Gill’s Madonna

I went into the Abbey yesterday, sketchbook and camera at the ready, expecting to be photographing old stone ruins, but instead was stopped in my tracks by this statue in the Visitor Centre: Madonna and Child by Eric Gill, 1928. Very appropriate, in actual fact, to be starting this project with an image of the Virgin, as the original wattle church was dedicated to Mary, and as Geoffrey Ashe reminds us: ‘The essential fact is that Ynys-Witrin (Glastonbury) was the first British home of the Virgin’s cult.’

This virgin was commissioned by Fr Francis Burdett for St Mary’s Catholic Church in Glastonbury where it remained in a prominent exterior niche until the church was rebuilt in 1940, and the statue was put in the garden of St Louis’ Convent next door: it seems no one wanted it in the new church. From there it found its way to a grave in the municipal cemetery, where someone eventually rescued it and it was presented to the Abbey. A wandering statue, possibly too modern for most people’s taste at the time: maybe embarrassing even. How lovely it is to me today. I must chase up the story and go to St Mary’s Church, where I have never been, in spite of living near Glastonbury for over 30 years. I go to the Abbey, and am directed straight out again.

  1. Jane Paterson said:

    Find this work more and more moving every time I go into the abbey so delighted that it will be in some way the starting point for the project. Speak soon, love J

  2. Paul Sander-Jackson said:

    I just found out yesterday the amazing story about this statue. It would be wonderful to find out more about its creation and peripatetic existence……

    • Mary Gryspeerdt at Glastonbury Abbey knows a lot about the statue as she was involved with firstly organising the loan of it from the Clifton Diocese and then displaying it in the Abbey Museum. I should speak to her if you want to know more.

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