Q. Why were they covered over?
In the 16th century England went through a protestant revolution. The protestant reformers wished for a return to a more simple church; a church based upon the teachings of the Bible and the word of God. They believed that the Roman Catholic church was surrounded by superstitious rubbish that had nothing at all to do with God’s teachings. At first these reformers were in the minority. However, when King Henry VIII wanted a divorce from his first wife, Katherine of Aragon, he found that the Catholic church would not support him. In response Henry declared himself head of the church in England—a church with protestant leanings.
Over the following decades the reformers gained further influence until, under Henry’s son, Edward VI, they launched a full scale attack upon the ‘superstitions and idolatry’ of the medieval church. Images were banned, rood crosses were to be taken down, ornaments, vestments and high altars were outlawed. A particular target of the reformers were the paintings that covered the walls of so many English churches. These were to be whitewashed over and replaced with Biblical texts—as we can see today at Lakenheath. Ironically for the reformers, it was this protective layer of whitewash that has preserved many of these paintings for so long.