Topless statue in Priory Church restored after being hidden by John Wesley for 3 centuries

Updated: 21 Sep 2011
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All her glory: The topless statue, covered up for centuries, has been restored
 
After having her modesty covered for years, a church restoration has revealed a statue of a topless woman.
 
The small statue has uncovered in the church house next to the Priory Church of St James in Bristol, where Methodist founder John Wesley, who died in 1791, aged 87, worshipped.
 
There is speculation that the unclothed figure was too much of a distraction for Wesley and his early 18th Century Methodists who ordered her to be covered up.
 
The prudish parishioners had a lead breast plate placed over her chest which remained in position for the next three centuries.
 
Workers discovered the statue during a restoration project of the ancient building and removed the lead covering.
 
The figure has now been exposed again and returned to her former glory with help from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
 
The buxom brunette, who is holding a cornucopia of fruit, stands with her green frock pulled down beneath her breasts and a red shawl wrapped around her shoulders.
 
She is thought to have arrived from abroad and placed in the house shortly after it was built in the 17th Century.
 
The church the house stands next to is the Grade I listed, 12th Century Priory Church of St James and is the oldest building in the city of Bristol.
 
The statue, right, used to be covered up - and that was thought to be because John Wesley's Methodists thought it too distracting
 
The west front of St James with Church house, where the statue was uncovered, on the far left
 
In the 18th Century Wesley used the church house to hold prayer meetings before he had his purpose-built New Room place of worship erected a couple of hundred yards away.
 
The 2ft high statue shows a figure who could be a depiction of Abundantia, the Roman Goddess of abundance and prosperity.
 
The discovery was made during a lottery-funded restoration and conservation project of the church and house.
 
Andrew Ziminski, from Minerva Conservation, who has written an article in Cornerstone, the magazine of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), said: 'She is pretty super.

'The figure had a lead breast plate that covered the bosom and the breasts had also been painted over.
 
'It was covered in a brown sludge and we found her tucked away above the fireplace.
 
'The house dates from he 17th Century and was used to hold prayer meetings and was more for the management of the church. John Wesley held prayer meetings there.'

'Although he wasn't much of a prude, it was perhaps him or his followers who wanted the figure covered up - bosoms are bosoms and flesh is flesh.
 
'She does not feel English to me and could have been taken to Bristol by someone visiting the city on a ship.
 
'She was placed in the room that is beautiful and panelled and has a wonderful ceiling.'
 
The church and associated house have now been restored and are home to a clinic for those with addictions and there is also a cafe.
 
WHO WAS JOHN WESLEY?

John Wesley (1703 - 1791) was a Church of England cleric and Christian theologian who along with brother Charles is credited with founding Methodism.
 
It began after a visit to the American colonies and he took to open air preaching and his Methodism was a hugely successful evangelical movement.
 
It encouraged people to directly experience Jesus Christ and remains a force in the UK's Christianity.
 
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