Hans Feibusch was a Jewish refugee who fled Germany for Britain in the 1930s, and found his niche fulfilling commissions to paint murals in churches and other public buildings. It was through this work that he came to the attention of Charles Reilly, the renowned professor of architecture, and George Bell, Bishop of Chichester, who provided him with the rare opportunity to create a mural of his own design and conception in the crypt at St Elisabeth’s Church in Eastbourne in 1944.
Feibusch chose the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress as a vehicle for his own story, depicting John Bunyan’s Christian as a refugee fleeing the evil and chaos of Nazi Germany, and his eventual acceptance and redemption not in the Celestial City but in 1940s Britain. On the opposite side of the crypt, Feibusch illustrated the companion tale of Christiana, whose parallel journey represents the integration of the spiritual and the pragmatic. The entirety of the mural covers three walls and extends to around 40 metres, and was painted with Stic B, which is more usually used on external structures and accounts in part for the mural’s extraordinary resilience in the face of neglect.
On its completion, the crypt was dedicated as a chapel of remembrance and the mural as a war memorial – the first, we believe, of WW2 and unusual in commemorating civilians as well as military casualties. It is also regarded as a rare piece of British Holocaust art and is an important artefact in twentieth-century social history. As we embark on the twenty-first century, the mural acquires new resonance in the context of mass displacement of people into Europe by conflicts further afield.