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The Return of the Crucifix, a guest blog post by Mariam Moon-Begum (Heritage Intern)

The Return of the Crucifix 

After the last mass was held by the Friars at Gorton Monastery in November 1989, the site was deconsecrated and was forced to close its doors to a shocked and sorrowful local community. In the proceeding years after the sites closure, the building started to wither away due to neglect, suffered from vandalism and many precious objects were removed by vandals. 

One of these items removed from the site was that of the 130-year old ‘massive, polychromed, stone cross (17ft/526 cm)’ depicting a life-size version of Jesus Christ.(1) The crucifix ended up appearing in a Sotheby’s auction in London in 1998 and was in the process of being sold by an art dealer, Patricia Wengraf, to a church in Florida. Fortunately, the Monastery of St Francis & Gorton Trust persuaded Wengraf to keep the crucifix in the UK until they could raise enough grant money to be able to secure its return to the Monastery. 

Fast forward eight years to October 2006, the money had been secured and the Monastery was ready for the crucifix to finally be returned and once again hung high on the chains above the high altar. However, some of the crucial pieces of metal from the chain were still missing. The Trust remembered that a carrier bag full of metal pieces had been brought from a market stall and returned to the site. It was vital to have these connecting pieces so that the chains could be completed and the crucifix could once again be displayed in the Nave. 

Around 2016, when the site underwent a huge restoration and conservation programme funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, a decision was taken to move the crucifix to the right hand-side of the high altar. This decision was taken for a number of reasons: its new position much lower down means that it is much easier to see the design and details of the crucifix up-close; it means that it is much easier to identify and undertake any conservation work required on the crucifix and it also balances out the space with the Lady Altar on the left-hand side of the High Altar. Having been saved, restored and conserved, this amazing piece of Monastery history continues to be displayed in the Nave to this day. 

Blog written by Mariam Moon-Begum (Heritage Intern, summer 2019) 

Edited by Emma Bryning (Heritage and Community Impact Manager) 

(1) ‘Images of England: Gorton Monastery’, Jill Cronin and Frank Rhodes