Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, Dean of Westminster, was one of five children of the Right Reverend Edward Stanley, Bishop of Norwich. He was educated at Rugby and Balliol College Oxford. Between 1856 & 1864 he was Regius Professor of Ecclesiastical History and Canon of Christ Church, Oxford. In 1864 he became Dean of Westminster, a post which he held until his death in 1881.
In 1852 Stanley travelled to Egypt and Palestine, and produced a best-selling account of his observations, Sinai and Palestine in Connection with Their History, which is still being reprinted. Stanley was a particularly enlightened and progressive clergyman who questioned the literal truth of the creation in the Book of Genesis. It is interesting to note that he enjoyed a life-long friendship with T.H. Huxley, a follower of Darwin.
He persuaded Mr. (later Sir) George Grove, to produce a 53-page Vocabulary of Hebrew Topographical Words. From this exercise Stanley and Grove became convinced that there was a great need for further work on the topography of the Holy Land and the identification on the ground of the place-names in the Bible. At the time, however, there was very little support for the foundation of a society to carry out the work. In 1862, Stanley again travelled to Palestine, this time accompanying the Prince of Wales on his tour of the East.
In 1864 Grove persuaded Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts to donate £500 for a survey of the water supply of Jerusalem, which was duly carried out by a team of Royal Engineers led by Captain (later Maj. Gen. Sir) Charles Wilson. The publicity which resulted in this work enabled Grove to recruit the required support to found a society to map and describe the Holy Land. Dean Stanley, as he was by now, arranged for the Jerusalem Chamber at Westminster Abbey to be made available for this meeting, which took place on 12th May, 1865. At this meeting the Palestine Exploration Fund was founded.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of Dean Stanley's contribution to the Palestine Exploration Fund and its work, aside from his role in its foundation, was his commitment, with Sir George Grove, to a scientific approach. He also insisted that it be non-religious and non-political, and his efforts to bring into the founding Committee not only representatives of all three major branches of the Church of England (High Church, Evangelicals, and Broad Church), representatives of the Catholic and Jewish communities within Britain.
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