People Staff
February 14, 2000 12:00 PM

For years, Sunday school at West Newbury, Mass.’s All Saints’ Episcopal Church has been so crowded that the rector’s crammed little office has had to double as a classroom. Now, through a miraculous discovery in the church’s attic, the parish of 300 souls will have enough money to add as many classes as it wants—including, perhaps, one in art appreciation. On Jan. 28, the church’s long-forgotten 16th-century painting, Madonna and Child by Andrea del Sarto (1486-1530), sold at auction for $1.1 million. “We’ve been poor for a long time,” says parishioner Beryl Wood, 75. “God was just waiting for us to be ready.” It was former pastor James Gurley, 46, who came across the painting—quietly donated some 70 years earlier by Boston philanthropist Clara Winthrop—while rummaging in the attic one day in the late 1980s. He hung it in the choir stall briefly and sent it to be appraised in 1989. The verdict: It was a copy, of little value. Seven years later, Gurley’s successor, Rev. William Murdoch, now 51, sought a second opinion. This time, Murdoch recalls, the appraiser “immediately gasped and said this is unbelievable.” The painting sold in just two minutes at Sotheby’s in New York City, reaffirming the pastor’s faith as it replenished the church’s treasury. “It showed us,” says Murdoch, “God’s wonderful love and care for us.”

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