Martyrs’ Gallery and Project Space

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The draft Scheme

On 4 December 2017, the Church Commissioners of the Church of England published a draft Scheme providing for the demolition of the original St Elisabeth’s Church in Eastbourne, home to the mural Pilgrim’s Progress by Hans Feibusch. If approved, the Scheme will allow the Church to go ahead with the demolition, irrespective of whether the mural is still in situ. The Scheme contains a provision that demolition will not go ahead until 1 September 2018 or until the ‘proposed recipients’ of the mural ‘have secured adequate resources’ to remove and relocate the mural – in other words, unless someone other than the Church of England provides the money for the mural’s relocation before September 2018, the mural will be destroyed along with the building.

Complete documents relating to the draft Scheme can be downloaded here.

Objections to the draft Scheme must be received before 8 January 2018, so there is not much time to act!

The mural

Hans Feibusch was a Jewish refugee who fled Germany for Britain in the 1930s, his work sufficiently despised by the Nazi regime to be included in the now infamous Entartete Kunst (Degenerate Art) exhibition of 1937, alongside artists such as Chagall, Kandinsky, Klee and Mondrian. He became a member of the London Group, which had been founded by artists including Walter Sickert and Jacob Epstein and went on to include most of the key names in twentieth-century British art, and found his niche fulfilling commissions to paint murals in churches and other public buildings. It was through this work that he came to the attention of Charles Reilly, the renowned professor of architecture, and George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who provided him with the rare opportunity to create a mural of his own design and conception in the crypt at St Elisabeth’s in 1944.

Feibusch chose the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress as a vehicle for his own story, depicting a refugee fleeing the evil and chaos of Nazi Germany and his eventual acceptance and redemption not in the Celestial City but in 1940s Britain. As well as being an extraordinary feat both in terms of its scale and its mastery of form and colour, Pilgrim’s Progress is also a deeply personal project unlike any other of Feibusch’s work, and an important artefact in twentieth-century social history. Descendants of concentration camp detainees who have seen it say that those depicted in the mural bear the unmistakable facial expressions of Holocaust survivor guilt. The mural is a registered War Memorial, and is unique, we believe, in being dedicated to civilian casualties of war. As we embark on the twenty-first century, it acquires new resonance in the context of mass displacement of people into Europe by conflicts further afield.

You can see more pictures of the mural here. Members of the press are welcome to email alex@martyrs.gallery for higher resolution images.

How to object

Objections to the draft Scheme must be received before 8 January 2018. Communications received after that date will not be treated as a valid representation.

Objections can be sent in hard copy to: Representations, Closed Churches Division, Church Commissioners, Church House, Great Smith Street, London SWIP 3AZ or sent by email to closedchurches.reps@churchofengland.org.

Assuming that at least one objection to the draft Scheme is made, the views of the Bishop of Chichester will be sought, who will look to weigh up representations both against and for the Scheme. It is important therefore that as many informed and reasoned objections as possible are made before the closing date of 8 January 2018.

In making a representation, you should indicate whether you are also requesting the opportunity to speak at any public hearing that is subsequently held.

It is our understanding that the Twentieth Century Society, a great supporter of Feibusch and his work, will be creating a petition as part of a campaign to save Pilgrim’s Progress. Please do support this, but please do not send or sign petitions as an alternative to written objections, as only the first signatory of any petition will be regarded as having objected.

Rationale for objections

Objections might draw attention to the following shortcomings of the proposals:

There is little doubt that demolition of the St Elisabeth’s building is both necessary and inevitable eventually. By voicing objections to the draft Scheme at this stage, we buy time to explore other possible locations for the mural and other options for funding its relocation.

PLEASE VOICE YOUR OBJECTION TO THE DRAFT SCHEME BEFORE MONDAY 8 JANUARY 2018 TO GIVE US THIS CHANCE.

If you have any questions or comments about the mural or the Representations process, please email me, Alex Grey, at alex@martyrs.gallery. I will be answering email throughout the Christmas and New Year period and will be happy to provide information or advice, as needed.