“ At Little Mary’s…we brake down 60 superstitious Pictures, some Popes and Crucifixes, with God the Father sitting in a Chair and holding a Globe in his hand.”
“[2 January 1644 Holy Sepulchre, in Cambridge] We break down 14 superstitious Pictures, divers Idolatrous Inscriptions, one of God the Father, one of Christ and of the Apostles.”
The Journal of William Dowsing
Iconoclasm – the destruction of images for religious reasons – comes and goes in English history in the the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. William Dowsing’s zealous and methodical enumeration dates from the years of the Civil War, when the conflict between crown and parliament took on strong religious overtones (it had partly been precipitated by the Arminianism of Charles I and Archbishop Laud). As Provost-Marshall of the armies of the Eastern Association (the armies raised between Essex and Lincolnshire), Dowsing was responding to a parliamentary ordinance of August 1643 calling for the destruction of images, and he kept a journal of his activities.
Dowsing purified images in over 250 churches in the region, charging each a noble (a third of a pound) for his services. He was known, apparently, as ‘Basher Dowsing’.
Dowsing was too late for the Lady Chapel in Ely, perhaps to his disappointment. A wide-ranging if sporadic iconoclasm had taken place after the break with Rome in the 1530s, and it was in this period that Ely Cathedral was denuded of images – anything portable was removed and destroyed, but the statues in the Lady Chapel were merely decapitated (a common practice in iconoclasms – their eyes are often regarded as the source of the power of an image).
The headless statues can still be seen (I can’t answer for the blue statue in the photo below).