A University college, ‘let down’ by The Church of England over a decision to keep a monument to an investor in the slave trade, has been supported by the church’s head.
Jesus College, Cambridge, wanted to move its chapel’s stone memorial to Tobias Rustat, saying it is inconsistent with its diverse student population.
It sought permission to move the memorial to the 17th century figure, currently on one of its chapel walls, away from a place of worship “to a place where it could be understood in context”.
However, despite support from the Archbishop of Canterbury, it has been denied permission by the consistory (Church) court, which said the case for taking down the plaque was the product of a “false narrative” that “Rustat had amassed much of his wealth from the slave trade, and that it was moneys from this source that he used to benefit the college.”
According to the Press Association, the court instead stated that Rustat did not benefit financially from his investments. Deputy Chancellor David Hodge QC of the Diocese of Ely, who decided the case, said that Rustat’s investments in the Company of Royal Adventurers Trading into Africa brought him “no financial returns at all”.
However, Jesus College said this was irrelevant, as what mattered was Rustat’s active involvement in the trade.
Sonita Alleyne OBE, Master of Jesus College, said: “Many students and members of the college community put their trust in the Church process, and understandably feel let down by the judgment and its misrepresentation of their views.
“The Consistory Court’s decision shows a lack of understanding of the lived experience of people of colour in modern Britain.”
In his support of the college’s attempt to move the stone, Most Rev Justin Welby said: “I have questioned previously why it is so difficult to move the Rustat memorial in Jesus College chapel – which causes such pain and distress to people whose ancestors were sold into slavery – to a place where it can be understood in context.
"I stand by those comments. Memorials to slave-traders do not belong in places of worship.”