Libby Lane had the honour of being the first woman bishop when she was consecrated on 26 January 2015. A year on, her old college, St Peter’s, have commissioned a portrait of her to mark the anniversary. This too is a first, for there are no men represented on the walls of their hall, where the painting will hang.
The Oxford-based artist, Tom Croft, specialises in portraits. He was approached by the governing body at St Peter’s after the Master, Mark Damazer, pointed out the lack of women commemorated in their hall. The fellows voted unanimously for the portrait, which will be accompanied by one of the college’s first female fellow, Professor Christine Greenhalgh. Commenting in The Telegraph, Damazer said: “It’s important for positive images of women in leadership roles to be seen on the walls of buildings and institutions”.
Speaking exclusively to The Oxford Student, Damazer said that a unanimous decision was made to display more portraits of women, and a picture of Libby seemed appropriate. Damazer said that Lane was ‘very pleased’ with the portrait. In a recent interview for ITV’s Lorraine programme, Lane was asked what prompted her decision to sit for the portrait; she replied: “it matters that women are visible in places where previously there have only been men … that women’s contributions are recognised and acknowledged”. Lane also said that she was pleased with the progress made in creating a “new normal”, whereby half of the bishops appointed in 2015 were female.
The Bishop spoke about how she had received hundreds of letters supporting her, from women in the church, “of other faiths, of no faith”. Reflecting on the year, she looked back at how she has been able to “build bridges” between people of differing opinions within the church, and between different faith groups and communities outside of the church, a process she hopes will continue.
Lane, 49, was educated at Manchester High School for Girls before she attended St Peter’s College, graduating in 1989. She was ordained a deacon in 1993 and a priest the following year. After holding vicarages in Cheshire throughout the 2000s, she was consecrated Suffragan Bishop of Stockport in Cheshire. Along with an honorary doctorate from the University of Wales Trinity St David, Lane has been elected an honorary fellow of St Peter’s and a second portrait, by Jane Allison, has recently been hung in Chester Cathedral.
The Master of St Peter’s commented that the Governing Body were already intent on having oil paintings of women in their hall before Libby Lane’s ordination and that this was a lovely coincidence. Both decisions were unanimous. They are also considering commissioning and displaying a photograph of contemporary St Peter’s women in the hall, though this is still to be confirmed. They discovered two oil paintings, one of the mother of the founder Miriam Sarah, which are being restored at the moment. There will be an event in Trinity term to celebrate women at St Peter’s where the portraits will be unveiled.
Image: Balliol College