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Tattoos break down barriers, says priest

20 July 2023

Dean of Canterbury defends the Revd Wendy Dalrymple, cathedral’s next Canon Precentor

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

The Revd Wendy Dalrymple

The Revd Wendy Dalrymple

THE future Canon Precentor of Canterbury Cathedral, who received online criticism for her tattoos, has described how they have served to start conversations and break down barriers.

The Revd Wendy Dalrymple, Rector of All Saints with Holy Trinity, Loughborough, was announced as the new Precentor and as a Residentiary Canon-designate, by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury, on 9 July. In the accompanying photo, several large tattoos are visible on her arms. Among the congratulatory messages online were critical comments. One Twitter account suggested that “the peacock display here, in her official photo, suggests both pride and vanity”.

It prompted more than 1000 replies, some accusing her of narcissism and arguing that women should “never have been allowed in leading positions in the Church”.

Among the new Precentor’s many defenders was the Dean, the Very Revd David Monteith, who wrote that he had been “so saddened by the abuse she has received. Determined to shape a cathedral which addresses misogyny, entitled power, and prejudice, because the love of Jesus requires that.”

This week, she said that the reaction had not been a “complete surprise, as the online world can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out the best”. The many supportive comments “more than make up for the silliness of the few”.

She got her first tattoo for her 30th birthday, when an ordinand: “A simple, small chi-ro [one of the earliest forms of Christogram], as I wanted something to express my Christian faith.” Despite having fainted on to the tattoo artist, she had gone on to acquire several more, including an image adapted from a modern icon of St Mary Magdalene, and a piece inspired by the work of Ben Wildflower, an American printmaker, called “Fruit of thy womb” — a representation of the incarnation.

“Each of them expresses something of my vocation and faith and is deeply personal, marking a particular moment in my life,” she said. “My tattoos can be a source of conversation when I meet people: some are curious about the designs, and others just simply like to see a ‘normal-looking’ priest.

“Tattoos are so common these days that I think they are far more likely to break down barriers than create them — although I think it’s worth pointing out I am very much a traditional priest, so fully robed on a Sunday morning.”

The best response she had had since the “Twitter storm” came from someone who had shown the picture to their tattooed daughter and son-in law, and told her that “They didn’t know people like them were allowed in church, and now they do. If I can go just a little way to help people from all backgrounds know that they have a place at the table that makes me happy.”

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