One of Britain’s oldest churches has said it will install a reimagined version of The Last Supper painting that portrays Jesus Christ as a black man. The St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire is all set to display the painting by artist Lorna May Wadsworth as part of a prayer installation in the North Transept from July 4.
“At St Albans Cathedral we stand with the Black Lives Matter movement to be allies for change – building a strong, just and fair community where the dignity of every human being is honoured and celebrated; where black voices are heard, and where black lives matter,” the church wrote in a statement.
“In the painting Jesus is a black man, and so calls us to ‘look with fresh eyes at something you think you know’,” the church wrote on its website.
The altarpiece at the 11th century abbey will be replaced with a high-resolution 9-feet print of Wadsworth’s painting, who based Jesus’s features on those of Tafari Hinds, a Jamaican model. The work, modelled on the original, depicts the disciples as being ethnically diverse.
The painting will be displayed till the end of October and parish members can pray or light a candle in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
We’re grateful to @Lorna_May_ for her painting of A Last Supper, which’ll be displayed from Saturday 4 July. In the painting Jesus is a black man, so calls us to ‘look with fresh eyes at something you think you know’. #BlackLivesMatter
➡️ https://t.co/BEOoWJxPqO pic.twitter.com/JscUJ6NM4q
— St Albans Cathedral (@StAlbansCath) June 30, 2020
““Painting the Last Supper altarpiece made me really think about how we are accustomed to seeing Jesus portrayed. Experts agree he would most likely have had Middle Eastern features, yet for centuries European artists have traditionally painted Christ in their own image,” Wadsworth said when asked to explain the painting.
Explaining why she casted Hinds, as her Jesus, the artist said it was to make people “question the Western myth that he had fair hair and blue eyes.”
I also knew from a previous portrait of Tafari that there was something in his countenance that people found deeply empathetic and moving, which was the overriding quality I wanted my Christ to embody. pic.twitter.com/Q7ZNbhdFu0
— Lorna May Wadsworth (@Lorna_May_) June 30, 2020
The announcement comes after Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who heads the Church of England, said the church should reconsider its portrayal of Jesus as a white man.
Speaking to the BBC, Welby was asked whether the way the western church “portrays Jesus” needed to be “thought about again” and “re-imagined” in light of recent Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“Yes, of course it does,” he said, adding that Jesus was portrayed differently in countries around the world.
Jesus was Middle Eastern, not white. It’s important we remember this.
But the God we worship in Christ is universal, and the hope he offers is good news for us all. Here are some of my favourites images of Christ from around the world.
What are yours? pic.twitter.com/iXEUdJJFGQ
— Archbishop of Canterbury (@JustinWelby) June 27, 2020
“You go into their churches and you don’t see a White Jesus — you see a Black Jesus, or Chinese Jesus, or a Middle Eastern Jesus — which is of course the most accurate. You see a Fijian Jesus — you see Jesus portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures, languages and understandings,” he had said.
He later tweeted some of the pictures from his official handle and asked followers to share their thoughts on it.
Like most religious places, the cathedral that was built in the 8th century, has been shut during the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. It opened for private prayer on June 15, and will open its door to worshippers and tourists on July 4.
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