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New Dean says removing Edward Colston window in Bristol Cathedral not necessarily 'right answer'

by Chantalle Edmunds

The Dean-designate of Bristol, Reverend Canon Dr. Mandy Ford, has told Premier it is too early to say whether a stained glass window, linked to the slave trader Edward Colston, will be removed from the Cathedral. 

Dr Ford spoke to Premier prior to her installation as the 43rd Dean of Bristol on 3rd October. She said the window's future needed to be part of a wider conversation about memorials.

"It's too early to say. I'm not convinved that moving it is the right answer necessarily but on the other hand if we could find out other ways of telling different stories then that would be wonderful. It needs to be part of that bigger conversation right across the city about what we do with memorials and how we interpret them and how we tell the story of where we are today."

In June, a statue of Colston was torn down by protestors in Bristol and thrown in the harbour.

The "Edward Colston Stained Glass Window" is under the outside Cathedral clock and has several panes of glass.

Dr Ford said the window is part of a bigger discussion about "how we understand the legacy of slavery and how we incorporate that appropriately into the story of the city and the church in the city. It is really important we don't just whitewash over it.

"Although we can't do very much about what happened in the past, what we can do, which is absolutely crucial, is understand how that is impacting on the lives of people today."

Dr Ford mentioned the cathedral had "modest plans" to mark the history of the window "more effectively."

"Longer term there is a much bigger story that needs telling about what the Christian faith means, what Jesus offers to all of us in terms of freedom, equality, welcome and love and we need to look really hard at how we tell that story in such a way that everybody knows that that means them and not just one, or another group of people, who perhaps don't look like them," she said.

Dr Ford, who was previously Canon Chancellor at Southwark Cathedral, will make history when she is installed as the 43rd Dean of Bristol. Her appointment means that for the first time in a diocese in the Church of England, both the Bishop - the Very Reverend Vivienne Fall - and the Dean are women. 

She takes over from Canon Michael Johnson who has been Acting Dean since the Very Reverend Dr. David Hoyle became Dean of Westminster in November 2019. 

In June, Canon Michael Johnson spoke to Premier following the sudden removal of the Colston statue.

When asked, at the time, what would happen if people called for the removal of the Cathedral's stained glass window he said: "I see no reason why not and we'll have to work out our position on that one and just see what needs to be done - what can be done."

In 2017, the then Dean of Bristol Cathedral, the Very Reverend David Hoyle told Premier: "Removing the biggest window in the cathedral would be hugely difficult for me. If I can find a way of doing that, I would be perfectly prepared to have that conversation, but we are talking many, many thousands of pounds."

Edward Colston was a slave trader, merchant and briefly an MP who donated much of his wealth to schools, churches and hospitals in Bristol, with many still bearing his name in the area. 

He made the vast majority of his money through belonging to the Royal African Company which sold African people into slavery, branded their chests with RAC initials and whose trade led to many drowning at sea. 

Colston was a member of the Church of England and donated money to churches throughout Bristol.

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