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I still think Rustat memorial should go, says Archbishop Welby

13 April 2022


The Rustat memorial in Jesus College, Cambridge

The Rustat memorial in Jesus College, Cambridge

THE Archbishop of Canterbury has renewed his backing for the removal of the Rustat memorial from the chapel of Jesus College, Cambridge, despite a consistory-court ruling last month that it should stay (News, 23 March). The memorial commemorates Tobias Rustat, a benefactor of the college, who invested in slave-trading companies.

The Master of Jesus College, Sonita Alleyne, announced on Tuesday that the College would not be appealing against the decision, although they believed it to be “disappointing” and “fundamentally wrong”.

Archbishop Welby took the unusual step on Tuesday evening of affirming his support for Ms Alleyne and the college. “I welcome and thank the efforts of many, including and in particular the Master and students of Jesus College, Cambridge, to challenge us to face the issue and bring about the change for justice that we all must seek.”

He continued: “I have questioned previously why it is so difficult to move the Rustat memorial in Jesus College chapel — which causes such pain and distress to people whose ancestors were sold into slavery — to a place where it can be understood in context. I stand by those comments.”

Archbishop Welby had spoken about the Rustat memorial during an impassioned debate on racial justice at the General Synod in February (News, 11 February). He was later reprimanded by a former Dean of the Arches and Auditor and a former Chancellor for doing so while the case was sub judice (News, 18 February).

This week he re-emphasised his position. Places of Christian worship should be “sacred spaces where everyone can encounter the unconditional love of God”, he said.

“Memorials to slave-traders do not belong in places of worship. Jesus College wished to move the memorial to a place where it could be studied as an important historical memorial, without disrupting worship.

“I have no doubt that the law was followed in this instance, and that the Church of England’s contested-heritage guidance was used. But if we are content with a situation where people of colour are excluded from places of worship because of the pain caused by such memorials, then clearly we have a lot further to go in our journey towards racial justice.”

Chattel slavery “was always against the teachings of our Lord”, he said. “The Church of England has a dark history where slavery is concerned that we need to confront. Racial injustice, inside the Church and outside, is an issue that exists to this day.

“Since the end of 2019, the Church Commissioners, of which I am the chair, and the Archbishop of York is a board member, have embarked on the process to uncover and confront this dark past, with the aim of restoration, repair, and promoting a better future for us all. They are due to report within the coming months on their findings.”

The judgment, given by the deputy-chancellor of the Ely diocese, David Hodge QC, argued, among other things, that opposition to the memorial was “the product of the false narrative that Rustat had amassed much of his wealth from the slave trade”. He accepted evidence that such investments had formed no part of his gifts to the college, and any financial returns post-dated the memorial.

And he argued: “I do not consider that the removal of such a significant piece of contested heritage, representing a significant period in the historical development of the Chapel from its medieval beginnings to its Victorian re-ordering, has been sufficiently clearly justified on the basis of considerations of pastoral well-being and opportunities for mission in circumstances where these have been founded upon a mistaken understanding of the true facts.”

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