Thursday, April 15, 2004

Recently added to my "Want List":

Image and Devotion in Late Medieval England by Richard Marks is now on the "want list" as a result of this book review by historian Eamonn Duffy.

It begins:

Richard Marks’s rich and fascinating study of the role of devotional images in late-medieval England starts, as he himself points out, with a huge disadvantage: only a handful of such images have survived from the English Middle Ages. In Lutheran Germany and Scandinavia images were hardly an issue, and many churches there retained their medieval crucifixes, statues and wall-paintings into modern times. By contrast, English reformers, like the Dutch, Scots and Swiss, took a sterner view. Image-worship, they thought, was the badge of Antichrist, the ultimate apostasy. The Tudor authorities therefore not only smashed every accessible carved or painted image of God or the saints, but ordered the systematic destruction of even the niches and pedestals on which those images had stood, so that, as the Elizabethan Royal Injunctions insisted: “There remain no memory of the same in walls, glasses, windows or elsewhere within their churches or houses.”

This book is therefore a work of resurrection, recovering the significance of the religious image for late-medieval English Christians, and reminding us of the ubiquity of those images in the late-medieval cultural and religious landscape. Fortunately for this enterprise, it was easier to legislate for the destruction of stone corbels, brackets and canopies than to secure obedience to such commands. Inertia, cussedness, conservativism and economy ensured that churches all over England retained mute reminders that the scoured and whitewashed interiors were once the scenes of image veneration as extravagant as anything in Mediterranean Europe, vibrant with carved, painted and gilded statues, many of them dressed in garishly embroidered robes, and hung with rosaries, jewels and wax or metal ex voto offerings.

The rest of it is here.


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