Review into Church sale of Francisco Zurbaran paintings

Zurbaran paintings
Image caption The works of art are by Spanish painter Francisco Zurbaran

A review is to be carried out into controversial plans to sell off historic paintings which hang in the home of the Bishop of Durham.

Church Commissioners are considering selling works by Spanish Baroque artist Francisco Zurbaran to raise £15m to fund Church efforts in poorer areas.

But Durham County Council and Labour MP for Bishop Auckland Helen Goodman have criticised the proposed sale.

The commissioners have now agreed to a three-month review by a working party.

The paintings have hung in Auckland Castle, in a room specifically designed and built for them, for 250 years.

Durham County Council described them as part of the region's heritage and said it would be trying to find out whether they formed part of the fixtures and fittings of the castle's Grade I-listed status.

Ms Goodman said any sale would be a "crashing error" for the North East.

But in the Commons, Oxfordshire MP Tony Baldry, who speaks for the Commissioners, said the importance of the paintings to the region was "fully understood" by Church authorities.

He confirmed that a working party headed by the Lord Lieutenant of County Durham, Sir Paul Nicholson, would look at ways of keeping the paintings in the North East.

He said: "These pictures, if they were to be sold, would generate something like £500,000 in perpetuity, which could be applied to funding clergy in deprived areas, not least in the North East.

"But we do understand the importance of these pictures to the North East and I am very happy that this working party has been set up and chaired by the lord lieutenant."

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