A historic church in East Yorkshire will receive a ‘woke’ facelift, by replacing badly-damaged carvings dating back hundreds of years with feminist icons.
Dating back to 1120, St Mary's Church in Beverley, East Riding of Yorkshire, features decorations that have become so heavily eroded that it is impossible to distinguish what they depict. But instead of undergoing traditional restoration work, the church will have some of its artwork replaced with new carvings of female role models, such as Queen Elizabeth, scientist Marie Curie and nursing pioneer Mary Seacole. Some of the original carvings were installed in 1520, when parts of the church were rebuilt.
The church’s vicar, Reverend Rebecca Lumley, received approval for the highly unorthodox refurbishments from an ecclesiastical court, billing the changes as a way to celebrate the achievements of women.
“The contribution of women to humanity isn't always properly recognised in the telling of history, and throughout history women's voices have been silenced,” Lumley said in a statement. She added that she takes seriously the Church of England’s commitment to “battling inequality and injustice” and expressed hope that the new interior design will “help highlight the remarkable achievements of these women, and provide hope and inspiration for future generations.”
The decorations will also be designed to pay homage to members of the BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) community, according to media reports. Other individuals to be carved into the church include airship designer Hilda Lyon, aviator Amy Johnson, astronaut Helen Sharman, and women's rights advocate Mary Wollstonecraft.
The Chancellor of the local diocese, Canon Peter Collier, who also serves as a judge for the Consistory Court, said that Lumley had made a strong case for ‘updating’ the church’s carvings.
Noting that the existing decorations were beyond recognition, he suggested that it was “entirely appropriate” to transform them into objects celebrating the “human achievement” of women throughout history.
As part of already-completed restoration work, in 2020 the church was fitted with 14 new carvings of characters from The Chronicles of Narnia, authored by Christian writer C.S. Lewis.
The Church of England has faced controversy over its decision to voice support for the Black Lives Matter movement, following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis police. In June, the Church announced a review of sculptures, artwork and other artefacts contained within its 16,000 churches and 42 cathedrals, in order to assess whether their presence could be deemed offensive to marginalized groups. As a result, some parishes have been reportedly compelled to remove artwork that has been associated with past historical injustices, such as slavery and colonialism.
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