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The Canterbury Cathedral statues with links to slavery that could be toppled

A history lecturer has identified three statues at Canterbury Cathedral that could be at risk after the archbishop said “some will have to come down”.

Bosses at the world-famous landmark admit every single item is being reviewed for connections with slavery and colonialism.

Justin Welby says monuments at Canterbury Cathedral will be looked at “very carefully”
Justin Welby says monuments at Canterbury Cathedral will be looked at “very carefully”

Justin Welby says the monuments will be looked at “very carefully”.

His comments follow recent controversies about statues across the country, such as the sculpture of slave trader Edward Colston which was toppled by Black Lives Matter protesters last month.

But Dr Ben Marsh, from the University of Kent, says the archbishop’s views are “ironic” because statue destruction was an “instrumental part of the foundation of the Church of England”.

“Given the Church’s institutional and political dominance throughout most of British history, it should come as no surprise that the Anglican faith – like almost all others – was deeply implicated in Europe’s imperial expansionism and its colonial brutalities,” he said.

Dr Marsh highlighted three statues of figures in the Cathedral grounds who have links to slavery.

Dr Ben Marsh has identified three statues at Canterbury Cathedral that could be at risk
Dr Ben Marsh has identified three statues at Canterbury Cathedral that could be at risk

Richard Hooker, a priest, had acted as the mentor for the Anglican clergy of the first English slaveholding colonies.

His works, Dr Marsh argues, were an “inherent part” of the education of planters - who were slaves used mostly for agricultural labour.

Former Dean of Canterbury Isaac Bargrave hailed from a family who “cemented their position” thanks to overseas trade and settlement.

And George Stanhope viewed Native Americans as “heathens” and spearheaded the Society of the Propagation of the Gospel which accepted slavery as “fundamentally sanctioned by both natural law and the Bible”.

But Dr Marsh stressed the statues are in need of “re-curation” and not damage or defacing.

George Stanhope at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
George Stanhope at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
Richard Hooker at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
Richard Hooker at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
Portrait of Dean Isaac Bargrave at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society
Portrait of Dean Isaac Bargrave at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society

A statue of Queen Victoria in Leeds was sprayed with graffiti - including the words “murderer” and “slave owner” - amid the Black Lives Matter movement.

She also has a monument in Canterbury Cathedral’s grounds.

Cathedral bosses confirmed they are already working to identify items - such as memorials, statues or heraldic images - that may have controversial links.

A spokesperson said: “All of the Cathedral’s items are being reviewed to ensure that any connected with slavery, colonialism or contentious figures from other historic periods are displayed with clear objective interpretations and contextual information, and are presented in a way that avoids any sense of aggrandisement.

“We hope that by providing this context – and acknowledging any associated oppression, exploitation, injustice and suffering connected with these objects – all visitors can leave with a greater understanding of our shared history and be inspired to undertake further learning and discussion.”

Queen Victoria at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt
Queen Victoria at Canterbury Cathedral. Picture: René & Peter van der Krogt

The Church of England’s director of churches and cathedrals, Becky Clark, says there are monuments to individuals across the country whose “destructive impact” is still being felt by people today.

“Meaningful dialogue needs to engage with this reality, recognise that these voices have often not been listened to in the past, and make decisions that allow these unjust experiences to form a recognised part of both the history and future of our churches,” she said.

During his interview with the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday, Mr Welby also said the western Church needs to rethink the way it portrays Jesus as white.

He said: “You go into churches (around the world) and you don’t see a white Jesus. You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jesus - which is of course is the most accurate.”

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