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Rock of Angels, the stone monument in the small field behind St John’s Episcopal Church, is going on another road trip.
The memorial honoring those killed on 12/14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School is moving from 5 Washington Avenue to a horse farm in Bristol. The property on which the monument is currently located, owned by the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, is being sold to a private buyer.
The monument will be relocated, according to Dave Desmarais, property manager for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, this week.
“I’m meeting the contractor there Wednesday morning, first thing,” Mr Desmarais told The Newtown Bee on Monday, October 16.
Rock of Angels will be going to diocesan property in Bristol, on 23 acres of woodland and trails that surround Shepard Meadows Therapeutic Riding Center. Shepard Meadows provides services for children, youth, adults, and veterans.The monument’s new home will be easily accessible, according to The Episcopal Church in Connecticut (ECCT).
The monument’s move was prompted by the closing last year of St John’s Church by the diocese. The future of the monument, including its care, went into question almost immediately.
Efforts by former members of the church and church officials, according to an October 16 press release issued by ECCT, to have the monument maintained where it currently rests or elsewhere in Sandy Hook or Newtown, were not successful.
“In December 2012 our hearts were broken when we heard the devastating news of the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School,” said the Rt Rev Laura J. Ahrens, bishop suffragan of the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. She worked closely with the congregation as it approached its closing, later with town officials and others exploring options for the memorial, according to ECCT.
“One faithful man’s response, in building this memorial to those who died, was placed at St John’s in 2013 as a place for people to go to remember, to pray for God’s healing, and to feel God’s call to share God’s love,” Rt Rev Ahrens also said October 16. “With the closing of St John’s, we have moved this to a place whose ministry is all about embracing healing and new life.”
The property, including the church building, has been on the market since shortly after the closing. The Episcopal Church of Connecticut had reportedly been trying to market the land and building quietly. A Berkshire Hathaway “For Sale” sign finally appeared in front of the building, in late August.
Now there is a buyer interested in the property, and reportedly a closing scheduled for mid-November.
Cheryl Moulthrop, whose family worshiped at St John’s for generations, was part of the group that helped Rock of Angels find its way to Sandy Hook. She and her husband, Bruce, who served as warden for the church for years, have also been among those trying to find a new home for the monument since the closing of the church in September 2016.
“Basically they’ve already got a closing date set for the buyer, so they need to expedite moving the stone,” Mrs Moulthrop said October 13. “They had said they were making arrangements.”
The news of the buyer, and the closing date, essentially sealed the deal on the fate of the monument.
“I don’t think anybody else is going to come forward,” Mrs Moulthrop also said Friday afternoon. “It’s been very well known all around town that the status of the memorial was up in the air.
“I don’t think somebody is going to come forward in the next week, since no one has come forward since last spring, when we found out the town wasn’t going to take it.”
A Point Of Contention
Almost immediately after the shootings in December 2012, gifts of all sizes began arriving in town. Many were small, or in multiples, and meant to be shared with residents. Some were temporary displays, others were performances meant to lift the spirits of anyone affected by the shootings, even for just a few hours.
The Town of Newtown had tried to get the message out to everyone who approached the town with gifts and suggestions in the wake of 12/14: hold on to your plans and suggestions, and do not send large items. The town made it clear: a permanent memorial design, creation, and placement would be all decided upon by a formal commission, and it was going to be years before those selections were made.
Rock of Angels has been a pressure point since its arrival. While many have found comfort in visiting the memorial, including countless visitors from out of town who arrive in Sandy Hook specifically to pay their respects, others have not been so fast to embrace it.
The angels depicted on the monument, and included in its name, draws religious connotations for many. In addition, none of the families directly affected by 12/14 were consulted during the design of Rock of Angels, another large drawback for any memorial to be permanently placed in town.
The monument had been envisioned by Florida resident Richard Gray. Working with a craftsman in Maine, and other supporters, Mr Gray created the several-ton granite memorial monument to the 26 children and educators killed on 12/14. A wedge-shaped, salt-and-pepper gray piece of granite features six hearts and an angel carved across what has become the front of the monument. The names of the children killed are within the hearts, two on either side of the angel. The names of the six women killed that Friday morning have been carved within the outline of the angel.
The lettering of the children’s names is based on handwriting by the sculptor’s daughter, and done in various colors. The names of the women were done in gold lettering.
While he moved forward with creating the monument four years ago, a small group local residents felt a strong pull to the proposed memorial and embraced Mr Gray when he started posting about it in early 2013. With support fromFather Mark Moore, then-pastor of St John’s Church, congregants of St John’s, and a few others, arranged for the monument to be placed in the small field behind the Washington Avenue church.
In August 2013, Rock of Angels arrived from Ellsworth, Maine, and was installed and dedicated in Sandy Hook.
Three years later, St John’s Church closed, and that put the future of the monument in limbo.
The Board of Selectmen discussed Rock of Angels at a number of subsequent meetings. First Selectman Pat Llodra reminded the Board of Selectmen late last year that the arrival of the monument was not supported by the town. Future use of the land could be hampered by the monument’s presence, the selectmen had decided by December.
In February, Mrs Llodra and the selectmen again discussed the Rock, saying in part that it was not considered an officially sanctioned town memorial.
“The town is committed to having one memorial,” she said. The Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission (SHPMC) has also had, since its inception, a goal of having only one permanent memorial in town. “The Rock is important but it arrived with no opportunity to influence its design. And it doesn’t fit into the memorial commission’s plan.”
Meanwhile, SHPMC, tasked with finding a location and ultimately accepting a design for the formal memorial to 12/14, voted in February 7-1 against taking Rock of Angels under its purview.