Eric Gill statue Guildford Cathedral
Church of England

Guildford Cathedral ‘reviews’ statues by sinner sculptor Eric Gill

You have to pity poor Hiram of Tyre, an artistic metalsmith whom King Solomon chose to work on his Temple, because ‘he was filled with wisdom, and understanding, and cunning to work all works in brass‘ (1Kgs 7:14).

We read that Hiram was ‘trained to work in gold and silver, bronze and iron, stone and wood, and with purple and blue and crimson yarn and fine linen. He was experienced in all kinds of engraving and could execute any design given to him.’

And so he cast great pillars of bronze, bedecked with wreathes and jewels, and set them at the porch of the Temple. And then he cast a great sea of molten metal, which stood upon twelve bronze oxen, three looking toward the north, and three looking toward the west, and three looking toward the south, and three looking toward the east. It brimmed with flowers of lilies: it contained two thousand baths.

And he cast decorative lions, oxen, and cherubim. And wheels and axles and chariots. And palm trees, and basins, and lamps of gold. ‘So was ended all the work that king Solomon made for the house of the LORD. And Solomon brought in the things which David his father had dedicated; even the silver, and the gold, and the vessels, did he put among the treasures of the house of the LORD‘ (2Chron 5:1).

But then Hiram sadly died. And Nathan the prophet came to King Solomon and said, “This Hiram chap, I’m afraid he was a great sinner. The Lord may have gifted him with all creative wisdom and artistic skill, and he certainly made the House of the Lord look very fine indeed, but I’m afraid, Your Majesty, that he is known to have had sex with men.”

King Solomon frowned awhile.

“What, you mean he lay down with mankind, as with womankind?” the King ventured.

“‘Fraid so, Your Majesty,” replied Nathan the prophet, “And, as you surely know, according to Leviticus 18, it is an abomination.”

King Solomon frowned awhile a bit more.

“What’s to be done?” he asked.

Nathan the prophet was resolute. “We have no choice but to summon the Dean and Chapter of the Temple, and ask them to review all of the works by Hiram that are in the House of the Lord. They may decide to remove them, or contextualise them, but either way, it is clear that Hiram was a very great sinner indeed, a perverse man among the most abominable of abominations, and so his metalwork is tarnished, and his art is corrupted. It is no longer glorifying to the Lord.”

Solomon wept.

The Dean and Chapter of Guildford Cathedral are currently ‘reviewing’ all the statues sculpted by Eric Gill because he has been revealed posthumously to have been a paedophile and sexual pervert: he raped his daughters and his dog.

None of you shall approach to any that is near of kin to him, to uncover their nakedness: I am the Lord‘ (Lev 18:6), and the nakedness of thy daughters is expressly forbidden.

Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith‘ (v23), though dogs aren’t specified.

Eric Gill also sculpted ‘Ariel and Prospero’ which adorns the portico of BBC Broadcasting House. The statue was vandalised last week with a sledgehammer and marker pen (“Death to Peados”) while BBC security guards debated whether climbing a ladder to apprehend the vandal might constitute a breach Health & Safety.

Eric Gill sculpted the John the Baptist which adorns the south doors of Guildford Cathedral, and the Christ on the Cross above the round window of the Lady Chapel. He also sculpted the Jesus on the Cross at St Thomas the Apostle Anglican Church in Hanwell, London; a memorial in the village church of St Mary the Virgin in Lapworth, Warwickshire, and a memorial to socialite Lady Ottoline Morel in the parish church of St Mary in Garsington, Oxfordshire.

The Telegraph informs us: “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.”

We know that the Church of England has a newfound zeal for ‘reviewing’ (including removing) its statuary and monuments in light of the immorality of those they celebrate, but it is profoundly unwise of the Dean and Chapter of Guildford Cathedral to sift the personal morality of Eric Gill to assess his ‘suitability’ for having his works displayed. Where does one draw the line? Caravaggio’s great religious works were adored by Pope Clement VIII and now adorn many churches, but he murdered a man and served a prison sentence.

Would the Dean and Chapter of Guildford Cathedral remove a Caravaggio (if they possessed one) from the Cathedral wall, or is murder a less grave sin than raping your daughters and your dog? Presumably, the Chapter wouldn’t cavil with God for choosing to make David King of Israel. Are both adultery and murder less grave sins than raping your daughters and your dog? What would Bathsheba and Uriah say?

Artists tend to be bohemian, if not debauched. The sexual morality of many throughout history would never have withstood a Victorian ‘acceptability review’ of the sort currently being undertaken by the Church of England. Thank God they didn’t purge churches of every artwork and altar crafted by a homosexual: the ensuing destruction and desecration would have surpassed even that of the Reformation.

The Dean and Chapter of Guildford Cathedral seem to gaze at the works of Eric Gill, and say, “God, we thank you that we are not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this paedophile and dog-raper.”

How might Jesus respond?

“But the paedophile stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

No-one knows how Eric Gill met his Maker, but it is certainly not for any of any of us to judge. When did the Church of England become so spiritually arid and morally puritanical? If the Dean and Chapter of Guildford Cathedral is intent on judging the public acceptability of art by the private morality of the artist, then they had better delve into the authors of every hymn and the composers of every choral work they perform. And then they might look into the lives of every parish priest and that of their Bishop, if not of every bishop, some of whom will surely have looked at girls (and boys) and contemplated having sex with them. If, as Jesus says, every thought of hatred is murder, then every lustful thought must be fornication, adultery, rape, paedophilia or bestiality.

Bad people can do good things, and sexually immoral artists may produce great art. But the Law which demanded moral perfection has been supplanted by a new dispensation of mercy and grace; of compassion and forgiveness. Perhaps the Rev’d Cindy Kent expressed it succinctly and most perfectly in her recent letter to the Telegraph:

Cindy Kent Eric Gill letter telegraph