£15m donor saves Zurbarán paintings for County Durham
A donation by an investment trust manager means the Church no longer plans to sell paintings that have been part of North East history for 250 years.
For a long time it looked like County Durham would lose some of its greatest treasures.
The Church Commissioners appeared set on selling the Zurbarán paintings that have hung in the Bishop of Durham's Auckland Castle home since the 1750s.
But now an investment fund manager who was born in the North East has stepped in to save them for the region.
Jonathan Ruffer's £15m donation will allow the formation of a Zurbarán Trust.
That will stop the sale of the paintings, and has also probably helped to secure the future of Auckland Castle as a public building.
It seems Mr Ruffer has effectively bought the paintings and then given them back.
The Church of England says money from the Trust will also help them carry out more pastoral work in the North East's communities.
The pictures of Jacob and his sons were painted by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán in the 17th Century, but have been hanging in Auckland Castle since 1756.
The Church Commissioners were looking at selling them to raise badly-needed funds. They could have raised upwards of £20m.
There was also talk they might look to sell Auckland Castle too.
But the Church says it has now also opened discussions to open the Castle up permanently to the public.
Auckland Castle could be opened up permanently to the public as a cultural centre for the North East.
Another donation of £1m from the Rothschild Foundation will help towards that goal, although the Church says it will need more money to make it happen.
Dr Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London and Acting Chair of the Commissioners, said: "Jonathan Ruffer's generosity has made that rarest of scenarios possible: the best of both worlds.
"There is now an opportunity to create a leading arts and heritage centre in the North East, and a chance for both the Church of England and the Zurbarán Trust to contribute to the wider spiritual, social and economic regeneration across the region."
The news comes ahead of a Commons debate about the future of the paintings.
The local MP Helen Goodman has been opposed to their sale from the start.
Now Helen Goodman can use her time in the House to celebrate victory.
The initial decision outraged many in the region and the BBC's Inside Out featured the campaign to keep them in the North East.
It also even drew in the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt at one stage and inspired a 3,000-name petition.
But of course it is an unlikely hero who has made this possible. Of all people, it's an investment fund manager who has come to the rescue.
Yet an internet search on Jonathan Ruffer's name suggests he's not a man who seeks much publicity.
He does have a North East connection as the Church Commissioners say he was born in Stokesley near Middlesbrough.
He has also clearly made a lot of money by running successful investment trusts.
From his Debrett's entry we also know he is 59, married with a daughter and now lives in Hertfordshire.
He's written a book called Babel: The Breaking of the Banks.
He also lists his hobbies as opera and sleeping, but gives little else away.
But from today, he will certainly be the toast of the North East.