Summary defines it as:

  1. a secret or unauthorized meeting, esp. for religious worship, as those held by Protestant dissenters in England in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  2. a place of meeting or assembly, esp. a Nonconformist meeting house.
  3. Obsolete. a meeting or assembly.


This text was copied from Wikipedia on 18 January 2019 at 6:02AM.

A Covenanters' conventicle. The Covenanters' Preaching, painting by George Harvey

A conventicle is a small, unofficial and unofficiated religious meeting of laypeople.


In England, there were three acts of Parliament passed to coerce people to attend Church of England services and to prohibit unofficiated meeting of laymen:

The Religion Act 1592, stated to last for just one parliament, called for imprisonment without bail of those over the age of sixteen who failed to attend church, who persuaded others to do the same, who denied Her Majesty's authority in ecclesiastical matters, and who attended unlawful religious conventicles.[1]

The Conventicle Act 1664 forbade conventicles of five or more people, other than an immediate family, meeting in religious assembly outside the auspices of the Church of England.[2] This law was part of the Clarendon Code, named for Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon, which aimed to discourage nonconformism and to strengthen the position of the Established Church.

The Conventicles Act 1670 imposed a fine of five shillings for the first offence and ten shillings for a second offence on any person who attended a conventicle (any religious assembly other than the Church of England). Any preacher or person who allowed his house to be used as a meeting house for such an assembly could be fined 20 shillings and 40 shillings for a second offence.[3][4]

Many Calvinists, however, held that the only "true" church was a voluntary gathering of believers and that, therefore, the official parish churches of the Church of England were false churches, offering the sacraments even to sinners and "Papists," while an officially illegal conventicle could be a true church.


Imaginary depiction of a conventicle in progress, from H. E. Marshall's Scotland's Story (1906)

Conventicles of believers in Reform were held in Scotland in the 1500s and are considered to have been instrumental in the movement that drove the French regent Mary of Guise from power. From 1660 to the 1688 Revolution conventicles were usually held by Covenanters opposed to Charles II's forced imposition of Episcopalian government on the established Church of Scotland.

In order to protect the Presbyterian polity and Calvinist doctrine of the Church of Scotland, the pre-Restoration government of Scotland[5] signed the 1650 Treaty of Breda with King Charles II to crown him king and support him against the English Parliamentary forces. At his Restoration in 1660, the King immediately renounced the terms of the Treaty and his Oath of Covenant, which the Scottish Covenanters saw as a betrayal.

The Rescissory Act 1661 repealed all laws made since 1633, effectively ejecting 400 Ministers from their livings, restoring patronage in the appointment of Ministers to congregations and allowing the King to proclaim the restoration of Bishops to the Church of Scotland. The Abjuration Act of 1662 ..was a formal rejection of the National Covenant of 1638 and the Solemn League and Covenant of 1643. These were declared to be against the fundamental laws of the kingdom. The Act required all persons taking public office to take an oath of abjuration not to take arms against the king, and rejecting the Covenants. This excluded most Presbyterians from holding official positions of trust. [6]

The resulting disappointment with Charles II's religious policy became civil unrest and erupted in violence during the early summer of 1679 with the assassination of Archbishop Sharp, Drumclog and the Battle of Bothwell Bridge. The Sanquhar Declaration of 1680 effectively declared the people could not accept the authority of a King who would not recognise their religion, nor commit to his previous oaths. In February 1685 the King died and was succeeded by his Roman Catholic brother the Duke of York, as King James VII.

James was eventually deposed in England favour of his nephew, the Calvinist Stadtholder of several provinces of the Netherlands, William III of Orange and his wife, James' Protestant daughter Mary. In Scotland a Convention of the Estates was called in Edinburgh and at this convention it was decided after considerable deliberation that, England having been conquered by William of Orange and his troops with little or no resistance, Scotland would support William and Mary's claim to the throne of Scotland. However, in the ensuing rebellion against the Williamite coup, some of James' loyal followers - the original "Jacobites", among whose ranks were many Highlanders - inflicted a heavy defeat on the new government's forces at Killiecrankie. The redcoats at this battle were no locally-raised militia, but were in fact the renowned Scots Brigade - a famous unit of Scottish professional soldiers in Dutch service some of whom had come over to Britain with William. Thus in a bizarre twist of fate, it fell to a small band of men self-consciously called the Cameronian Guard after the rebel followers of the martyred Covenanter preacher Richard Cameron, to defend the new government in a small but significant battle fought in the streets of Dunkeld against the recently victorious Jacobites. Thus former rebels fought to uphold the once-again ascendant Calvinist Protestant order in defence of the Covenant against the defenders of the old Episcopalian and Roman Catholic establishment. The Cameronians managed to hold out long enough for the government to bring in reinforcements and for the Jacobite advance to falter. The tables were now turned and once the rebellion was defeated, the Cameronians, heirs to the victims of government-mandated "pacification" at the hands of units like the Scots Greys, were used to police the Highlands and restore order.

Ejected preachers such as John Blackadder conducted religious ceremonies at conventicles.


In Finland the conventicle has remained the base activity especially in the Finnish Awakening revivalist movement. Today, the cell groups used in some churches are similar.


Philipp Jakob Spener called for such associations in his Pia Desideria, and they were the foundation of the German Evangelical Lutheran Pietist movement. Due to concern over possibly mixed-gender meetings, sexual impropriety, and subversive sectarianism conventicles were condemned first by mainstream Lutheranism and then by the Pietists within decades of their inception.


Japanese Christian pacifist Uchimura Kanzō founded the Non-church movement in 1901. By 1979 about 35,000 people belonged to the movement, which had spread from Japan to Taiwan and South Korea.[7]

More recent applications in the United States

The growth of conventicles is closely related to Pietism and the Charismatic Movement. In the American Lutheran Church, in particular, there has been considerable debate about conventicles stemming from 17th and 18th century Pietism. Thompson attributes today's Lutheran mission societies, ladies societies, youth groups, Bible studies, group devotions beyond actual church services, Lutheran elementary schools and high schools, and charitable and fraternal organizations associated with the church as all forms of conventicles. According to C. F. W. Walther, the founder of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, such movements had to be opposed or carefully monitored, a caution that remains in effect.[8]

According to Neville, the tradition of conventicles in Celtic lands can be found in the outdoor worship quite common in American communities, such as the South, that had been populated by Celtic ancestors. Neville describes it as folk tradition and ritual. Among the forms conventicles take are frontier revivals, family reunions, and cemetery services[9] as well as the more recent house church movement.

Early Mormon meetings were sometimes referred to as conventicles.[10]

Conventicles in other religions

According to Smith the mosque is a conventicle rather than an ecclesiastical institution. The mosque is an initiative of the community rather than a body led by a priesthood.[11] In particular the Jama'at Khana (or masalla) approximates the status of a conventicle. According to Kaufman, modern-day Jewish synagogues resemble churches whereas smaller meeting places—the shul, hevre, anshe, or shtibl—can be described as conventicle settings.[12]


  1. ^ Elton 1982, pp. 458-61.
  2. ^ Lodge 1923, p. 69.
  3. ^ Raithby 1819, pp. 648-651.
  4. ^ Noorthouck 1773, pp. 230-255.
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Christianity, The Japanese Way by Carlo Caldarola (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979).
  8. ^ Matthew E. Thompson, "Walther’s Anti-Conventicle Position: Its Roots in Pietism and Contemporary Application." Lutheran Synod Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 4, December 2002. Accessed at
  9. ^ Gwen Kennedy Neville (2005). Kinship and Pilgrimage: Rituals of Reunion in American Protestant Culture. Oxford University Press. pp. 45-48. Accessed at
  10. ^ John G. Whittier (1848), "A Mormon Conventicle." In The Latter-day Saints' Millennial Star, Volume 10, Publisher P.P. Pratt, 1848. Original from UC Southern Regional Library Facility Digitized Feb 7, 2014
  11. ^ Wilfred C. Smith. On Understanding Islam: Selected Studies. Walter de Gruyter, 1981. .mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"\"""\"""'""'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}ISBN 3110825805. p. 241
  12. ^ David Kaufman (1999). Shul with a Pool: The Synagogue-Center” in American Jewish History. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England. P. 168.


5 Annotations

Bill  •  Link

A conventicle is defined as an assembly of more than five persons besides the family meeting for worship not according to the Church of England.
---The History of England in Chronological Form. F.T. Jones, 1887.

Bill  •  Link

CONVENTICLE, a little private Assembly for Religious Exercises
---An Universal English Dictionary. N. Bailey, 1724.

Bill  •  Link

16 Car. II., cap. 4, "An Act to prevent and suppresse seditious Conventicles." It was enacted that anyone of the age of sixteen or upwards present at an unlawful assembly or conventicle was to incur fine or imprisonment. A conventicle was defined as an assembly of more than five persons besides the members of a family met together for holding worship not according to the rites of the Church of England. The act was amended 22 Car. II., cap. 1 (1670), and practically repealed by the Toleration Act of 1689, but the act 22 Car. II., cap. 1, was specially repealed 52 Geo. III., cap. 155, s. 1.
---Wheatley, 1893.

Chris Squire UK  •  Link

‘conventicle, n. < Latin . .
. . 4. a. A religious meeting or assembly of a private, clandestine, or illegal kind; a meeting for the exercise of religion otherwise than as sanctioned by the law.
. . a1684 J. Evelyn Diary anno 1656 (1955) III. 181 To Lond, to receive the B: Sacrament, & was the first time that ever the Church of England was reduced to a Chamber & Conventicle, so sharp was the Persecution.

. . b. spec. in Eng. Hist. A meeting of (Protestant) Nonconformists or Dissenters from the Church of England for religious worship, during the period when such meetings were prohibited by the law.

This specific application gradually became distinct after 1593, and may be said to have been recognized by the ‘Conventicle Act’ of 1664; for although the word there occurs in constant conjunction with assembly and meeting, and always with qualification, it was entitled ‘An Act to prevent and suppress seditious conventicles’, by which title it is cited in the Act of Toleration of 1689.

The application to Nonconformist worship after its legalization or ‘establishment’ in 1689, and esp. after the repeal of the Conventicle Act in 1812, comes, according to circumstances, from a historical survival of the idea of illegality or from a living idea of schism or heresy.
. . 1663 S. Pepys Diary 27 May (1971) IV. 159 The first [bill], he [sc. Roger Pepys] says, too devilish a severe act against conventicles.
1664 Act 16 Chas. II c. 4 (Conventicle Act) Any Assembly Conventicle or Meeting under colour or pretence of any Exercise of Religion in other manner than is allowed by the Liturgy or practise of the Church of England.
1664 S. Pepys Diary 7 Aug. (1971) V. 235 Came by several poor creatures, carried by by Constables for being at a conventicle.’


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Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.