Saturday, June 22, 2024

The 2024 Religious Freedom Week Begins

Once again, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have issued prayers for Religious Freedom Week, starting today, on the Optional Memorial--their choice--of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More, as the patrons of the week. June 22 is the anniversary of Saint John Fisher's execution; July 6 of Saint Thomas More's: both in 1535.

The theme for today is the "Respect for Sacred Spaces", and the reflection upon that theme mentions that "In recent years, a wave of vandalism and arson has hit Catholic churches and statues. There have been over 320 attacks so far, and that number steadily continues to grow."

Although Saints Fisher and More did not live to see it, we know that throughout the English Reformation period, during the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Elizabeth religious objects, vessels, art, and other devotional representations of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Saints were vandalized and destroyed. 

Just three years and a few months after their executions, both mercifully commuted to beheadings rather being hanged, drawn, and quartered, the destruction began, as this excerpt from "Chapter 1: 1538 and after: the Virgin Mary in the century of iconoclasm" in The Virgin Mary in Late Medieval and Early Modern English Literature and Popular Culture by Gary Waller (Cambridge University Press, 2022):

In 1538, in the late summer or autumn, in Chelsea or Smithfield or Tyburn, we can surmise – from both casual remarks recorded at the time and various histories and memoirs some years later – that one or more fires was lit and in it (or them) were burned statues, “images,” of the Virgin Mary, most probably those that had been brought from shrines dedicated to her at Doncaster, Ipswich, Penrhys, and Walsingham. Local records suggest that similar images from Caversham, along with roods from Bermondsey, Boxley, Islington, and others were added to this, or similar, fires elsewhere. In 1537, the reformist bishop Hugh Latimer had announced that in his own diocese there reigned “idolatry, and many kinds of superstition,” and during what Helen Parish terms 1538’s “long summer of iconoclasm,” he also named the statue of the Virgin at Worcester a “devil’s instrument.” . . . There are conflicting accounts on the date or dates on which such a “jolly muster” took place, and exactly when and what “idols” were destroyed, whether publicly or privately, but, Latimer pronounced, they were destroyed because they had “been the instrument to bring many (I fear) to eternal fire.” 

Here's a rather ironic line from Latimer's comments: these statues of the Mother of God, "unlike flesh-and-blood heretics, would not “be all day in burning.”" (Since Latimer was present at Blessed John Forest's execution by being burned alive, and he himself would suffer the same fate, those are eerie words to read). Notice that both men were burned alive as heretics!

And, of course, as the Dissolution of the Monasteries proceeded, more religious art and artefacts, books, and buildings were destroyed.

Saint John Fisher, pray for us!

Saint Thomas More, pray for us!

Our Lady of Walsingham, pray for us!

Image Credit (Public Domain): Seal of the Abbey of Our Lady of Walsingham.

No comments:

Post a Comment