St Botolph’s church improvements hide art installation

st botolph church aldgate regeneration refurbish

As part of the Aldgate Square regeneration project significant improvements were made to St Botolph’s church and its environs.

The churchyard is certainly a much nicer place nowadays, although there is one thing I feel should have been left alone which unfortunately wasn’t. Formerly sited prominently by the main entrance to the church was ‘Sanctuary’, a large fibreglass sculpture by Naomi Blake.

The sculpture depicts a vulnerable human figure without arms or feet huddled under what looks like a large drooping leaf. Underneath is a plaque dedicating the work to all victims of oppression.

Installed there in 1985, this rather lovely sculpture has now been dumped unceremoniously by the fire escape at the back of the church hall.

Evidently, Sanctuary didn’t fit in with the developer’s vision for the redesigned entrance to St Botolph’s, which involved them replacing the unlovely, dated, crazy paving with smart, new Yorkstone steps.

More’s the shame because there is a fascinating backstory behind this artwork.

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Naomi Blake was a Czechoslovakian Jew who was sent to Auschwitz by the Nazis. Many of her family perished there, but young Naomi somehow managed to survive not only the horrors of the concentration camp but also the relentless ‘death march’ that followed as the panicking Nazis hastily abandoned Auschwitz as the Soviet forces approached.

Blake ultimately moved to London, where she died just over a year ago at the age of 94.

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Sanctuary, like many of her other commissioned sculptures, is Blake’s attempt to visually depict her traumatic experiences.

It stands as an acknowledgement of the six million Jews and other persecuted peoples murdered during the holocaust.

But alas, Sanctuary now stands abandoned. I’d initially assumed that its storage at the back of the church hall was temporary, pending it being re-sited where people could actually see and enjoy it. It appears I was wrong.

Eighteen months after Aldgate Square’s completion, poor Sanctuary remains exactly where it is, unseen, unloved and forgotten. I suspect it is the City of London Corporation that is responsible for the sculpture, given that they look after and maintain all the City’s churchyards.

The Corporation loves dotting public art all over the Square Mile and so I hope they have better plans for Sanctuary in the

If not at the church, there are lots of other places in Portsoken Ward where Blake’s sculpture could be displayed to give it the visibility and dignity it deserves.

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