Bishop of Durham defends palaces

Bishop of Durham defends palaces

By staff writers
8 Nov 2004

Bishop of Durham defends palaces

-8/11/04

The Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev Tom Wright has launched a rearguard action to preserve the rights of bishops to live in palaces, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Bishop Wright, who inhabits Auckland Castle, which the paper cals "arguably the finest of all the bishops' residences", attacked "forces of commercialism and 'short-termism'" which could see him and others ousted from their imposing estates.

He has broken ranks with colleagues to defend the historical See houses during a fundamental review by the Church Commissioners, the Church of England's financial arm, which could lead to the sale of a number of properties.

A growing chorus of critics in the Church believes the houses are too expensive to maintain and perpetuate an anachronistic image of Prince Bishops living in luxury while parishes struggle.

Commenting in a leader article, the Daily Telegraph praised the Bishop for his stand.

"Bishop Wright is being neither selfish nor spendthrift. He is being pragmatic and intelligent by stating that hardly any money will be saved by relocating him and that any money saved will not be worth the concomitant loss of splendour" said the newspaper.

It follows another editorial from the Telegraph which called for an increase in Bishop's salaries

The Archbishop of Canterbury last week called for an overhaul of the parish system to meet the needs of modern society. But Bishop Wright is adamant that neither Auckland Castle, the magnificent home of the Bishops of Durham for 900 years, nor other historical houses should be sold. "It is not nostalgia," he said. "It is actually wrong."

The bishop, a respected theologian and bible scholar, but a disappointment to those who expected a more radical stance from him, said the Church was under constant assault from sceptics who argued that its days were numbered and it was no longer wanted.

"Every time the Church destroys one if its deep-rooted symbols, it is conniving at that," he said. "That is why it is wrong, not just sad."

He said that western culture was losing the ability to speak about buildings as places that encapsulated the memory of society, which could enrich future generations.

"This means places and buildings become simply commodities, things that can be bought and sold, shunted around someone's chessboard in order to play whichever games they are playing.

"I recognise that the commissioners have very great calls on their assets and rather few assets with which to meet those calls.

"However, if you look at the proportion of their overall budget which deals with See houses, and the proportion of that budget which deals with Auckland Castle, we are talking about really very small proportional numbers.

"Of course the Church, in following Jesus, must always be ready to travel light. That is a given. However, that imperative in our culture easily gets bound up with an inverted snobbery which is really the old politics of resentment which I thought we had grown out of."

He said that, despite being in the heart of Old Labour territory, there was huge local pride in the building, and any move to sell it would arouse great resentment.

Among his supporters are Sir Paul Nicholson, the Lord Lieutenant of Durham, and Derek Foster, the Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, where the 90-room Gothic pile, complete with battlements and private chapel, overlooks the Wear.

Since the 12th century, the Castle has been the home of Prince Bishops who enjoyed civil as well as ecclesiastical power over the North as a defence against the Scots, an authority rescinded in 1836. It has a magnificent Throne Room and a Long Dining Room in which hang 13 paintings by the Spanish artist Zurbaran, which the commissioners decided to sell several years ago.

The Bishop points out that he lives in a relatively modest six-bedroom apartment within the building, which also houses the diocesan offices and sits in a park open to the public.

He believes most of the money raised from its sale - probably in excess of £2 million - would have to be spent on relocating him and the other offices. Plans are being drawn up to improve the profitability of the castle, which hires out rooms for conferences, events and weddings, to meet much of the building's annual £100,000 maintenance costs.

But the Bishop's stance could put him on a collision course with some of the Church's financial advisers and contrasts with some colleagues who have indicated their willingness to "downsize".

One General Synod member said: "Auckland Castle is the most glaring example of a building we can do without. It is costly and gives out an entirely inappropriate message."

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, said in July that he wanted to move from Bishop Mount, his £1 million, six-bedroom mansion in Ripon, to more modest accommodation in Leeds.

Another who could soon be on the move is the Bishop of Southwell, the Rt Rev George Cassidy, who has signalled his willingness to leave his 22-bedroom Bishop's Manor next to Southwell Minster, Notts.

The Church's portfolio of episcopal residences is worth an estimated £80 million. Of the 44 diocesan bishops' houses, the majority are listed: 13 are classed as heritage properties and nine as palaces.

The commissioners announced plans this year to review the future of each house when the resident bishop is 62, to ensure it remains cost effective and the best way for the bishop to operate. Otherwise, it could be put on the market.

But Bishop Wright is unimpressed. "There is always 'going for the quick buck' versus making sure that we are sustainable into the future," he said.

"Charity law requires that one maximises one's assets but that doesn't mean that one sells all the family silver. It means one uses every opportunity to make things work, to do things economically.

"The question is whether this house actually enhances the ministry of the bishop or impedes the ministry of the bishop. In my view, it enormously enhances the ministry of the bishop."

The Bishop of Durham the Rt Rev Tom Wright has launched a rearguard action to preserve the rights of bishops to live in palaces, reports the Daily Telegraph.

Bishop Wright, who inhabits Auckland Castle, which the paper cals "arguably the finest of all the bishops' residences", attacked "forces of commercialism and 'short-termism'" which could see him and others ousted from their imposing estates.

He has broken ranks with colleagues to defend the historical See houses during a fundamental review by the Church Commissioners, the Church of England's financial arm, which could lead to the sale of a number of properties.

A growing chorus of critics in the Church believes the houses are too expensive to maintain and perpetuate an anachronistic image of Prince Bishops living in luxury while parishes struggle.

Commenting in a leader article, the Daily Telegraph praised the Bishop for his stand.

"Bishop Wright is being neither selfish nor spendthrift. He is being pragmatic and intelligent by stating that hardly any money will be saved by relocating him and that any money saved will not be worth the concomitant loss of splendour" said the newspaper.

It follows another editorial from the Telegraph which called for an increase in Bishop's salaries

The Archbishop of Canterbury last week called for an overhaul of the parish system to meet the needs of modern society. But Bishop Wright is adamant that neither Auckland Castle, the magnificent home of the Bishops of Durham for 900 years, nor other historical houses should be sold. "It is not nostalgia," he said. "It is actually wrong."

The bishop, a respected theologian and bible scholar, but a disappointment to those who expected a more radical stance from him, said the Church was under constant assault from sceptics who argued that its days were numbered and it was no longer wanted.

"Every time the Church destroys one if its deep-rooted symbols, it is conniving at that," he said. "That is why it is wrong, not just sad."

He said that western culture was losing the ability to speak about buildings as places that encapsulated the memory of society, which could enrich future generations.

"This means places and buildings become simply commodities, things that can be bought and sold, shunted around someone's chessboard in order to play whichever games they are playing.

"I recognise that the commissioners have very great calls on their assets and rather few assets with which to meet those calls.

"However, if you look at the proportion of their overall budget which deals with See houses, and the proportion of that budget which deals with Auckland Castle, we are talking about really very small proportional numbers.

"Of course the Church, in following Jesus, must always be ready to travel light. That is a given. However, that imperative in our culture easily gets bound up with an inverted snobbery which is really the old politics of resentment which I thought we had grown out of."

He said that, despite being in the heart of Old Labour territory, there was huge local pride in the building, and any move to sell it would arouse great resentment.

Among his supporters are Sir Paul Nicholson, the Lord Lieutenant of Durham, and Derek Foster, the Labour MP for Bishop Auckland, where the 90-room Gothic pile, complete with battlements and private chapel, overlooks the Wear.

Since the 12th century, the Castle has been the home of Prince Bishops who enjoyed civil as well as ecclesiastical power over the North as a defence against the Scots, an authority rescinded in 1836. It has a magnificent Throne Room and a Long Dining Room in which hang 13 paintings by the Spanish artist Zurbaran, which the commissioners decided to sell several years ago.

The Bishop points out that he lives in a relatively modest six-bedroom apartment within the building, which also houses the diocesan offices and sits in a park open to the public.

He believes most of the money raised from its sale - probably in excess of £2 million - would have to be spent on relocating him and the other offices. Plans are being drawn up to improve the profitability of the castle, which hires out rooms for conferences, events and weddings, to meet much of the building's annual £100,000 maintenance costs.

But the Bishop's stance could put him on a collision course with some of the Church's financial advisers and contrasts with some colleagues who have indicated their willingness to "downsize".

One General Synod member said: "Auckland Castle is the most glaring example of a building we can do without. It is costly and gives out an entirely inappropriate message."

The Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the Rt Rev John Packer, said in July that he wanted to move from Bishop Mount, his £1 million, six-bedroom mansion in Ripon, to more modest accommodation in Leeds.

Another who could soon be on the move is the Bishop of Southwell, the Rt Rev George Cassidy, who has signalled his willingness to leave his 22-bedroom Bishop's Manor next to Southwell Minster, Notts.

The Church's portfolio of episcopal residences is worth an estimated £80 million. Of the 44 diocesan bishops' houses, the majority are listed: 13 are classed as heritage properties and nine as palaces.

The commissioners announced plans this year to review the future of each house when the resident bishop is 62, to ensure it remains cost effective and the best way for the bishop to operate. Otherwise, it could be put on the market.

But Bishop Wright is unimpressed. "There is always 'going for the quick buck' versus making sure that we are sustainable into the future," he said.

"Charity law requires that one maximises one's assets but that doesn't mean that one sells all the family silver. It means one uses every opportunity to make things work, to do things economically.

"The question is whether this house actually enhances the ministry of the bishop or impedes the ministry of the bishop. In my view, it enormously enhances the ministry of the bishop."

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