Why were East Anglian Christian Churches attacked by mobs full of righteous religious anger? What was so wrong with their symbolism and why would ancient and large stone crosses be mutilated in Gorleston-On-Sea? A mixture of heathens, Protestants, Catholics and whatever you considered was Pagan idoltary, man.
The various fragments of medieval glass preserved in three nave windows of the Church of St Andrew’s, Wissett, form the most interesting and beautiful collection of such glass to have survived in the north-east corner of the County of Suffolk.
It is fortunate that any fragments to have survived, for during much of the 17th Century. Cromwell’s soldiers, led by the ferocious William Dowsing, did colossal damage to every form of religious imagery, smashing glass, defacing stone sculpture and firing at wooden roofs in an attempt to obliterate every bit of what they had considered to be the heathen elements of Christian worship.
The glass of the churches within this section of the county fared particularly badly, being almost totally destroyed and it is a sad fact that not one single complete medieval window has survived.
The Medieval stained glass – St Andrew’s Church, Wissett, Suffolk (booklet)
Breckles Hall was built in the 1580s for Francis Wodehouse, whose wife was known, says Pevsner, as a popish seducinge recusant. He notes that the Hall has what appears to be a genuine priest hole for hiding ministering Jesuits from their mandatory sentence of a shameful, painful death, but of course less than half a century before this the Breckles parish church of St Margaret had been in the care of the Catholic Church, and its ministers were Catholic priests.
All of this had changed in less than a lifetime, and many must there have been of the newly protestant parishioners who remembered fondly the colour and drama of the liturgical life of their childhood.
St Margaret, Breckles | Norfolk Churches
Vandalistic bands mutilating megalithics
I had initially thought the perhaps the megalithics of Gorleston’s ‘Stonehenge‘ or other various standing stones in the area were vandalised by religious gangs upset with Pagan beliefs, which caused me a lot of confusion trying to understand what/where Gorleston’s stone crosses might be.
A Cross formerly stood near the White Horse Inn, Fenn Street, and another near the Feathers’ Inn, High Street. The mutilated remains of others were visible a few years since; that at the south end of the town, removed in 1798, latterly bore the appellation of the Devil’s Tomb-stone.
The History and Antiquities of the County of Suffolk: Volume 1 – Gorleston | Reverend Alfred Suckling (1846)
Woodwose and Rood screens
The mutilations and vandalism of Norfolk and Suffolk’s round tower and square tower churches seems to have been due to other Christians.
There is damage to the woodwose heads, presumably caused by the ravages of Dowsing or other of Oliver Cromwell’s men.
The Medieval stained glass – St Andrew’s Church, Wissett, Suffolk (booklet)
Woodwose guard many churches in Norfolk: at the aforementioned 15th font in Ludham, a male and female woodwose mingle with lions: the female woodwose is hugely rare and carries a huge club but no shield – her feet were damaged during the reformation but her hands are still visible through her thick coat of hair.
Meet the wild men of the woods that were said to eat children | EDP
The rood screen is very unusual – again, there’s nothing quite like it anywhere else in Suffolk. It is probably Laudian, as at Kedington, having been put up in the 1630s to replace that torn down at the Reformation a century before.
They [the Suckling family] were particularly associated with the extreme High Church social action movement of the late 19th century, being good friends of Father McKonochie, one of a number of Anglican priests shamefully prosecuted by the Church of England and imprisoned for ‘popish practices’. McKonchie retired, a broken man, to Barsham Rectory, before his life ended tragically some five years later. He is remembered by a memorial at the west end of the north aisle here. The Sucklings were also associated with the nearby Anglican convent of All Hallows, at Ditchingham in Norfolk, an institution that scandalised upright Victorian protestants. As at Claydon, the parish priest here suffered vile abuse for his connection with it.
Holy Trinity, Barsham | Suffolk Churches
The different denominations of Christian faith had been arguing and fighting for centuries in Britain. With England’s and then the United Kingdom’s Catholic persecution seems to have increased and got royal approval from King Henry VIII with his Reformation and the new Church of England, then followed in later years by others such as King James I, Charles II, Queen Elizabeth I and Laws for recusants.
It is salutary to remember, then, that it is less than two hundred years since the practice of the Catholic Faith in this country was decriminalised.
The Catholic Church had been expelled from England at the time of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, and consequently thousands of Catholics suffered grim punishments for their adherence to the faith of their forefathers.
Catholicism became increasing irrelevant and marginalised during the long, penal years… By the start of the 19th century, there were perhaps less than a thousand Catholics in all East Anglia.
During these times, England was treated as a missionary territory by the Catholic Church. In the early years, the Faith was largely maintained and ministered by Jesuits, but by the 18th century there were Vicars Apostolic appointed by the Vatican to carry out the work of Bishops in designated Districts. East Anglia was in the vast Midland District. The work of these proto-Bishops was quite illegal, and they would be arrested if they were caught. Catholics relied for the sacraments on the itinerant Priests maintained by certain large country houses.
In 1780, a Reform Act began the process of decriminalisation; in response, an anti-Catholic pogrom in London, the Gordon Riots, resulted in hundreds of deaths. There was widespread public revulsion against this event, resulting in an increased sympathy for the Catholic community.
… The leading Catholic family of England then, as now, were the Dukes of Norfolk.
Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Norwich | Norfolk Churches
Popish Plot (1678) in English history, a totally fictitious but widely believed plot in which it was alleged that Jesuits were planning the assassination of King Charles II in order to bring his Roman Catholic brother, the Duke of York (afterward King James II), to the throne.
Popish Plot | Encyclopædia Britannica
That whereas it is found by daily experience, that many the king’s subjects (by instigation of Jesuits, & seminaries [priests]) do in heart adhere to the Pope in point of loyalty, & are ready to entertain & execute any treason as appears by the last damnable conspiracy of gunpowder etc. And yet do come for form sake & to hide their disposition to some Parish church.
That for their better discovery and prevention every Popish Recusant convicted or to be convicted and which hath or shall conform him or herself, shall within one [year and a half] after conformance, and every six months after that year and a half, receive the sacrament in the church of the parish where his abroad is, or if there be no such Parish Church then in the church of the next Parish.
Popish Recusants Act, 27 May 1606 (James I) | The National Archives
Catholic Priest hides and Priest holes?
In England during Penal Times, because of the importance of the Mass, the necessity of the priesthood to the Catholic Faith was recognized by both the Church and by its enemies in Parliament. As one writer put it: If the ‘head’ of priesthood could be severed, then the ‘body’ of Catholicism would die.
The most famous builder of priest holes was Nicholas Owen who was a carpenter and one of the first Jesuit lay brothers. The danger of betrayal was ever present so, for this reason, Nicholas always worked alone and at night… Owen was tortured to death in the Tower of London in 1606 but revealed nothing that would in any way jeopardise the safety of Catholics or of the priests who ministered to them.
In 1970, along with St David Lewis and thirty-eight others, Nicholas Owen was canonised as one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales.
Priest Holes | Last Welsh Martyr
William the Popery Basher
William Dowsing specialised in iconoclasm, bashing up Popery iconagraphy around Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. He recorded his work and the Churches mutilated.
Hallisworth [Halesworth], April 5. 2 crucifixes, 3 of the Holy Ghost, and a 3 of the Trinity altogether; and 200 other superstitious pictures and more; 5 popish inscriptions of brass, Orate pro animabus, and Cujus animae propitietur deus; and the steps to be levelled by the parson of the town; and to take off a cross on the chancel. And then the churchwardens had order to take down 2 crosses off the steeple.
Chediston [Cheston or Chedeston], April 5. 2 superstitious inscriptions, and 7 popish pictures, one of Christ, and another of St George. — 6s. 8d.
Linstead [Nether or Linstead Parva], April 4. A picture of God the Father, and of Christ, and 5 more superstitious in the chancell; and the steps to be levelled, which the churchwardens promised to do, in 20 [days]. And a picture of Christ on the outside of the steeple, nayled to a cross, and another superstitious one. Crosses on the font.
The Journal of William Dowsing | WilliamDowsing.org
Basher Dowsing started work in 1643 and was required to visit all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry where he should remove chancel steps, fixed altars, crucifixes and crosses, icons such as the Virgin Mary and Saints, superstitious inscriptions, rood lofts, stoups (holy water basin) and angels.
It seems Dowsing was allowed to charge the offending Churches and places of popish worship that he visited.
The Royal Injunctions of 1547 issued to guide the commissioners were borrowed from Cromwell’s 1538 injunctions but revised to be more radical. The injunctions set off a wave of iconoclasm in the autumn of 1547.
While the injunctions only condemned images that were abused as objects of worship or devotion, the definition of abuse was broadened to justify the destruction of all images and relics. Stained glass, shrines, statues, and roods were defaced or destroyed. Church walls were whitewashed and covered with biblical texts condemning idolatry.
… Some parishes took steps to conceal images and relics in order to rescue them from confiscation and destruction. Opposition to the removal of images was widespread – so much so that when during the Commonwealth, William Dowsing was commissioned to the task of image breaking in Suffolk, his task, as he records it, was enormous.
Iconoclasm and abolition of chantries – English Reformation | Wikipedia
The Apocalypse Now for Pagan Idolatry
This Colonel guy? He’s wacko, man! He’s far worse than crazy, he’s evil! I mean that’s what the man’s got set up here. It’s fuckin’ pagan idolatry! Look around you. Shit! He’s loco.
… I ain’t afraid of all them fuckin’ skulls and altars and shit. I used to think if I died in an evil place, then my soul wouldn’t be able to make it to Heaven. But now? Fuck! I mean, I don’t care where it goes, as long as it ain’t here!
Apocalypse Now quote | Wikipedia
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