Ecclesiastical Law Journal

Research Article

Goring Revisited: George Bell, The Artist Hans Feibusch, and Art in Church

Paul Fostera1

a1 Emeritus Professor, University College Chichester

There is adventure about—both at home and abroad. More especially, events are taking place in respect to the place of visual art in the witness of the Church that a generation ago, or even less, would have been laughed out of court: for the counsel of this committee or that, whether at parish vestry or cathedral chapter, would have looked askance at what, today, seems to be accepted almost on the nod. Examples of what is occurring, and especially in cathedrals up and down the country, are easy to cite. One need think only of recent exhibitions at Salisbury; the use of video (Bill Viola's The Messenger) at Durham; the appointment of an artist in residence at Gloucester; Sculpture for Winchester, the 1998 exhibition arranged in part across the Inner Close of the cathedral; an exhibition in November 1999 of Sussex artists in the North Transept at Chichester, conducted with a view to raising funds for the continuing restoration of the cathedral; Anthony Green's Resurrection, An Act of Faith at Christ Church, Oxford; or the planned (at the moment of writing) millennial exhibition, Stations, the New Sacred Art, to be held in 2000 both at the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds and at twelve associated parishes. Varied as these examples are, they all share a very distinct characteristic—the temporary nature of the arrangements, for which no formal permission or approval was legally required from any supererogatory body or bodies. Reasons for this development are complex, and the outcomes— which frequently create controversy—are often fiercely debated. What has received less attention, however, is the foundation of the present relationship between art and the Church, a relationship that can be seen to stretch back to a judgment made by George Bell, then Bishop of Chichester, in his own consistory court in 1954, concerning a design for a mural by Hans Feibusch in the parish church at Goring-by-Sea.