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‘Christa’ on display at St John the Divine

‘Christa’ on display at St John the Divine

Noted English artist Edwina Sandys’ sculpture, ‘Christa,’ is the centerpiece of an art installation at the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York City.  The sculpture shows a nude woman with a crown of thorns, in bronze, affixed, to a translucent cross.  The work was first exhibited in London in 1975 and in the intervening years has been shown in galleries and churches around the world.

However, this is not the first time the work has been on display at St John the Divine.  It was first exhibited there during Holy Week in 1984, but was abruptly removed at the direction of the then Suffragan Bishop of New York, Bishop Walter Dennis.  Bishop Dennis told the Dean at that time, James Park Morton, that the sculpture was “theologically and historically indefensible” and that it was “desecrating our symbols.”

From the New York Times;

“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.

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

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.”



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JC Fisher

The recording of Donald Trump we’ve heard the past 24 hours is a HELL of lot more “blasphemous” than this thought-provoking work of art. You can tell a lot about a person by what they call an “abomination” (and/or what they don’t).

Prof. Christopher Seitz

I thank God he is as much as he always is hanging on a cross.

Cynthia Katsarelis

We are in total agreement, for once, on God perpetually hanging on the cross. I would just say s/he, rather than the exclusive “he.”

Paul Woodrum

Stephen, you raise some interesting points to which I tried to respond but seem to have run up against a rather censorious moderator.

Prof. Christopher Seitz

The crucified Jesus of Nazareth was a man, born of Mary.

There was no female crucifixion.

These are facts we recite every Sunday in church.

People can make any sculpture they want, one supposes, including a male birthing a female Jesus.

But please cut out the phony appeal to theological truthfulness. Being made in the image of God does not prevent God from sending his only begotten Son, a man, born of Mary. There is a confusion, as noted, between the language of the Godhead and the male savior of the Incarnation.

There is a lurking Docetism in ‘genderlessness’ and in gender substitution.

Cynthia Katsarelis

I think, Christopher, that God is bigger than our history/herstory.

It isn’t phony to say that this art is theologically true, not if Jesus is God. If Jesus really is the son of God and not God, then I’m really confused about the Trinity – I thought it was three expressions of the one God.

This year has been one where I’ve grieved for my mother and spent time in prayer and on pilgrimage. I can’t explain it here, but God is love and lots of things that seem important to us melt away in the presence of God’s love. These images, our liturgy, our reading of Scripture and studies of history are paths for us to God, God doesn’t need it to be one way or the other. What God wants is the open channel to the heart.

I’m sure that is a serious load of “blasphemy,” and someone will take my Anglican membership card away and change the handshake, but it’s my experience. This sculptor helps me experience a side of God that is savagely missing. That is truth.


Thom Forde


Paul Woodrum

The 7th General Council, Nicaea, 787,
defined how much veneration could be paid to icons and decreed their restoration throughout the church, ending a century long period of iconoclasm in the Eastern Church. Both the heretical minimization of the humanity of Jesus and a tendency to consider all material things essentially evil had led to the suppression of icons. Both of these positions were confirmed to be heretical.

This, of course, is a matter of dispute between Christians who accept the veneration of images, and Jews, Muslims, and some heretical Christian sects who consider it idolatry.

Crucifix, Christus Rex, and plain cross are all found in boundry-less Episcopal Churches, more as a sign of churchmanship than of any theology in which the clergy creatively wrap them.

Stephen McGuire

Thanks, Paul. I appreciate your insights. Ok, can you define “churchmanship” for me? I think I understand your point on how “clergy creatively wrap.” — to me, that’s the idea of bypassing the Iconoclast/Iconodule issue into “showing the risen Christ”. Sort of a slight of hand to you, correct?

What I take from the icon issue is that back about 1300 years ago, the Icondule faction “won” the argument regarding the use of icons/images, casting those who believed the usage to be inappropriate to be declared “heretical”.

But couldn’t this have gone the other way? It seems to have been influenced at least moderately by the political actions of the day. So again, is the idea that a image of God (in Christ) is inappropriate heretical or a matter of personal understanding?

And I suppose by definition Protestant denominations are considered by Orthodox groups as “heretical sects”, but this would then include the Anglican community.

There are mainline communities who do not use icons and do not use crucifixes and do not pray to the Saints. I personally don’t consider them “heretical” sects, but then I really don’t know. I figure I’ll discover what is heretical and blasphemous at some stage in my existence. Until then, I try to focus on living the message.

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