Saint Paul directing The Burning Of The Heathen Books by Pieter Coecke.

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The Art Fund has pledged £200,000 for the tapestry to be purchased for a museum in north east England. The Auckland Project, a group of heritage attractions, galleries and gardens in the historic town of Bishop Auckland in County Durham, is leading the fundraising.

If successful, the project’s new Faith Museum, which opened on October 7, will house the tapestry.

The Faith Museum

The Faith Museum in Bishop Auckland.

The monumental tapestry – nearly 20ft (6.1m) wide – depicts a bonfire on which St Paul directs the burning of irreligious books. Designed by Pieter Coecke van Aelst, it is the only known survivor from a set of nine woven compositions emblematic of the Act of Supremacy that were made for Hampton Court.

It is thought to have remained in England until the late 1960s, when it was acquired by a dealer in Barcelona, and remains in a private collection in Spain. Tapestry specialist S Franses exhibited the work in London in 2018 before it embarked on a global tour.

As reported in ATG in 2018 and in issue no 2603, the tapestry is subject to an export ban preventing it from being bought by an owner outside Spain. However, Spain’s Ministry of Culture has agreed that if a suitable UK institution with a link to its history can pay the £4.5m price tag, they will allow it to return to Britain.

The Auckland Project has until March 2024 to raise £4.1m in order to acquire the tapestry. So far, the campaign has received significant public support, reaching more than £500,000 thanks to the Art Fund pledge alongside donations from over 700 individuals and private organisations.

The project will also shortly submit a bid of £3.1m to The National Lottery Heritage Fund to secure the acquisition.

Billionaire investor and philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer is behind The Auckland Project.

Jonathan Ruffer

Jonathan Ruffer, founder of The Auckland Project.

He has been supporting the regeneration of the town of Bishop Auckland through his charity. This included the purchase of Auckland Castle to save a collection of paintings by Zuburan as well as working with local people to “fuel long-term social and economic change through the arts, culture and heritage to make the historic town of Bishop Auckland a better place to live, work and visit”.

Jenny Waldman, director of the Art Fund, said: “This exquisitely detailed tapestry is the only surviving example of nine tapestries commissioned by Henry VIII. We have a unique opportunity to bring it back to the UK after being considered lost for almost 200 years.

“I can’t think of a better home for this monumental tapestry than The Auckland Project’s new Faith Museum, and I’m delighted we’ve been able to support their campaign to acquire it, building on a decade of support for the charity.”

The Faith Museum

The interior of The Faith Museum in Bishop Auckland.

Jonathan Ruffer, founder of The Auckland Project, said: “There is perhaps no better place to see the national impact of Art Fund than at The Auckland Project venues. The generosity of its members and staff have been pivotal in the growth of our collections and the work in our community. Their contribution to our tapestry campaign is typical of their nature: swift, substantial, unstinting. Every member has been part of something wonderful, and we hope to welcome you all here. I hope, however, not all on the same day!”

To donate to the fundraising campaign visit justgiving.com campaign.