Lavant church told to remove Christ baptism painting

Richard Whincop in St Mary's Church, Lavant
Richard Whincop in St Mary's Church, Lavant

A PAINTING ‘crammed with religious symbolism’ has been banned from a church for being too big.

Richard Whincop’s Baptism of Christ painting was unveiled to great acclaim at St Mary’s Chuch, Lavant, in the summer of 2012, but is now sitting out of sight in a cupboard after being hung without diocese permission.

Richard Whincop's Baptism of Christ painting, where it used to hang in St Mary's Church, Lavant

Richard Whincop's Baptism of Christ painting, where it used to hang in St Mary's Church, Lavant

A judge has ruled the painting was not in keeping with the church’s interior, was too large and ‘unashamedly modern’ – a claim Mr Whincop disputes.

“You can’t call that ‘unashamedly modern’. I think that’s ridiculous,” he told the Observer.

He said he was disappointed at the ruling, adding: “There’s going to be a lot of disappointed people in the congregation, because people have said they feel they’ve not been given any say in whether the painting stays.

“There’s simply been a high-handed decision from the powers-that-be, that haven’t really taken their needs into consideration.”

The painting was commissioned by the former rector of the church, David Parker, who has now retired.

The church held a special dedication service for the painting’s unveiling in July, 2012.

The painting depicts Christ being baptised, set against a backdrop of the West Sussex countryside, with the Trundle being clearly visible in the background.

According to Mr Whincop, in many traditional depictions of Christian stories, artists made a painting more relevant to people by setting it against a backdrop they recognised.

The familiar setting helped people to identify with events depicted in the painting and was commonly used in renaissance paintings in Italy.

The painting was designed to be hung on the west nave wall of the church, above the font.

Richard Ryder has been a member of the Lavant church for more than 20 years, was previously a churchwarden and is currently the electoral roll officer.

He said he knew of many congregation members who liked the painting and wanted it restored to its ‘rightful place’.

“Quite apart from its obvious artistic merit, it is crammed with Christian religious symbolism which invites you to meditate on their meanings,” he said,

“This is no simple painting thrown together to fulfil a commercial commission, but one that has come from the heart of a deeply-committed Christian artist.”

When the painting was commissioned, the church needed to apply for a faculty, the equivalent of planning permission, from the 
Church of England, however it failed to do so.

Later on, the visiting archdeacon of Chichester noticed the painting hanging on the wall and asked if it had a faculty.

Eventually coming before the chancellor of the Diocese of Chichester, it was ruled the painting was not suitable for the Grade I-listed, 12th-century church.

Chancellor Mark Hill QC, who is a judge of the church’s consistory court, acknowledged there was great support for the painting.

However, he added: “The petitioners have failed to satisfy me that the visual intrusion of this unashamedly modern image in this fine historic church can be justified.”

Barbara Treverton, a church warden and member of the parochial church council (PCC), said it was a ‘great regret’ to herself and other church wardens that the saga had ended this way.

At an emergency council meeting on Sunday (April 6), it decided not to appeal the decision, but hopes it may get permission to hang the painting in a nearby parish room.