Popular Piety and Art in the Late Middle Ages: Image Worship and Idolatry in England, 1350-1500

Article excerpt

Popular Piety and Art in the Late Middle Ages: Image Worship and Idolatry in England, 1350-1500. By Kathleen Kamerick. [The New Middle Ages, Series No. 27.] (New York: Palgrave. 2002. Pp. xi, 292. $89.95.)

Kathleen Kamerick refers to the process of working on this project as a "search for understanding holy images."The result is a kind of archaeological excavation of late medieval religious and social culture that was distinguished by its multifaceted approach to images.

Her first two chapters deal with both sides of the image controversies of this period in English history. The LoEards charged that images were prohibited in the First Commandment as idolatrous and that money spent on them should go to the poor, who were the true image of God. The defenders of images argued that the Incarnation of Christ meant that images of his human nature could be portrayed. Christ himself sanctioned their use by imprinting his image on Veronica's veil. In addition to this and other defenses, Roger Dymmok stated that God ordained them because of the superiority of sight over hearing. The defenders and attackers of images were, as Kamerick observes, concerned chiefly with how laypeople used them. The rest of Kamerick's study is an attempt to recover how the largest segment of the population used images.

Her third chapter examines the evidence of wills in Norfolk and Suffolk. She gives useful charts about the distribution of image gifts by gender and geographical distribution. Particularly valuable insights are offered in Kamerick's fourth chapter dealing with the social and political dimensions of the images used by various communities. The parish accounts of church wardens, as weE as the membership lists and account records of gilds, indicate how individual groups gained a sense of communal feEowship in their support of specific images and the public spaces they occupied. …


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