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Millionaire Buys Paintings So Church Can Keep Them

CANTERBURY, England (RNS/ENInews) A self-effacing multimillionaire has become a local hero after buying a series of 17th-century religious paintings and then donating them back to the Church of England in a bid to help boost art tourism.

Jonathan Ruffer, 59, paid 15 million pounds (about $21.3 million) for a series of paintings of the biblical patriarch Jacob and his sons by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbaran, according to ENInews.

The eight-foot paintings, completed between 1640 and 1645, have been housed at Auckland Castle, the official residence of the Anglican bishop of Durham, since 1756, after a bishop bought them for a little less than
125 pounds (about $200).

Earlier this year, the managers of the Church of England’s 5 billion-pound investment portfolio proposed selling the paintings at auction in hopes of using the proceeds to fund church ministry in poorer parts of England.

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Thousands of people in northeast England signed a petition asking that the paintings remain at the castle, and supported a campaign organized by Member of Parliament Helen Goodman to keep them in Britain.

Ruffer, who co-founded the successful Ruffer Investment Management in 1994, stepped in to buy the paintings. Talks have started between the National Trust, a British historic preservation charity, and the Durham County Council to open the castle to greater public access. Civil leaders hope the ongoing presence of the Zurbaran paintings will boost tourism.

- TREVOR GRUNDY, Religion News Service

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