Believing that the destruction of church imagery was necessary to the amendment of Christian life, the religious reformers in sixteenth-century England aimed to change minds as well as church furnishings. Image worship was to be replaced by reading, and learning from pictures and statues was to be replaced by learning to read the English Bible. Literacy, however, isn't easy, even now. Taking up the issues of iconoclasm and literacy from the perspective of recent research in cognitive neuroscience, this essay explores the reformers' misunderstandings about how people could or couldn't reform their spiritual lives, and suggests a new view of why changing minds wasn't as easy as the reformers had hoped, and why stripping the churches of their rood screens, burning or hiding statues of saints, overpainting narrative wall murals, and replacing stained glass with plain windows turned out to be easier than producing Bible readers.
Ellen Spolsky; Literacy After Iconoclasm in the English Reformation. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 May 2009; 39 (2): 305–330. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-2008-024
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