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Wanted, dead or alive: do statues always leave our hearts stone cold?

The row over the Rhodes statue in Oxford reveals the superstitious way we view sculpted figures – more alive to us than the campaigners care to admit

Campaigners calling for an Oxford University statue to be toppled have achieved the uncanny. They have brought the 19th-century imperialist Cecil Rhodes back to life. His dark spirit now inhabits his statue at Oriel College as if its stone were flesh and blood. An object has become a living entity through the power of rage.

I once saw something similar happen in Sicily, where the city of Trapani has a statue of the Virgin Mary in its cathedral that comes to life once a year and miraculously moves through the streets. It has some assistance, to the raucous sound of a brass band. But the effect is mystical and wondrous; the statue really seems to “live” for a night.

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