THE Consistory Court of the diocese of Chichester refused to
grant a petition by the PCC for a retrospective faculty to hang a
new painting in St Mary and St Nicholas's, Lavant, a Grade I listed
building dating from the 12th or 13th century. The painting
(above and below), by a local artist, Richard
Whincop, depicts the baptism of Christ in a modern setting, and was
intended to be mounted on the west wall of the church, adjacent to
The previous Rector had seen Mr Whincop's work at a Roman
Catholic Church in Scotland, and had commissioned the painting
without having first obtained a faculty. Mr Whincop stated in a
note attached to the petition, that he drew upon William Blake's
poem "Jerusalem", and that the picture incorporated the landscape
of the countryside around Lavant, using local imagery.
The petitioners said that the proposal was to hang the picture
where a utilitarian noticeboard currently hung, that it would bring
that corner of the church to life, and would link the ministry of
Jesus with the act of baptism at the font. They also said that,
since being hung in position for a trial period, the painting had
received unanimous acclaim, and that some members of the community
had been moved to tears by its spirituality and presence.
The Diocesan Advisory Committee (DAC) did not recommend the
proposed introduction of the painting, however, and said that its
"style was not in keeping with the interior of the building", and
that it was "too large for its intended location". The DAC
encouraged the parish to consider relocating the painting to the
parish-room extension. The Church Buildings Council (CAB)
considered that the painting was "theologically interesting, even
if not to all tastes", and recommended that a confirmatory faculty
be granted for five years, after which time the matter could be
As for the introduction of the painting without a faculty, the
Chancellor, the Worshipful Mark Hill QC, said that it was "a source
of considerable concern that a previous incumbent and churchwardens
should have had such cavalier disregard of the faculty
On the instructions of the Archdeacon, the painting had been
removed once it was recognised that no faculty had been obtained.
Strictly speaking, the removal of unlawful furnishings also
required the authority of a faculty. The Chancellor said, however,
that in the particular circumstances he was prepared to overlook
that second oversight.
He said that he "took a dim view" of the actions of the previous
Rector and churchwardens, but that it would not be proper to allow
that conduct to be determinative of the present petition for a
retrospective faculty. The issue was whether, if an application had
been made prospectively, it would have been granted.
There had been lack of unanimity in the PCC when a decision was
taken to seek a retrospective faculty. The public notice had
elicited one objector who stated that "there are many within the
worshipping members of the church who believe the painting . . .
has no place being displayed on the walls of a Grade I listed
Whenever a change in a church was proposed, the burden of proof
lay on those seeking the faculty to justify the need for the
change, and a higher standard needed to be met when the church
concerned was Grade I listed. After considering all the
information, the Chancellor was of the opinion that the petitioners
had failed to discharge that burden of proof.
As for the CBC's "lukewarm" support and suggestion that any
permission be limited to five years, the Chancellor said that
either the picture had artistic and aesthetic qualities justifying
its introduction or it had not, and he was not convinced that there
could be "some form of halfway house by which an otherwise
objectionable item becomes permissible, but for a fixed-term of
years, subject to a review". The faculty jurisdiction must have a
long-term view, even when proposals were relatively modest and
reversible, he said.
Refusing the faculty, the Chancellor said that, although there
might well be a significant majority in the PCC and the worshipping
congregation more generally in favour of the picture, the
objections on the grounds of size, aesthetics, and suitability for
its proposed position in this Grade I listed church all militated
against the faculty.
The petitioners had failed to satisfy him that "the visual
intrusion of this unashamedly modern image into this fine historic
church can be justified".