|Mediaeval Times In Rushden - Smashing and Burning of Church Images
In connection with the 700th anniversary celebrations of St. Mary’s Church, Rushden, fixed for next February, of which mention was made in our last issue, the following interesting article, headed “Rough Notes on Rushden,” appears in the November issue of St. Mary’s Parish Magazine.
The Church of England is Catholic and Reformed. The Reformation in England was a gradual process. We may perhaps say that it began with the translation of the Bible into English, by Wycliffe in 1380. The fact that we have a Wycliffe pulpit, which dates back nearly to his time, looks as if the Rectors of Rushden were Lollards, or followers of Wycliffe, for these were great preachers and the rest of the clergy scarcely preached at all.
The Bishop of Lincoln allowed Wycliffe preachers to preach in his diocese. Between 1385 and 1420, that is a space of 35 years, there were eight Rectors of Rushden, which looks as if some violent changes were going on. It was reading the Scriptures which opened the eyes of English people to ‘the truth as it is in Jesus.’ A Reforming Party arose in the Church, who resisted the claims of Rome and insisted that much of her distinctive teaching was neither scriptural nor primitive. They were called heretics and cruelly persecuted.
It is said that our own Archbishop Chichele in 1416, issued a mandate directing ‘that three persons in every parish should be examined twice every year upon oath, and required to inform against any persons whom they knew or understood to frequent private conventicles, or who differed in their life or manners from the common conservation of Catholic men, or to have any suspected books in the English language, that process might be made against them; if not sentenced to be burned, they were to be kept in prison until the next convocation of the clergy.’ Coles’ History of Higham Ferrers).”
But in the end the Reformers won the day. In 1530, a hundred years after Chichele’s time England severed her connections with Rome and later expunged from her Church services and Prayer Books, the erroneous doctrines of Rome, while carefully preserving her Catholic Order. Though the Church of England parted from Rome and reformed herself, she clung to her Catholic heritage the Apostolic succession and her own glorious past.
In mediaeval days Rushden had a High Altar and four Chantry Altars, where five priests daily offered the Sacrifice of the Mass and prayed for the dead. There were five roods, before which many candles were burning for the supposed benefit of souls in Purgatory. The Church was full of the images of saints to which prayers were made. The windows were full of beautiful old glass, depicting legends of the saints, and the walls were covered with paintings of the same.
Erasmus gives us in a letter to a friend, a description of what probably happened in Rushden. “Smiths and carpenters were sent to remove the images from the Churches; the roods and unfortunate saints were cruelly handled. Not a statue was left in the Church. The paintings on the walls were whitewashed. Everything combustible was burnt. What would not burn was broken to pieces. Nothing was spared, however precious or beautiful.”
Thomas Thurlard was appointed Rector, by grant from the prior and convent of Lenton, in the year of our break with Rome. He was probably a moderate Reformer and lived on until 1561, by which time Elizabeth was on the throne and the Reformation firmly established England.