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Rutland village to return crucifix salvaged from the Somme

21 April 2023


The crucifix to be returned

The crucifix to be returned

A CRUCIFIX from a ruined church on a First World War battlefield in France is to be returned from the English village where it has been kept for almost a century.

The oaken cross, with a gilded figure of Christ, was originally in the church in the village of Doingt-Flamicourt, in northern France, which was destroyed in 1916 during the First Battle of the Somme. It was found in the ruins by a British army chaplain, and ultimately placed in All Saints’, Tinwell, in Rutland.

Doingt-Flamicourt was rebuilt in the 1920s, and included a new church, l’Assomption de la Sainte Vierge. This summer, the congregation of All Saints’ will return the crucifix.

“The story of the Tinwell crucifix is an amazing one,” the Priest-in-Charge of Ketton and Tinwell, the Revd Olwen Woolcock, said this month. “I think it’s a symbol of hope and the promise of new life — which is exactly what Jesus is. A village once destroyed is rebuilt; where there was trauma and death, today there is life and community. The crucifix is like the last piece of the jigsaw in that restoration.”

The idea of returning it to France was mooted during a service in 2018 to mark the centenary of the Armistice. The church made contact with Doingt’s historical society, but Covid delayed the restoration. Now, a date of 25 June has been set for the handover.

The removal of the crucifix from All Saints’ required the permission of the Chancellor of Peterborough diocese. It has been replaced with a new figure of Christ, by the woodcarver George Earl. A plaque telling the crucifix’s story is to be added later.

Exactly how the cross came to All Saints’ is unclear. It is believed to have been picked up by an Army chaplain, the Revd Percy Hooson, who served on the Somme and became Rector of Tinwell in 1932; but the church’s inventory simply records it as found on the battlefield in 1917, and used to replace a small altar cross in 1936.

Hubert Boizard, a member of Mémoire de Doingt-Flamicourt, the village’s history group, said that he had been surprised and moved when All Saints’ got in touch. “I look forward to meeting our English friends to remember the past, when their country defended France and freedom,” he said. “This resonates all the more strongly as the war in Ukraine reminds us that freedom is a value that must always be defended.

“The region is sensitive to the fate of all the young British soldiers who died on our soil. The return of the crucifix symbolises the friendship between our two nations, who fought together for freedom.”

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