During one week in Advent, 1643, William Dowsing wrote in his diary about three venerable places in Cambridge, England, where he would soon destroy religious images for the glory of God: Peterhouse, King’s College, and St. Mary the Great. Dowsing was a Puritan iconoclast, and he considered the title to be a badge of honor, given to him by the Earl of Manchester.
In Suffolk, a month later, Dowsing proudly recorded in that same diary, “We brake down about a hundred superstitious pictures; and seven fryers hugging a nun; and the picture of God, and Christ; and divers others very superstitious….and we beat down a great stoneing cross on the top of the church.”
It was during the Oliver Cromwell era in England that a Puritan parliament ruled and attempted to remove anything left that was “papal,” “Roman,” or Catholic. They believed that religious images were forbidden by the injunction in the Old Testament book of Leviticus against making idols. By destroying the faces of angels and saints with their chisels, they thought they were refocusing the faithful on God alone.
But a lack of imagination plagues the majority of human beings. Unable to see beyond the physical, and listening to voices that have declared belief to be about things unseen, many decide to forego the visual reminders and passages of faith that were treasured by our ancestors. We need the sacred image, the liturgical icon, the representations of invisible Reality.