Rochester Row: Did New Rail Station Drop An Image of St John Because It Was 'Too Christian'?

A woman sits in a church in Havana, September 17, 2015. ((Photo: Reuters/Enrique De La Osa))

Network Rail has hit back at suggestions that it banned an image of St John the Evangelist from its newly revamped Rochester station because it would have offended "multi-cultural values".

The new designs for the station, which cost £26 million, include iconography inspired by the historic Medway town's ancient cathedral, founded in 604 AD and the second oldest in the country after Canterbury. The image of the saint was to be among them.

It was dropped at the design stage, leading to suggestions that it was not included because it was too "Christian".

The move came after an advert for the Lord's Prayer was banned from cinemas. The Bishop of Rochester, Rt Rev James Langstaff, suggested that the Rochester station decision was another example of anti-Christian bias. "Having worked with other religious groups, they do not find Christianity uncomfortable at all," he said. "I don't think they will be offended but rather respect our expressions of faith."

The work was produced by artist Katayoun Dowlatshahi. She said: 'I don't think it's the right decision. We should be allowed to celebrate our Christian heritage. In the context of Rochester's past, it was not the right thing to do.'

The row has attracted widespread comment, including from Conservative MP Mark Pritchard, who tweeted: "Network Rail air brush St John the Evangelist from Rochester station. Christian heritage probably biggest pull for tourists using railway!!"

However, Network Rail was adamant that the decision, taken locally, was simply a design question and was intended to ensure "balance" in the finished product, which includes several other images of the cathedral.

It said in a statement: "Station artwork decisions are taken locally and there are no national rules on what must or must not be included. On this occasion, the artist was asked to depict imagery of the medieval architecture of Rochester. The draft design had several images of the Cathedral, some of which the artist replaced to allow more variety in the artwork but the others remain."

A spokesman told Christian Today that Network Rail had prayer rooms at some of its stations and supported railway chaplains. "It is just not true that we are anti-religious or anti-Christian," he said.

This article was originally published in Christian Today. 

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