with the information collated within the GEMMS database, build up a picture of ‘[t]he centrality of religion to early modern culture, and the sermon as that culture’s hallmark’.
Book ChaptersMcCullough, Peter, ‘Sermons’, in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500–1640, ed. by Andrew Hadfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 560–75.
Shami, Jeanne, ‘The Sermon’, in The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern English Literature and Religion, ed. by Andrew Hiscock and Helen Wilcox (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), pp. 185–206.
Web‘Sermon Reception and Religious Identity’, a series of workshops examining how sermons were heard and understood in sixteenth-century Europe, <www.st-andrews.ac.uk/reformation/sermonreception/index.html> [accessed 23 September 2019]
 The Diary of Samuel Pepys, ed. by Robert Latham and William Matthews, 11 vols (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1970–1983), I (1970), p. 32.
 Ian Green, Print and Protestantism in Early Modern England (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 194.
 Mary Morrissey, ‘Sermons, Primers, and Prayerbooks’, in The Oxford History of Popular Print Culture, Volume I: Cheap Print in Britain and Ireland to 1660, ed. by Joad Raymond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 491–509 (p. 507).
 For Ramist diagrams in printed sermons, see Mary Ann Lund, ‘Early Modern Sermon Paratexts and the Religious Politics of Reading’, in Material Readings of Early Modern Culture: Texts and Social Practices, 1580–1730, ed. by James Daybell and Peter Hinds (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), pp. 143–62. Note that such paratexts were not exclusive to sermons in print; see, for example, Inner Temple Library, London, Petyt MS. 531 C, which contains a Ramist diagram within an autograph sermon composed by Andrew Marvell, the father of the famous poet (GEMMS-SERMON-012161).
 Emma Rhatigan, ‘Preaching Venues: Architecture and Auditories’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, ed. by Peter McCullough, Hugh Adlington and Emma Rhatigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 87–119 (pp. 92–95).
 Gilbert Burnet, A Discourse of Pastoral Care (London, 1692), p. 222–23; James Caudle, ‘Measures of Allegiance: Sermon Culture and the Creation of a Public Discourse of Obedience and Resistance in Georgian Britain, 1714-1760’, 2 vols (unpublished doctoral thesis, Yale University, 1996), I, p. 87; Jennifer Farooq, Preaching in Eighteenth-Century London (Woodbridge: The Boydell Press, 2013), p. 8.
 Arnold Hunt, The Art of Hearing: English Preachers and Their Audiences, 1590–1640 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), p. 272.
 Mary Morrissey, Politics and the Paul’s Cross Sermons, 1558–1642 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. xi; 'Paul's Cross in the Reformation', St Paul's Cathedral
<www.stpauls.co.uk/history-collections/history/reformation500/pauls-cross-in-the-reformation> [accessed 23 September 2019].
 Kevin Sharpe, Image Wars: Promoting Kings and Commonwealths in England, 1603–1660 (New Haven, CT and London: Yale University Press, 2010), p. 184.
 Jeanne Shami, ‘Women and Sermons’, in The Oxford Handbook of the Early Modern Sermon, ed. by Peter McCullough, Hugh Adlington and Emma Rhatigan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), pp. 155–77.
 Virtual Paul's Cross Project, <vpcp.chass.ncsu.edu> [accessed 23 September 2019]. See also Liz Bury, ‘Relive John Donne’s 17th-century sermons in virtual reality project’, Guardian, 11 November 2013, <www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/11/john-donne-virtual-reality-sermon> [accessed 23 September 2019].
 The Earl of Manchester's Regiment of Foote, ‘Royalist and Parliamentarian English Civil War preachers preach authentic 17th Century sermons,’ YouTube, 10 September 2018,
<http://youtu.be/Mt_bUvRrLSY> [accessed 23 September 2019].
 Peter McCullough, ‘Sermons’, in The Oxford Handbook of English Prose 1500–1640, ed. by Andrew Hadfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), pp. 560–75 (p. 560).
~ Hannah Yip