Thursday, 18 November 2010

Times gone by: Iconoclasm in an English village church

The pretty village of Aldbourne, in Wiltshire, is near enough to our home to make a pleasant day out, with a good lunch at one of the village pubs. The picture is courtesy of Wiltshire County Council.

The village, and the exterior of the church, came to fame in 1971 as the location of one of Doctor Who ’s adventures; for it was here, as enthusiasts will recall, that Jon Pertwee encountered The Daemons. If you are nervous, perhaps it’s best not to open the link !

There are two family monuments in the church. One, which includes two kneeling figures, is here:

The other, designed originally for two people, contains a group of six figures:

According to the parish leaflet, the figures appear to be unrelated to the family for whom the monument was built. Whether this is the case or not, someone evidently thought them worth keeping; and thank goodness, because they are very fine.

They are arranged as a family of father, mother, three sons and a daughter. As was customary, the little figures of the sons, however young they were when they died, are complete with full moustaches and beards.

It is not unusual to find in pre-Reformation English churches that iconoclasts have been at work, either during the Protestant Reformation or during Oliver Cromwell's Commonwealth. Here you can see a particularly distressing example.

On each monument, every figure’s hands, originally joined in prayer, have been hacked away. Judging by the costumes, which date, I think, from the late 16th century, the damage appears to have been perpetrated during the Commonwealth, or perhaps earlier, during the Civil War, which the county of Wiltshire did not escape.

What sort of spirit would possess any kind of Christian, that he or she could do such a thing? That they should be so convinced of the evils of popery that the sight of hands joined in prayer should so enrage them?

I hope you will find this interesting. I think these mutilated figures speak to us, in their poignant state, of a far better faith than that of their attackers. In this respect, the iconoclasts did not succeed.

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