William Dowsing

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William Dowsing (1596–1668), also known as "Smasher Dowsing".

William Dowsing's Journal - White, C. H. Evelyn - 1885

The full title is: "The journal of William Dowsing of Stratford, parliamentary visitor, appointed under a warrant from the Earl of Manchester, for demolishing the superstitious pictures and ornaments of churches"

The manuscript is "kept" in the library of Trinity College University of Toronto

The work of William Dowsing in Suffolk, of which an account is here given, extended from January 6th, 1643, to October 1st, 1644. During this period upwards of one hundred and fifty places were visited in less than fifty days. The greatest apparent vigour was shewn in and near the Town of Ipswich, where in one day (Jan. 29th, 1643) no less than eleven churches appear to have passed the fiery ordeal of the despoiler's wrath.

The Journal entry for Sudbury

SUDBURY.
It will be observed that the first entries in the Journal, having reference to the three Sudbury parishes of St. Peter, St. Gregory and All Saints, stand by themselves in a kind of isolation, and that the acts there recorded, were perpetrated three days after those of which an account is given in the entries 1 -- 5 which follow. The cause for this is not clear : if not a mere whim, it may perhaps be attributed to pure accident, anyhow the precise arrangement does not seem to possess any real significance.

ST. PETER S. "A picture of God the Father." There is frequent allusion to such a representation, generally it may be assumed in the stained glass of the windows, which Dowsing < brake down. Mediaeval art was somewhat partial to this most objectionable form of caricature, which found its way into the books of devotion, as well as the painted glass frescos, carvings both of wood and stone, etc., that adorned the Churches. This class of pictorial imagery can certainly be well spared, and on no ground whatever ought we to lament the destruction of that which can only tend to debase the Deity. The very conception of the idea, seems lowering to the mind, while the actual representation is nothing less than an outrage upon all true religious feeling, against which we feel we must instinctively rebel.

"2 Crucifix s, and Pictures of Christ " Of all mediaeval art subjects, the representation of Christ our Lord under a variety of forms, and especially as seen in the great event of the crucifixion, is the most frequent. Such representa tions, whatever may be said for or against them, have frequently ministered to superstition and idolatry ; the belief that such is the case, is however, by no means universal, but in former days men thought differently, and, as a rule, the balance of opinion was decidedly in favour of retaining them. Bishop Sandys, in his letter to Peter Martyr, April 1, 1560 (Zurich Letters, First Series, p. 34), says, "the Queen s Majesty con sidered it not contrary to the Word of God, nay rather for the advantage of the Church, that the image of Christ crucified, together with those of the Virgin Mary and St. John should be placed as heretofore in some conspicuous part of the Church, where they might the more readily be seen by all the people,"* but, with praiseworthy boldness he adds, " some of us (Bishops) thought far otherwise." In the eyes of the Puritans they became so obnoxious, that a speedy destruction followed their discovery.

" A cross off the Steeple and diverse angels on the roof" might well have remained unmolested; the beauty of the roof must have been considerably enhanced by the presence of the latter, whilst the Church fabric in losing the cross could not be said to be improved. Such destruction may be denominated thorough, but it may be more properly regarded as the work of reckless fanatics. In reply to a request made by Mr. Wodderspoon, in the year 1843, Mr. Gr. W. Fulcher wrote, concerning the mischief wrought by Dowsing in connection with the Sudbury Churches, that the remains of Dowsing s painted angels were discovered in 1825, when the workmen were employed in paving the town. Also directly opposite the Church, a large quantity of stained glass was found broken into very small pieces, but these frag ments, beneath the men s pick-axes, became "beautifully less "; what remained has been lost to the town. Mr. Fulcher added "about 10 years ago, when the walls were scraped, preparatory to whitewashing them, sundry paintings in fresco of Saints and Angels were brought to light, just over the rood-loft, which were doubtless objects of devout invocation in the olden time, and would provoke the unmitigated wrath of Master Dowsing."

ALL SAINTS. (< ALHALLOWS ) " took up 30 brazen superstitious Inscriptions." Perhaps there is no single feature of Dowsing s work of so reprehensible a character as that which concerns the destruction of monuments, and especially the sepulchral brasses. The parliamentary visitor carried out his designs without reverence for the deceased, with scarce a thought for the living, and certainly regardless of posterity. An unfortunate * orate pro animaj 1 ora pro nobisj or l cujus animce propitictur DeusJ sealed the fate of these interesting memorials of the dead, and thus it was that brasses, which at one time existed in such profusion, perished to so large an extent. Weever s work on Funeral Monuments, which gives very full information upon the subject, and contains the inscrip tions found on the sepulchral brasses, etc., is the result of an examination personally made in the year 1631, twelve years prior to Dowsing s visit.* It is hence a reasonable supposition, that the brass inscriptions noted by Weever, which might be in any way deemed super stitious, were reived by Dowsing and his colleagues. This receives undoubted confirmation upon a comparison of the earliest church notes subsequently made.

Haverhill follows, a sample of which appears on the Wikipedia page. The text from the scan is more detailed:

1. HAVERHILL. (HAVERHILL)" Seven Fryars hugging a Nunn" It is difficult to say what so strange a picture really was intended to represent. At first sight it might appear to be a gross exaggeration of some legendary or other story, depicted so charity should incline us to think, for the purpose of inflaming the devotion of the people, and not calculated to endanger the moral sense. But it was undoubtedly the work of the seculars, who lost no occasion of shewing their dislike of the regulars, and many of our Churches still give evidence of this in the ancient carved work now remaining. A picture of like character to the above, is to be seen among the illustrated Manuscripts in the British Museum (Decretals. 10 E iv. f. 185 b.) where a monk is represented embracing a nun. In the following ff. 187, 187 #., the same Monk and Nun are together in the stocks ! Perhaps the most determined * Dowsing hater, ought to be grateful to that un- worthy for the removal of so incongurous a subject from a parish church. 11 200 (superstitious pictures} had been broke down before I came" It is plain from this and other similar allusions, that an infuriated populace, released from the bands of law and order, had preceded Dowsing in the endeavour to efface and demolish every vestige of superstition, without apparently calling into exercise any nice feelings of discernment as to what did or did not constitute an object of superstition. Certain portions of old stained glass remain here still.

" We beat down a great stoneing Cross on the top of the Church" Undoubtedly a gable or pinnacle Cross of Stone, such as is to be found ornamenting the different parts of a Church exterior. I have elsewhere,* in my paper on "The Stoneing "* Cross of Dowsing* s Journal" inquired into the precise meaning and application of the term Stoneing Cross (which epithet has for a long time awakened some amount of interest), and I have there adduced examples in support of my contention as to a more restricted use, than that applied to it in the Journal'

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William Dowsing