Chalice Well: the removal of the Mother and Child statue

Editor’s note: The article contains mentions of sexual abuse that may be disturbing to some readers.

Glastonbury, England –  The Chalice Well in Glastonbury, a place dear to many Pagans from around the world, has been in the news recently over the removal of statues from the Chalice Well gardens, including a Mother and Child statue from a niche near the wellhead, at some point in the late spring. Some see the statue as the Madonna and Child, others as a goddess, or simply as a representation of the maternal human. In this, the statue exemplifies the multivalent aspect of the Chalice Well, which is many things to many people, and the removal of the statue brought together Christians, Pagans, Buddhists, and more, in the unity of protest.

The statue has a long history: originally made by Indian temple sculptor Ganesh Bhat in the early 2000s, it is based on a similar, though not identical, piece by controversial British sculptor Eric Gill. The latter’s abuse of his daughters was revealed in a 1989 biography and has caused considerable debate over whether Gill’s early 20th-century sculptures should remain in prominent positions around the country. Bhat, who was unaware of the origins of the statue on which he based his own piece, gave his mother and child statue to the Well, and she has been in situ there for around 20 years.

Representatives from the Chalice Well said that Bhat’s statue had been removed because of its perceived connections to Gill’s work. However, a statement was also made that they wished to preserve the ‘neutrality’ of the gardens and that other statuary, such as a goddess figure, had also been removed.

Chalice well – Mother and Child Statue: [Photo Credit: Liz Wiliams

Once people became aware of this move, a significant movement to restore the Mother and Child began to gain momentum. A petition to restore the statue to the niche has, at the time of writing, gained over 4000 signatures.

The Chalice Well responded by issuing an apology, the text of which is below:


We are so very sorry that our decision to remove two statues from the Chalice Well garden has caused much distress to many of our visitors, supporters and Companions.
As Trustees, we have met, discussed, meditated and discerned, as well as listened to the huge outpouring of concern and distress by so many of you. Thank you to everyone who has written to us directly.

We apologise unreservedly for the manner in which we took a very complex and difficult decision.

We acknowledge we have made a mistake. We fully recognise that we should have consulted, taken more time and sought the wisdom of staff, companions and visitors before making such a momentous decision. We want to make the situation as “right” as we can, and to honour the different perspectives. We offer our collective apology from a place of humility, learning and genuine service. We misjudged the devotion of people locally, and from all over the world, who experience Chalice Well as a sacred sanctuary, with the statues as a key part of their experience.

A range of views have been expressed in different forums and we have read most, if not all of them.

We did not make it clear enough in our public statements that the consideration at the core of our decision was the fact that the Mother and Child was an exact replica of a statue at Glastonbury Abbey that was carved by Eric Gill, a known and self-confessed serial sexual abuser. The artist who created the statue and donated it to Chalice Well did so many years ago, out of a genuine love for the Well.

The Eric Gill connection was only brought to the attention of the current trustees very recently. We have also been made aware of how the statue re-traumatises survivors of sexual abuse when they visit the garden when they are aware of the statue being a copy of an Eric Gill sculpture. We felt it had no place in the Sanctuary near the wellhead and we wanted to remove the potential for abuse survivors to be triggered or traumatised. Considering their wellbeing was key to our decision-making. Our intention was love, sensitivity and concern for a group who often go unheard and are often without a voice.

There has been significant support from survivors of sexual abuse and from others who support the Trustees’ decision based on the Eric Gill context and considerations, including those who have written or spoken with us openly about their difficulties with the statute.

What we underestimated was how important the Mother and Child statue is to a huge number of people as a symbol of solace, a place of grace during times of loss, a focal point for prayer and meditation, and a representation of the sacred feminine. We now understand this more clearly.

Separately, a concern was raised about having a Goddess statue in the garden. We then took a further step to decide to have no specific iconography in the garden, which on reflection was a step too far and distracted from the Eric Gill focus. It was never the intention of Trustees to dishonour the sacred feminine, especially as there are Trustees who have a strong connection to the sacred feminine and Goddess. We really are so sorry that our good intentions have led to sadness and concerns for so many of you who love Chalice Well. We endeavour to serve everyone, and we are overwhelmed and very moved by the outpouring of the feelings so many have expressed.

We are taking the actions listed below to respond to the petition and the many voices and views :

The Mother and Child statue has a new home near the Meadow in an area which is currently private but will be opened to the public soon. There is a bench beside her for those who wish to commune with the statue that is now under a beautiful tree and open to the sky and the stars. The statue has been carefully placed to avoid traumatising anyone. For anyone who wishes to see the statue, please come to the office while we transition this space from a private to a public area and we can take you there.

We are going to invite local sculptors to offer their designs for a replacement statue for the Sanctuary.

We are going to create a second focal point and dedicated space in the Sanctuary for all people who do not have a voice

The Goddess sculpture has been returned to the garden

With Blessings from the Trustees, Lindsay, Alison, Sophie, Lynne, John, Phil and Tom.
[14th June]


It has not been clear if the Well has contacted Bhat (one of the trustees did so, but it isn’t clear in what capacity), but as the creator of the piece, Bhat has noted that the meadow is not an ideal location for the statue, which is made of soft Indian stone and could become damaged by damp and bird droppings.

A statement from Ganesh Bhat unpacks the history of the statue. Bhat’s friend Bill Glover found a statue left at the Well, wrapped in a plastic bag: this was the original piece by Eric Gill, which is now in storage in Bristol. Glover sent a photo of this striking piece to Bhat, who reproduced it. Both appear to have been in entirely good faith. Bhat says

When he found that sculpture, Bill did not know it was by Gill. When I saw the photo, I purely admired the composition. Bill only found out later that it was by Gill. In India we do not concern ourselves with the personal lives of sculptors and artists. What matters is the way they bring the spiritual into their works. We respect the artworks, not the artists. Great artworks never die but artists do die. I do not concern myself with the personal life of an artist. Gill was obviously a very bold man who even wrote down what he did, so I was told. We know that even a broken clock is right twice a day, which means that even bad artists sometimes produce good works of art, and good artists sometimes produce bad works! It is the art that matters.

I feel hurt that they have moved her because of the firm promises I received. Before removing her to the woods they could surely have consulted me? I was happy with the niche. She should not be out in the open. She needs shelter and also to be on a platform, not getting wet all the time. She was blessing my garden before she came to England and one of the reasons I let her go with Bill was because the original reference had come from England. I thought: from there she can bless the whole world!

Commentary on social media has been heartfelt and extensive. We canvassed opinions specifically for this piece:

“The Chalice Well Gardens mean different things to different people and that’s okay. Erasing all specific meanings and symbols from the gardens is not the way. It will just create a bland neutrality with no resonance. Are they going to remove the Vesica Piscis symbol from the well lid? I hope not, but that’s a Christian symbol — with Pagan connotations. There are plenty of gardens that are just gardens that can be enjoyed in a spiritual way by anyone. The Chalice Well was one of very few places where many faiths could come together in spiritual appreciation of this very special holy well. If they make it “neutral” they’re taking that away. I always felt a huge sense of peace descending on me as soon as I entered the gardens, and I feel that this was because it was consecrated by the people of many faiths who love it, and the shared symbols of those faiths.

And to all those people who feel that it’s wrong to care about a statue when actual humans are suffering: the statue provided peace and healing for actual humans, and it is possible to care about more than one thing at a time.” — Yvonne Aburrow, Pagan writer.

“This action comes at a time when women are being attacked in many ways and places. For the avoidance of doubt I am not referring to the trans debate here – I have no problem with trans women. I am thinking of America – removal of reproductive rights, Afghanistan – virtual obliteration of women from the public sphere, Gaza where women are routinely arrested and subjected to sexual humiliation by police and soldiers. I could go on. When I tried to understand the strength of my own reaction, this ‘disappearance’ of the feminine statues seemed to crystallise all this in one small action.” Liz Cruse, Druid.

“Condemning – and removing from public view – an artwork because the artist was deemed to be persona non grata, regardless of its intrinsic merits, is something the Nazis were keen on doing. With the best of intentions, a liberal, tolerant society should not go down that road,” Nick Ford, Catholic Pagan.

“Purge the old gods. Isn’t that it? The majority of tourists who travel to Glastonbury come seeking the old ways, the Goddess, the trek around & around the Tor island. Arthurian legends to wonder over. Who would wish to displace that?” Gwendolyn Holden Barry, Pagan.

About 2 hours after the first draft of this piece was written, the following appeared on the Chalice Well Facebook page:

Message from the staff team

“As a staff team we have been in the front line dealing with the reactions of visitors and Companions at the decision and implementation by the Trustees made without any consultation, to move the Mother and Child statue from the alcove in the Sanctuary.
Since this decision, the staff and volunteers have been exposed to aggressive behaviour and have also been targeted in their personal lives. In order to safeguard the wellbeing of the staff, volunteers, visitors and the statue, the staff team today secured the statue in place in the alcove, to reduce the escalating aggression. The Trustees have now agreed to consult with our Companions.”

With blessings from the staff team

In the first week of July, the statue appeared back in the niche but was then returned to the cherry tree. It’s not clear who moved her on either occasion. The Wild Hunt understands that two of the Well’s trustees have now resigned over this issue, but the mother and child statue has now been permanently returned to her niche. We visited her on Sunday, July 7th.

Ganesh Bhat states:

I am extremely happy that the promise was kept. I believe that there is a new understanding of the Truth of Holiness of the Mother Goddess and Child, and this miracle happened because of the thousands of people’s prayers and support. I don’t know how adequately to thank the Companions and Volunteers, Trustees and Staff, so my apologies if I unknowingly hurt anyone.

For me, there are no mistakes, only the journey. Nobody made a mistake. It was an uncomfortable time for me and a crucial time for the Chalice Well lovers. We all learned things. But now I wish that everything is going to be great and the best.

And to dissolve all the negativity, today I am going to put a plant in the Earth in the name of the Mother and Child. If you feel moved you could do this too, for the Peace of the World.* Could we request all those who love the Gardens to put a plant in the Earth in the name of the Mother and Child to dissolve any negativity and obstacles? Five thousand new plants in the world will bring prosperity and good health through the Blessings of the Mother of the Earth.

I honour everyone who worked hard and provided great suggestions to bring Her back. I love you all.

Always love, Ganesh.

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