Mutilated sculpture, once in the reredos of the north transept of St. Cuthbert's Church, Wells.
          The iconoclasm of the Henrician Reformation differed from elsewhere in Europe in one major respect, it was inspired from above, within the royal ranks, rather than below, as with Martin Luther. There were several serious iconoclastic incidents throughout England but cases involved few participants and were wholly different from the riots which destroyed images from cities in Germany, Switzerland. Henry began to see himself in the role of an Old Testament king and wanted to bring about a clearer understanding of God's word. His iconoclasm, like his supremacy, was justified by an appeal to the word of God and the natural accompaniment to this appeal was the publication of an official English bible, that would reveal to the people the scriptural authority that he claimed in his politics. The English Reformation cannot merely be reduced to an act of state because royal supremacy gave the king not only the power but the duty to advance the Protestant religion within his realm.
Head of a Bishop, a mutilated sculpture from Winchester Cathedral.

Altars, Shrines & Reliquaries

          Henry VIII took his role as head of the Church of England seriously and his official interest turned to popular religion and the veneration of the cult of saints, which pervaded English society. Medieval Christianity had amplified the legends and intercessory powers surrounding saints and martyrs until their reverence had reached a fervent pitch. An emotional interdependence developed between the devout and their patron saints. The worshipper adopted and revered specific saints in the hopes that they in turn would be adopted and protected by the magical powers that were believed to be part of the saint.

Manuscript illumination of what was once the Shrine of St. Edmund.
Sculpture, such as this English alabaster Virgin and Child were considered idolatrous and therefore banned by the government.
          People flocked to relics and shrines, especially those such as the Holy Blood of Hailes-a crystal vial said to contain the blood of Christ and the blood of St. Thomas Becket. Shrines, relics and images were seen as a means of seeking and giving thanks for special favors, especially those dealing with fertility and childbirth. Eventually it became difficult for the government to control the authority of these shrines and the authority imbued upon them by a willing public. By the late 1530's this worship of saints and their intercessory powers came to be redefined as being ripe with the abuses of superstition and idolatry. Idolatry and images were condemned with the Supremacy Act of 1532 in order that the government and church remain in accordance with the "Word of God". This made the suppression of the cult of saints and images a necessity because the Deuteronomic laws abolished the veneration of idols.
Mutilated sculpture depicting the Life of the Virgin from the Lady Chapel of Ely Cathedral.
The defaced image of St. Walstan from the south screen at Burlingham St. Andrew, Norfolk.
          Archbishop Cranmer maintained that all images were idols, that the definition of idol and image meant the same thing and because all images are idols then all images are objectionable regardless of whether they are abused with offerings and pilgrimages. By 1541 the king had banned all images and relics to which offerings were made on the grounds that they were the cause of superstition. Cranmer took it further by eliminating crucifixes in order to avoid the danger of idolatry. The second commandment was thought to be hazardous to the Christian worshipper when dealing with representations of Jesus because an image of Christ can only represent His human nature and not His divinity which is considered the most important part of Him. In depicting Christ you divide Him from that what is considered inseparable to his nature and run the risk of heresy. Images were considered devices of the devil that were designed to distract Christians from the true and proper worship of God. In 1538, Hugh Latimer suggested to Cromwell that the image of Our Lady of Worcester be eradicated because "she hath been the devil's instrument to bring many (I fear) to eternal fire ..." The superstitious and idle worship of imagery was believed to be the result of stupidity and ignorance, as fostered by the papacy.
The recling figure of Jesse was once surmounted by 21 niches containing the figures of his descendents. All were destroyed and the projections of teh niches levelled and plastered over. St. Cuthbert's Church, Wells.
          Major shrines were closed down. Wealthy ones, along with famous miraculous images were stripped and smashed. Thomas Becket's magnificent tomb at Canterbury was despoiled, however, the shrine of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey could not be leveled because of its royal association. Because of his edicts, Henry was forced to compromise by divesting the tomb of its rich ornamentation and scattering its relics. From this point on, the veneration of imagery was forbidden. "Wandering to pilgrimages, offerings of money, candles or tapers to feigned relics or images, or kissing or licking the same, saying over a number of beads not understood or minded on, or such like superstition," was denounced as tending to idolatry and the clergy was ordered to take down images that did not comply with this decree. Sermons on pictorial representation were considered entirely antagonistic. Regardless of whether an image was considered a work of art or not, the object was not judged to be more or less worthy of destruction in the opinion of the iconoclast. All such visual products of earlier religious enthusiasm were consigned to the category of idols and seen to represent the hated heritage of papistry. There was also a fear that, under the thin veneer of public veneration for Christian shrines and relics lay a hint of rural paganism.
The Shrine of Edward the Confessor, Westmenster Abbey, London. The wooden structure atop the shrine replaced the monument that was detroyed.
          Archbishop Cranmer believed that images were so tainted with idolatry that they had to be eradicated from English churches. Images were considered unreal and therefore, false. Only the word of God could be trusted as real. Images and statuary from religious houses were torn down, while paintings were whitewashed and covered with text from English translations of the Old and New Testament. It was believed that men should redirect their attentions to the inward presence of God's grace as externalized in the Scripture, rather than rely on misleading images. The word of God was the most important way for men to realize religious truths. According to the official homilies of the Church of England, the "seeking out of images is the beginning of whoredom." God's commands, as contained in Biblical passages such as the second commandment, should take precedence over the human desire for visual aids. Throughout the Reformation, Cranmer had placed his trust in the Scripture as the ultimate criterion for Christian belief.
Detail of the St. Mary's Priory rood screen which shows the original figures reappearing through the whitewash.

This base of this medieval rood screen was cut down, whitewashed, and painted over with the text of Tyndale's translation of the New Testament. The screen is now incorporated into the choir stalls. For Catholics the rood screen suggested a liturgical device that separated the altar from the congregation, but Protestants identified it with Rome and saw it as a representative of the sacrifice of the Mass. St. Mary's Priory, Norfolk.

The Mass

          The "rhetoric" of the papacy was presented as a debasement of Christ's teachings and a blasphemous perversion of apostolic practice. As such it was far more repugnant and damnable than any form of paganism. It was considered debased and perverted because successive generations of believers had each slightly modified the uncompromising message of Christ in order to permit the worldly pursuit of pleasure. Protestants considered what they believed to be a tendency towards "idol-worship" to be the most appalling aspect of Catholicism. Included in this "idol-worship"was not simply the veneration and intercessory prayers addressed to images of the saints and Virgin but also the ceremony of mass where priest seemed to claim to "create" the bodily presence of God in the Eucharist.

The Mass of Pope Gregory, from a Sarum primer of 1497.
          The Catholic mass was more than just a representation of historic events surrounding Christ's sacrifice.The mass was abhorrent to the new wave of Protestantism that was sweeping the country. Reformers felt that Christ's death on the cross was a complete and final experience and that to try and reproduce this sacrifice within the mass was blasphemous. The mass often became the subject of ridicule, as zealous reformers derisively referred to it as the "Jack in the Box" and muddled the honored words of consecration "Hoc est Corpus" into "Hocus Pocus." It was believed that the sacrament was made up of such venal and transient elements as bread and wine, which could easily be conceived of as susceptible to idolatry. Stephen Gardner, Bishop of Winchester, concluded that even in the sacrament of the altar "there is not God but it is an idol".
During the reign of Edward VI altars were replaced by wooden communion tables, which became known as the Lord's Board.
          As the popularity of the mass was extremely high among the laity, reformers could not completely abolish it and sought to transform it by manipulating the language in favor of a more simple, vernacular Protestant ideology. Instead of reciting that the blood and body of Christ, as represented by the bread and wine, were to "become unto us," the words were modified to "that they may be unto us." While the former phrase defines the alteration in the nature of the bread and wine, the latter expresses them as nothing more than symbols which imply that this service is a sacrifice only for the purpose of expressing praise and thanksgiving.
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