Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Friday, 8 August 2014

English Iconoclasm I

Today I gave a lecture on English Iconoclasm and its impact from the sixteenth century onwards to the Faith and Culture conference organised for visiting students by Second Spring here in Oxford. 

I will try over a few posts to give some parts of what I said in my talk, but broken up into separate instances and themes. 

I pointed to four main phases of iconoclasm in this country. These firstly are the period 1536-1539 when the monasteries were dissolved and there was the attack of chrines an drelics, and especially on the cult of St Thomas of Canterbury. Secondly there is the period from 1548 to 1553 under the Edwardian reform which saw the attack on veneration of the Virgin Mary, the dissolution of the chantries, liturgical change with the imposition iof the First and Second Prayer books in 1549 and 1552 and the expropriation of church good in 1552. Thirdly there was an outbreak of image breaking in the period after 1559 when the Elizabethan settlement was brought in. This lasted until about 1562, but was followed by neglecta nd abandonment - notably the cessation of worship in the chancels of churches and thier consequent appropriation for seating. The fourth phase is that in the First Civil War of 1642 to 1646, with attacks on cathedrals such as Canterbury, Lincoln, Peterborough, and Worcrester, and the activities of people such as William Dowsing in East Anglia, who went round destroying therelics of Popery in the parish churches of the region. 

All this was followed by two centuries of neglect, before the nineteenth century got to work restoring (sometimes too enthusiastically it has to be said) and conserving our medieval heritage.

This was a particularly English pattern, much of it governhment sponsored or sanctioned, or even in the Civil War at the behest of the authorities in control at the time. 

By contast the Lutheran reformation in in Denmark and Norway and in Sweden was less opposed to images nad less destructive. So in Denmark one csn still find some of the best surviving examples of complete cycles of naive wall paintings in village churche s- partially presertved if whitewashed over after the liturgical changes came in, but not defaced. Norway has preserved some wonderful carvings that would have stood little chance  in England. In Denmark, judging from pictures I have seen of it, the interior of Roskilde cathedral would not look amiss in Bavaria. In Stockholm cathedral there survives the great statue of St George - but more of that in the next installment.

Calvinism was more dynamic in its destructiveness. The 1560s saw seemingly spontaneous assaults on churches an dcatehdrals in Scotland, in France and in the Netherlands, when the mob felt impelled to cleanse the churches of idolatry - something which only really happened in England with Parliamentary troops during the 1640s.  

Not until the events in France after 1789 and in Spain, especially in the eastern regions in the 1930s, were other countries so destructive again - which is not to deny that both Catholic and Protestant countries saw neglect and disregard of the old, and rebuilding amd refurnishing with little regard to what we might now term heritage - the tyranny of fashion is always with us.

To be continued

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