The revisionist vandalism of the Macdonald statue invites comparison with the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation.
In England, Germany, Holland and elsewhere statues of saints and even the crucified Christ were removed, destroyed, or simply decapitated with fervour unequalled by the Taliban. They were deeply offensive to those who saw them as idols and symbols of papal repression of free religious belief, such as by burning of heretics. The statues were therefore linked to political and social issues as well as religious divisions.
Centuries later, many of the statues on English cathedral facades have been restored and again provide interest and beauty to the architecture. If some Christians still regard them as idolatrous, it’s not enough to inspire attacks except by the mentally ill, like the assailant on Michelangelo’s Pieta in St. Peter’s. For most viewers the restored statues enable a better appreciation of an architectural period and evoke a time when people held different strong beliefs.
All art reflects the age and culture in which it was produced and is often contaminated, to some extent, by past social practices and values. To preserve it we have to think beyond the present. The meaning of public bronze and stone statuary changes, and the importance can even disappear with time. But as long as the statues remain intact they recall the heritage and history of those who inherited them. Their removal does not leave behind a lasting lesson; it leaves merely a vacancy, a place emptied of all memories. How is that a useful legacy?