This essay explores the role of transitionary rituals in the culture of early-modern English Protestantism, and focuses particularly on the threshold, its ritual uses, and its wider metaphorical meanings. The experience of liminality is important to our understanding of how personal and communal identities were constructed, but it also marks important differences within Protestantism. An introductory section discusses theoretical models for thinking about liminality, drawn from anthropology and language theory, and considers how these might apply to post-Reformation England. A second section maps out the range of different functions and meanings of thresholds, as sites of political transition, of penitence and judgement, and for asserting religious doctrine. It discusses the differences of opinion about porches and thresholds between puritans and Laudians. The final section sets out a case study in the wedding poems of Robert Herrick. Herrick’s epithalamia dramatize moments of threshold-crossing in order to imagine how marriage rites transform their subjects’ identities. In particular, Herrick fashions the state of liminality as a heightened, ritual time, distinct from ordinary time—a quality which distinguishes him from Calvinist writers who experienced liminality as more pervasive and continuous.

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