A STRIKING new portrait of the Archbishop of Canterbury has taken pride of place alongside his illustrious predecessors at a North-East castle.

Justin Welby lived close to Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland while he was Bishop of Durham - he was one the first Bishops in many years not to live in the building.

Now his official portrait, specially commissioned for Auckland Castle, has gone on public display for the first time alongside paintings of 39 previous Bishops of Durham.

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Religious artist Roger Wagner shows the Archbishop in reflective mood holding one of the crosses made of medieval nails salvaged from the roof of Coventry Cathedral following its destruction in World War Two, and presented to him when he was canon there.

The Archbishop had five sittings over nine months for the portrait and carries on a tradition dating back to at least the 15th century of likenesses of the Bishops of Durham being displayed.

Archbishop Welby, who was Bishop of Durham between 2011 and 2013, said: “It was a great privilege to be painted by such a distinguished artist. I am very grateful that this should hang in the Throne Room in such distinguished company.”

In acknowledgement of Auckland Castle’s famous Zurbaran paintings, the portrait has been mounted in an original 17th century Spanish frame.

The Archbishop supported philanthropist Jonathan Ruffer when in 2012 he bought the castle and the Zurbarán paintings.

Mr Ruffer was keen that the Bishops of Durham should retain their 900 year link with the medieval stronghold.

Dr Chris Ferguson, head curator at Auckland Castle, said: “Even though the castle has entered a new and exciting phase of its life it is still where the Bishop of Durham officially has his office and the portrait is part of not just that tradition but of past bishops’ being painted by the best artists of their day.”

Mr Wagner is largely known as a painter of religious themes and metaphysical landscapes. However both Archbishop Welby and Mr Ruffer are admirers of his work, and his 2008 painting titled The Road to Emmaus is on show in the castle.

Mr Wagner said: “It was a great honour to paint a sitting archbishop and to contribute to the great series of bishops at Auckland Castle, many of which have been painted by distinguished artists.

“Together with the Archbishop we agreed we wanted it to be a simple portrait. He didn’t want to be painted in his Episcopal robes but I wanted to do something that told the world something about him.

“I had already thought it would be nice to get the Coventry cross in and I had noticed that when the Archbishop talks he often plays with it, so the idea of getting him holding it seemed natural.”