Fears over proposed Church sale of Zurbaran paintings

Image caption,
The works of art are by Spanish painter Francisco Zurbaran

There are fears that historic artworks which hang in County Durham could be sold and taken out of the North East.

Church Commissioners are considering selling Zurbaran paintings which hang in the home of the Bishop of Durham.

They could raise about £15m, which would be used to support the work of the Church in poorer areas.

A spokesman for the commissioners said there was an agreement in principle to explore the possibility of a sale, but no actual sale had been arranged.

The paintings, by Spanish Baroque artist Francisco Zurbaran, have hung in Auckland Castle, in a room specifically designed and built for them, for 250 years.

Durham County Council described them as part of the region's heritage and said it would be trying to find out whether they formed part of the fixtures and fittings of the castle's Grade I-listed status.

Helen Goodman, Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, said the possible sale would be a "crashing error" and called for dialogue with the Church Commissioners.

She said: "The Church has got immense assets and I would say that if those paintings were hanging in Lambeth Palace they wouldn't be put up for sale.

"I think the commissioners should not be so London-centric.

"They should understand that people in the North East have a heritage and we're entitled to it."

A spokesman for the Church Commissioners said: "In the light of our obligation to support the work of the living Church across the nation and, particularly, in poorer areas, we have to consider the sale of these paintings.

"Before that can happen, detailed procedures for the potential sale of the Zurbarans raise a number of important and complex issues and, until these have been fully resolved, no final decision or commitment for sale can be made."

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