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Wednesday 04 August |
Saint of the Day: St. John Vianney

Episcopal cathedral displays controversial image of ‘Christa,’ a crucified woman

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 10/06/16

From The New York Times: 

Edwina Sandys had seen this before: the 250-pound bronze statue of a bare-breasted woman on a translucent acrylic cross being installed in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.

This time around, however, she does not expect to see something else she had seen before: the statue being packed up after a call from a ranking church official telling her it had to go.

That happened the first time “Christa,” Ms. Sandys’s sculpture of a crucified woman, was shown at the cathedral in Manhattan during Holy Week in 1984.

A controversy erupted, complete with hate mail attacking it as blasphemous. Overruling the dean of the cathedral at the time, the suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York called the statue “theologically and historically indefensible” and ordered Ms. Sandys to take it away.

This time, it is being installed on the altar in the Chapel of St. Saviour as the centerpiece of “The Christa Project: Manifesting Divine Bodies,” an exhibition of more than 50 contemporary works that interpret — or reinterpret — the symbolism associated with the image of Jesus.

Times have changed, Ms. Sandys said on Monday as the statue arrived at the cathedral, swaddled in the kind of dark gray blankets that movers wrap around furniture.

“It was startling then,” said Ms. Sandys, who is a granddaughter of Winston Churchill and whose name is pronounced “sands.” “Now? Well, we have women bishops now.”

The current dean of the cathedral, the Very Rev. James A. Kowalski, saw the return of the statue as “an opportunity to reframe the conversation and, frankly, do a better job than the first time.”

Read on.

On her website, Edwina Sandys quotes Reverend James Parks Morton, who says: “Christa simply reminded viewers that women as well as men are called upon to share the suffering of Christ.”

But when the image was first displayed in 1984, others had a different reaction:

Bishop Walter Dennis accused the Cathedral Dean, the Very Rev. James Park Morton, of ”desecrating our symbols.” Bishop Dennis, who is in charge of the diocese while Bishop Paul Moore Jr. is on a leave of absence, said the display was ”theologically and historically indefensible.” ”I ask you to visit the cathedral,” he said in a statement. ”If it shocks you as much as it did me, then write to Bishop Moore and tell him so.” The statue was created by Edwina Sandys, a New York City sculptor who is a granddaughter of Winston Churchill. The work is on temporary display behind the main altar. The 4-foot, 250- pound figure is in a crucified posture without a cross. Dean Morton defended his decision, noting that worshipers had adapted Jesus to various cultural and racial settings. He acknowledged that some viewers had been ”scandalized” but that the reaction had been ”overwhelmingly positive.”

You can see the image here.

Photo: Cathedral of St. John the Divine website

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