Court warns against sale of Church of England treasures without authorisation

Posted on: September 26, 2014 by

In a strongly worded judgment, the Chancellor of the Diocese of Gloucester, June Rodgers, has warned priests and the art market against sales of property in churches without a faculty. A faculty, granted by the Chancellor of the Diocese, is required for works to parish churches, churchyards and ‘articles appertaining thereto’: see the Care of Churches and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction Measure 1991 No.1, section 11.

Chancellor Rodgers was giving judgment in Emmanuel Church, Leckhampton. The church was built in 1936 and listed grade II. In or about 1949 the church had been given a work by Franz Ittenbach, a 19th century German Nazarene painter; of a Madonna and Child. Ittenbach (1813-1879) was a painter associated with the Dusseldorf school.

The judge was damning. She said:

“This wretched and lamentable history is a textbook example of how not to do things, as I have sadly had to set out above. Monumental stupidity is involved, some degree of arrogance, and, even possibly [I make no finding as to the latter], a degree of evasiveness. This is all deeply unattractive …”

The priest in charge and the church wardens had been ‘really, really stupid’. A retrospective faculty was granted because of the dire financial state of the parish and the lack of a historic, local or social connection between the painting and this church. It was a windfall gift which had served no part in the mission of the church, at least in recent years.

The judge considered that the need for faculties was being ‘consistently ignored, both by Churches and the Antique trade’ and spelt it out as:

“Any purchaser from a Church of England Church should ensure that the item can be accompanied by the appropriate paper work: namely a Faculty from the Diocesan Chancellor authorising sale of the particular object in question. No other “paper work” from the selling church, its Church Wardens, or its cleric purporting to give permission to sell, is worth the paper it is written on. Again I say, verbal assurances as to the parish’s “right” to sell (or give away) what they think is “their” property is totally worthless, and conveys no rights of ownership to any prospective purchaser. “Purchasers” of items from a church, if consecrated in the Church of England, waste their money. They have no legal title to what they have obtained, nor have any subsequent purchasers. Without a Faculty authorising sale, the property which they purport to have bought, still belongs to the church from which it came. One of the Directions I shall give at the conclusion of this judgment is to direct that the various auctioneer trade bodies are circulated with it. That may not cover the free lance purchasers, but “the trade” will, once again be put on notice.”