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Church considers sale of paintings to boost investment funds

[Episcopal News Service]  The Church of England is planning to sell a set of religious paintings that have hung in one of its grandest bishops' palaces for more than 200 years in order to boost the church's investment funds.

The paintings, by the 17th-century Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, show the biblical patriarch Jacob and his 12 sons. The set is estimated to be worth at least $15 million. The paintings hang in the Auckland Castle residence of the bishop of Durham, Michael Turnbull.

Campaigners opposed to the planned sale say the castle's Long Dining Room was created to accommodate the paintings and 'is probably the first picture gallery in Europe to be so designed.'

Bishop Turnbull has defended the decision of the church authorities to sell the paintings but has urged that they stay in the region. He said the Church Commissioners, who are responsible for much of the Church of England's investments, and who own the paintings, had the responsibility of helping poor parishes and maintaining the clergy 'Keeping paintings in Auckland Castle is not doing much about that,' he said.

A spokesman for the Church Commissioners said no sale date had been set and no reserve price had yet been decided. He defended the planned sale as a 'prudent investment decision.' In a statement, the Church Commissioners' board of governors said it was 'sympathetic to the view that the natural destination of the paintings' was northeastern England, their present location.

Spain's famous Prado museum is among foreign buyers reportedly interested in the paintings.