Bishop Bell exhibition

George Bell, Bishop of Chichester (1883-1958), sat in the House of Lords for 20 years on the bishops benches famously speaking out against the blanket bombing of German cities during the Second World War.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick explains why Parliament marked the 50th anniversary of Bell's death with an exhibition on his career and contribution to the House of Lords.

George Kennedy Allen Bell

2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. It has been said of him that he was the only English churchman of his time, apart from William Temple, everybody had heard of.

The exhibition - in the Robing Room in the House of Lords from 2-24 October 2008 - recalled the steps in his career, as a schoolboy at Westminster, as an undergraduate at Christ Church Oxford, as chaplain to Archbishop Randall Davidson and later his biographer, as Dean of Canterbury and finally, at the age of 46, as Bishop of Chichester from June 1929 until his death on 3 October 1958.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick at the opening reception for the Bell Exhibition on 2 October with Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Bischof Jurgen Johannesdotter

Just prosecution of war

Today he is best remembered as a strong supporter of the church in Germany before the war, and in particular the German Confessing Church which suffered persecution under Hitler.

His friendship with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the young theologian and martyr, was legendary. His loyalty to those Germans who resisted the Nazi regime never wavered.

He believed in the concept of a just war, which is why he supported the war against the Nazi tyranny. But he also believed in the just prosecution of war, which is why he so strongly opposed the indiscriminate killing of civilians.

Celebrated speech

The exhibition was held within a few yards of the spot where, on 9 February 1944, he made his celebrated speech in the House of Lords against the blanket bombing of German cities. Although the speech received very little support at the time, and no support at all from the Government, it can be seen now as having laid the foundation for Anglo-German reconciliation after the war, and as having furnished the moral ideas which inspired the European vision.

Supporter of the arts and Christian unity

Bell was an active supporter of the arts. He was a friend and patron of TS Eliot, Gustav Holst and Vaughan Williams. He commissioned work from such artists as Hans Feibusch (one of the many refugees from Germany who were devoted to Bell), Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell. He was himself no mean poet.

A tireless worker for Christian unity from the days of his appointment in 1932 as Episcopal Chairman of the new Universal Council for Life and Work, Bell became, shortly before he died, the first Honorary Life President of the World Council of Churches.

Tribute to Bishop Bell

The exhibition was offered as a tribute to a great churchman who served on the bishops' benches in the House of Lords from 1938 to 1958 with a total devotion to the truth as he saw it. At times he stood alone; but his voice is now increasingly seen as having been prophetic.

Related information

Celebrated speech

Read Bishop Bell€™s 1944 speech in the Lords condemning blanket bombing of enemy countries on our prototype historic Hansard site:

Why do bishops sit in the Lords?

26 of the most senior Church of England archbishops and bishops sit in the Lords because the Church of England is the €˜established€™ church of the state.