This part of the England's coast is behind a defensive system of medieval dykes with extensive salt-marshes between the dyke and the sea making much of the actual coast inaccessible for much of the time and so a haven for millions of waders and other sea birds. These dykes are all that is preventing the entire area from reverting to the coastal marshes they were before reclamation in the early Middle Ages.
The tower of St Botolph's Church, known as the Boston Stump, dominates the surrounding fenlands and can be seen from miles away. It is Boston's claim to historic fame in that prominent member of the congregation of St Botolph's together with their fundamentalist rector, Rev. John Cotton, emigrated in 1630 to the New World to set up a Puritan Christian colony. They sailed on the Arbella and landed in Massachusetts Bay, where they founded the colony which became the city of Boston.
The legend is that these Christian fundamentalists were fleeing from persecution and intolerance in England and were making a bid for freedom of conscience.
The reality is rather different.
The 'intolerance' they were fleeing from was intolerance of their bigotry and their wish to set up an autonomous, exclusive and intolerant Puritan theocracy. Once in the New World they set about driving the indigenous people off their land and building their idea of Utopia in which the (Protestant) church and it's ministers ran the show and woe betide anyone who raised a voice in dissent. In Maryland for example, the fundamentalists made Quakerism, a Protestant sect almost indistinguishable from their own except it didn't have a formal hierarchy of priests, didn't relegate women to second class status and emphasised the essential equality of people and the brotherhood of man, a capital offense, hence the Quakers had to flee from Maryland Christian intolerance and set up their own exclusive colony in Pennsylvania.
The devout leaders of those 'seekers after religious freedom' were having none of that disobedience, egalitarianism and plurality nonsense. You don't get to control a whole bunch of people and take a share of their earnings, only to see them go their own way, do their own thing and even give their money to someone else. Whatever next!?
This English Protestant fundamentalism was the direct ancestor of the Puritans who came to dominate English political life for much of the 17th-century, complete with the habit of burning Catholics, witches and anyone else they decreed to be doing Satan's work, i.e., disagreeing with them. This resulted in the English Civil War between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians under the deeply odious hypocrite, Oliver Cromwell, whose murderous religious zeal was soon to be unleashed with all it's hatreds unchecked in Ireland where he boasted of the numbers of Catholics killed in Drogheda and Wexford and where his reputation is still such that his name is used to frighten unruly children.
Cromwell was MP for Huntingdon, not a stone's throw from Lincolnshire, and underwent a religious conversion to fundamentalist Presbyterianism in the same year others of his persuasion migrated from Boston to Massachusetts Bay. Once the Civil War in England was over and the Catholic King duly beheaded, Cromwell, who had risen to leadership of the Parliamentarian New Model Army, quickly lost patience with MPs refusing to do as they were told and staged what was de facto a military coup d'etat, suspended democracy and ruled by the same autocratic decree that the King had tried, and for which he had been deposed and executed.
Ironically, King Charles I tried to justify his autocracy by reference to the divine right of kings and claiming it was God's will whilst Cromwell tried to justify his autocratic rule by reference to rights and duties given to him as God's appointed Lord Protector. Neither had any compunction about blaming God for their arrogant abuses of power, dictatorial tendencies and ready exercise of military might when necessary.
|Burning of idols and 'Papists' carrying away their 'Paltry', from John Foxe's Actes and Monuments|
During the Civil War and for some time after it, Puritans, who decided the second Commandment gave them sufficient authority, roamed England looking for graven images and signs of 'popery', i.e. anything decorated, to vandalise. Statues were thrown down and smashed, brass plates on tombs were removed (so providing handy metal to be made into cannons during the Civil War) and decoration on walls and ceilings in churches were scraped off or painted over. The result was the plain and austere Anglican churches we see today. As I mentioned in my previous blog, the interior of Lincoln Cathedral was once highly decorated until this was mostly removed by zealous puritans. Apart that is from an inaccessible place high in the central vault of the ceiling and on the elaborately carved stone screen separating the transept at the end of the nave from the chancel where substantial fragments of colour can still be seen in the less accessible corners and crevices. Whoever landed the job of scraping that lot off seems to have lost his religious zeal as the task became more and more tedious.
It is true that, in a sense, the Khalifa at Damascus began the whole disturbance, and that the Iconoclast emperors were warmly applauded and encouraged in their campaign by their rivals at Damascus.The irony is that this iconoclastic tradition only entered Western Christianity as a result of Islam, which has always taken the second Commandment much more seriously, hence Islamic art almost never depicts humans or other animals and sometimes not even plants unless highly stylised. It's always struck me as amusing that one of the main characteristics of Protestant churches, and the feature which was perhaps taken to its extreme in Shaker design, came to the West via Islam. For more on this see Simple Gifts.
Anyway, this leads me in a roundabout way to something I couldn't help noticing in St Botolph's Church, Boston; the wooden ceilings are still elaborately painted. They do look quite fresh though I can't find any record of these being restored recently but it is always possible that the many church restorations undertaken by Victorians like Sir George Gilbert Scott, often so tastelessly that they almost amount to vandalism, could have including restoring the ceilings to some assumed pre-Puritan state. However, it seems more likely that somehow the tallest building in the world until the 19th-century and one of England's largest parish churches which is not also a cathedral, went unmolested by iconoclastic Christian fundamentalists in one of their major centres and from which they exported their intolerant bigotry to the New World.
On a slightly different note, displayed in St Botolph's Church is a copy of a book by local lad, John Foxe (1516/17 - 1587) a Puritan clergyman, ecclesiastical historian and author who wrote a book Actes and Monuments, popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, detailing the history of Christian martyrs, most of whom it would seem from reading his book were Protestants martyred by Catholics. This book did much to influence English attitudes towards Catholics for several centuries and was almost required reading for any self-respecting literate Puritan. It amounts to one of the earliest English political polemics, having a barely concealed political agenda firmly supportive of the ruling class of course.
What drew my attention to it particularly was the scene it depicted on the page it was open at. This illustrated how Christians, in their eagerness to demonstrate their love for their fellow man, treated other Christians with whom they were in theological dispute over interpretations of God's Holy Word. It shows how they treated Lollards, who were followers of Oxford don, John Wycliffe, who made one of the earliest translations of the Bible. His worst crime was to question clerical authority and so threaten the livelihoods and power-base of Catholic clerics. As one of the first leading clerics to question Papal authority he is often referred to as "The Morning Star of the Protestant Reformation". Such disobedience could not be tolerated no matter how well supported by Biblical passages of course. Lollards were duly rounded up and shown the error in their theology by being hung by the neck over a pile of burning fagots.
If only scientific debate and disagreement could be settled so easily and in such fun-loving ways. Why can't scientists see that matters of fact can be settled easily with the exercise of brutal power and an arrogant disregard for the rights and welfare of one's fellow man?