Eric Gill statues adorning cathedral under scrutiny as Church confronts paedophile artist’s ‘abhorrent legacy’

Review into works on the exterior of Guildford Cathedral by sculptor also responsible for statue outside BBC headquarters

Eric Gill statues adorning cathedral under scrutiny as Church confronts paedophile artist’s ‘abhorrent legacy’
Eric Gill's sculpture of St John the Baptist is positioned above the doors of Guildford Cathedral
Eric Gill’s sculpture of St John the Baptist, pictured, is positioned prominently above the south doors of Guildford Cathedral CREDIT: Jamie Lorriman

Eric Gill statues adorning an Anglican cathedral are under review, as the church becomes the first to address the paedophile artist’s public work.

The artist, posthumously revealed to have sexually abused his daughters, created sculptures of John the Baptist and Christ on the cross which are built into the exterior of Guildford Cathedral.

Clerics and lay staff are now reviewing the statues to address the “pain caused” by Gill, it can be revealed, and the Church of England has offered to support local clergy to tackle his “abhorrent” legacy.

Discussions among cathedral administrators come after the artist’s Ariel and Prospero sculpture at the BBC’s headquarters was attacked by a protester wielding a hammer, who daubed “noose all peados” (sic) on the statue.

Nicola Pratt, head of development at Guildford Cathedral, told The Telegraph: “Cathedral chapter is in the process of considering any new interpretation which may need to be added to our material to acknowledge the wrongdoings of Gill and the pain caused to others.”

Gill's crucifixion sculpture is seen above the round window of Guildford Cathedral's Lady Chapel
Gill’s crucifixion sculpture, pictured, is found above the round window of Guildford Cathedral’s Lady Chapel CREDIT: Jamie Lorriman

The chapter, which administers the Grade II*-listed cathedral, is understood to be considering what form any intervention to address Gill’s legacy would take, and this intervention may not be the last launched by clergy.Advertisement

Another sculpture by Gill depicting Jesus on the cross adorns the St Thomas the Apostle Anglican church in Hanwell, London, and a memorial relief created by the artist is displayed in the village church of St Mary the Virgin in Lapworth, Warwickshire.

Other works in local parishes include a memorial to socialite Lady Ottoline Morel in the parish church of St Mary in Garsington, Oxfordshire.

The Church of England has said support will be given to local parishes who wish to address Gill’s legacy following the recent protest against his public work.

A spokesman for the Church said: “Eric Gill’s crimes, posthumously revealed, are abhorrent. Comprehensive lists of his art already exist, giving parishes and cathedrals the opportunity to review individually in response to their particular circumstances, and in consultation with their communities.

“The Church Buildings Council and Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England supports parishes and cathedrals with this as needed.”

The Church has indicated that, as with work to address legacies of racism and slavery, there will be no top-down review, but support will be given to local parishes who choose to act.

Work on Guildford Cathedral was begun in 1936, before Gill’s death in 1940, and long before a 1989 biography which revealed his sexual abuse.

The biography by Fiona MacCarthy revealed that the artist had an incestuous relationship with his sister and sexually abused his dog and two eldest daughters.

This prompted sexual abuse charities to demand his artworks at Broadcasting House be taken down.

The artwork at BBC headquarters was attacked by a protester on January 12. He was arrested at the scene and bailed pending enquiries.

Leave a Reply