Cirencester church statues lost in 1963 to be replaced

Cirencester Parish Church
Image caption The statues were removed from the Grade 1 listed St John Baptist Church in 1963 due to safety concerns

A campaign to replace two 600-year-old church statues that were lost 56 years ago has drawn design submissions from all around the UK.

The statues were removed from the tower of the Church of St John Baptist in Cirencester, Gloucestershire, in 1963 due to safety concerns and disappeared.

A competition to replace the statues of the Virgin Mary and St John the Baptist has seen five artists shortlisted.

Once selected, the new statues are expected to be in place by summer 2021.

Meg Blumson of Project Blackjack said the original St John the Baptist statue “had a special place in the hearts of the people of Cirencester” as it allegedly gave its name to a nearby street.

The statue was blackened from soot used in coal fires during the 1700s and was nicknamed “Black Jack”.

Image copyright Project Black Jack
Image caption The statue of St John the Baptist was blackened from soot used in coal fires in the 1700s and nicknamed “Black Jack”

The niche the statue was in faces a narrow street formerly known as St John Street, but the name was changed in 1877 to Black Jack Street.

Ms Blumson described its disappearance as “a mystery that’s puzzled the church for more than 50 years”.

The project is being funded by grants and donations, and it is hoped the chosen designs will be “forward-looking”, and reflect “the church’s view and the town’s view of how the new statues should represent the two saints”.

Canon Graham Morris said: “It’s fantastic that we have this exciting project helping to re-establish what was a key feature in Cirencester.

“Community engagement is very important for this project. We want to see both the church and the general community having an input into what we hope will be in place for many hundreds of years.

“After all, the original Black Jack lasted 600 years, why shouldn’t the new one.”

Of the five applicants chosen two are based in Gloucestershire with the others from Humberside, Yorkshire and Hertfordshire.

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