A London church is to remove a large mural depicting a city ablaze over its entrance that has “acquired unfortunate connotations” since the Grenfell Tower fire.
The once-garish mural of the Last Judgment, commissioned in 1977 for St Peter’s, St Helier, in Morden, south London, was “never universally popular”, according to a Church of England court ruling that granted permission for its removal.
The image had faded, making it difficult to see the Christ-like figure, wrote Philip Petchey, the diocesan chancellor, in his ruling on the mural’s removal. Since the Grenfell Tower fire in June 2017, when 72 people died, the image of tower blocks in flames had “now acquired unfortunate connotations”.
The artistic merit of the work was not high enough to prevent its removal, Petchey added.
In granting a faculty, or authorisation, he said removing the mural would “remove an impediment to [the C of E’s] mission”.
However, he added, it would be unfortunate if churches were put off commissioning artwork based on the judgment. “On the other hand, a recognition at the time of installation of potential issues of the kind that arose here may be a useful corrective to overenthusiasm.”
A petition for its removal was filed by the current vicar, Rev Tracy Marlow, and two churchwardens. It was unopposed. Local church officials hope the mural will be removed next month but declined to comment until the work is complete.
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The church, consecrated in 1932, is not listed. The mural was commissioned by the then vicar, the Revd Donald Reeves, and painted by a local artist, Peter Pelz.
An earlier application to remove the mural, filed in 1991, failed. The diocesan chancellor at the time, Robert Gray QC, had ruled: “Once gone, it is gone for ever. It is already a landmark, and in this part of London landmarks of such interest and artistic distinction are too rare for the court to sanction the removal of one as striking and as significant as this one.”
A public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire ended last month after four years of hearings. It is expected to report its findings in 2023.