Note: This post contains spoilers for Season 3 of Downton Abbey.

If you’ve been following television recently, then you’ve likely heard of Downton Abbey, a program that has gripped millions in it’s clutches for two years with the relationships and rushed nature of the Crawley family and their servants. This story has much to it that’s worth viewing — e.g., great story-telling, fantastic historical authenticity — but what does it have to say about God? That’s the question writer Todd Dorman asks about the show in a recent Christianity Today piece.

The show’s writer and primary creative force, Julian Fellowes, is a practicing Catholic.

The show is set in an old abbey. The family who own Downton, especially the older generations who have the most to lose by losing the house, are obsessed not only with the house itself, but also with its history.

Also they employ a vicar.

So how is it that God is a peripheral presence at best?

In a show focused in a religious setting, there is little religious behavior to view. Dorman finds this funny for a show such as Downton:

[I]t remains striking how much divine trapping there is in Downton Abbey, for what little role explicit faith plays in its characters’ lives. There are numerous fascinating blog posts, including this one, that search for implicit Catholic and Christian themes in the show — good and evil, suffering for cause, various types and grades of love and devotion. At some point, though, especially with a vicar in the family’s employ, it seems odd for such connections to remain unnamed, unspoken, and, for all we can see, unperceived.

This phenomenon is odd for the story. Dorman does hope for more religious themes in the upcoming season. But we’ll have to see. If rumors for the third season are true, then we should see some deaths and funerals approaching our heroes.

But only time will tell as to what the Crawley family will go through, and how their faith (or possibly lack thereof) will play in their lives.


  1. In Downtown Abbey the vicar is a part of the established Order of the world in which the family lives; he pop up now and again to play his part, but there is no discussion of faith, only duty. This is one of the better shows coming from England, but sadly, Downton Abbey reflects the culture of modern England, especially that of the television establishment. Most tv shows have no spiritual dimension; those that do not are largely atheist – actively and aggressively so. It’s one of the reasons that England has rapidly become a land of agnostics.

  2. While I’m not an expert on Britain in the 1900s – 1920s, I suspect it also isn’t too inaccurate a refection of the culture of that time too. The fact that the Grantham family live in a former abbey and that they control the “living” of the local vicar is simply part of the landscape of being a wealthy landowning family in Britain any time between the Reformation and the mid-20th C. And from what I have read (and I’m British by birth, and have read a great deal of British history and historical fiction, though mostly pre-20th C), by the late 19th C, if not before, Christianity in Britain was “a mile wide and a inch thick” – almost everyone was a nominal Christian, and a family like the Crawleys would feel obliged to put in fairly regular appearances at their local church (especially on holidays etc), because that was part of the social pattern, especially in the countryside. But real, vibrant faith? Already massively on the decline.

  3. The “abbey” in Downton’s name does not mean the building was once a monastery but implies it was built on the site of a monastery that was destroyed.

  4. Ian, you have really interesting ideas there. You might be on to something. But I believe that the history of the writer of the show’s faith will likely come into play soon in creating some heavier element of faith. (or at least I would hope they would)

    Thanks for the clarification, Jeannie. That is a notable fact.

  5. Aside from the time Bates was released from jail, I think every time someone said “Thank God,” the situation changed to the undesired outcome, e.g. Sybil’s safe delivery of her baby. It made me wonder if that was a deliberate attempt to say something negative either about God’s power or His intervention.

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