A GLASGOW mural thought lost after decades of searching failed to find any trace of it, has been rediscovered and brought back to the city of its birth.

Painted in 1951, ‘Christ Feeding the People’ was acclaimed as remarkable and ground-breaking on many fronts and has gone on display for the first time in 40 years.

And it is thanks to retired minister John Harvey and his wife Molly, who both had links to Govan, and their 30 year search that the painting is now finally home.

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For more than 25 years the mural hung in a busy public canteen at the Iona Community base in Clyde Street until the building was demolished in 1977, when it went into storage.

HeraldScotland: Unveiling of the lost mural 'Christ Feeding The People' by the artist Fyffe Christie at the former Govan Old church. Photo Colin Mearns.Unveiling of the lost mural 'Christ Feeding The People' by the artist Fyffe Christie at the former Govan Old church. Photo Colin Mearns.

A few years on it made a brief appearance at an art exhibition in Edinburgh before disappearing altogether and being lost. Then in 1998 it was spotted in the hands of an Oxford art dealer who had bought it at auction but who then went on to sell it to a person unknown. Rumour had it that it had been exported to America. In 2017 it was finally traced to the ownership of an art dealer living in Canada.

Speaking at the unveiling, Mr Harvey said: "It was a very important painting for us and and the Iona Community because it was an important part of its social history, and a symbol of its mission and of the Christian gift of giving.

"We really didn't think we would find the painting, but we had a breakthrough in 2012 which led us to the owner in Canada in 2017."

Pat Cassidy, of Govan Heritage Trust, said the discovery was a triumph.

"The fact it was traced at all is the triumph of a small group of people, led by Mr and Mrs Harvey, both with strong Govan connections," Mr Cassidy said.

HeraldScotland: The mural, painted in 1951 has been bought and brought back to Glasgow by Glasgow charity Govan Heritage Trust for display at Govan Old church. Photo Colin Mearns.The mural, painted in 1951 has been bought and brought back to Glasgow by Glasgow charity Govan Heritage Trust for display at Govan Old church. Photo Colin Mearns.

Mr Harvey was a minister at Govan Old in the 1980s and his wife Molly's father was an assistant minister to George MacLeod, a campaigner and leader of the Iona Community in the 1930s. It was their tireless commitment and clever detective work over a period of 30 years that finally led them to Canada in 2017.

Mr Cassidy added: “They saw Govan as a fitting home if the mural could be recovered and asked us to become involved in bringing it back. That only became possible thanks to a generous benefactor. After the first viewing and a brief public display over the coming week, the painting will go into storage while funds are raised for its conservation. It will return to Govan Old permanently at a later date.”

The mural combined a religious message but was unmistakably a Glasgow painting about its people and tenement life.

HeraldScotland: The mural will be on display until June 19The mural will be on display until June 19

It was also remarkable on account of the extraordinary scale of the artists’s canvas – a virtual cinema screen, 32 ft x 8 ft– onto which Glasgow School of Art- trained Fyffe Christie projected a variety of cameos celebrating the lives of ordinary families.

They included a woman bathing a baby, another in the process of baking, people doing household chores, a labourer returning from work – as the figure of Christ stands among them.

The mural was brought back to the city by the charitable Govan Heritage Trust for display at the former Govan Old church where there are ambitious £5.9m plans to transform the A-listed building into a tourist attraction.

Trustee Mr Cassidy added: “This is a fantastic acquisition and will enhance what Govan Old has to offer. I’m sure people will come here just to see the Fyffe Christie mural. It’s an asset that will enrich the exceptional artefacts already on display, including the Govan Stones, which is a rare collection of early medieval sculpture as important as those celebrated nationally at Iona, St Andrews and Whithorn.

“The Govan Old site dates back to the 6th century or earlier, is one of the most ancient Christian settlements in the West of Scotland and the oldest known place of Christian worship on the Clyde. We are building our regeneration plans around that rich heritage and look forward to the day when tens of thousands will travel here to enjoy Govan as the remarkable place it is."

The trust has completed their first phase of works and are now launching a public appeal to help get the next phase underway – an extension building providing facilities that will allow the former church to function better as a venue and museum.

Mr Cassidy added: "We have raised £1.85m of the £2.2m target and need £350,000 to get on site."

The genesis of the Fyffe Christie mural, if not quite Red Clydeside, lies in work for social justice in 20th century Glasgow and exposition of the appalling conditions people were living in.

It was intended to evoke the Christian spirit of giving when commissioned by MacLeod, an Iona Community leader which he founded when minister at Govan Old in the poverty-stricken 1930s.

The mural will remain on display until Sunday, June 19 at Govan Old which is open daily 1pm to 4pm.