A painting of the Last Supper featuring a black Jesus is being showcased at St Albans Cathedral in solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
The Dean has agreed to install the 9ft piece of artwork on the altar after conceding that the church is in a weak position to preach about racial justice.
Titled A Last Supper, the painting reworks Da Vinci’s renowned 15th century mural by casting a Jamaican-born model as Christ.
The announcement came less than a week after the Archbishop of Canterbury urged the Church of England to reconsider its portrayal of Christ as white.
Justin Welby said Christians should also accommodate global depictions of Jesus which show him as black, Chinese and Middle Eastern.
Embracing this philosophy, St Albans Cathedral in Hertfordshire is covering up its existing altarpiece painting with the high-resolution print which challenges ‘the Western myth’ that Jesus looked European.
A painting of the Last Supper featuring a black Jesus is being showcased at St Albans Cathedral to cement the church’s support for Black Lives Matter
Titled A Last Supper, the painting reworks Da Vinci’s renowned 15th century mural by casting a Jamaican-born model as Christ
St Albans is putting the painting pride of place to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter
Lorna May Wadsworth instead paints Christ as Jamaican-born model Tafari Hinds, which she claims is just as accurate as traditional representations.
The acclaimed artist’s 2009 piece made headlines last year when it was discovered to have been shot by a pellet gun by someone she believed disagreed by her portrayal of Christ.
Yet undeterred by this brazen act of vandalism, St Albans is putting the painting pride of place to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter.
The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, said: ‘The church is not in a strong position to preach to others about justice, racial or otherwise.
‘But our faith teaches that we are all made equally in the image of God, and that God is a God of justice.
‘Black Lives Matter, so this is why we have turned our Altar of the Persecuted into a space for reflection and prayer with Lorna’s altarpiece at the heart.’
Wadsworth said: ‘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.
The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci in the refectory of the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan
Lorna May Wadsworth (left) paints Christ as Jamaican-born model Tafari Hinds (right), which she claims is just as accurate as traditional representations
‘I cast Jamaican-born model, Tafari Hinds, as my Jesus to make people question the Western myth that he had fair hair and blue eyes.
‘My portrayal of him is just as ‘accurate’ as the received idea that he looked like a Florentine.
‘I also knew that, from a previous portrait of Tafari, there is something in his countenance that people find deeply empathetic and moving, which is the overriding quality I wanted my Christ to embody.’
Like most religious sites, St Albans, one of Britain’s oldest Cathedrals which dates back to the 8th Century, has been shut during lockdown.
It opened for private prayer on June 15, and will welcome back worshippers and tourists on July 4 when Boris Johnson green-lights the next wave of lockdown loosening.
Like most religious sites, St Albans, one of Britain’s oldest Cathedrals which dates back to the 8th Century, has been shut during lockdown
Justin Welby said Christians should accommodate global depictions of Jesus which show him as black, Chinese and Middle Eastern (Ethiopian depiction of Christ, pictured)
From then, visitors to the Church will be able to view A Last Supper on the altar.
It is unclear which existing painting will be covered up to clear space for the painting of black Jesus, but it will not replace Da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the Church of England should reconsider its representation of Jesus as white.
He was asked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme if the ‘way the western church portrays Jesus needs to be thought about again’.
He immediately replied: ‘Yes of course it does, this sense that God was white… You go into churches (around the world) and you don’t see a white Jesus.
‘You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jesus – which is of course the most accurate – you see a Fijian Jesus.’
Welby stressed his view was not to ‘throw out’ the past but instead offer a rounded picture of the ‘universality’ of Christ.
He added: ‘Jesus is portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures languages and understandings.
‘And I don’t think that throwing out everything we’ve got in the past is the way to do it but I do think saying “that’s not the Jesus who exists, that’s not who we worship”, it is a reminder of the universality of the God who became fully human.’
The Archbishop also said Canterbury Cathedral would be reviewing its statues to see if they all should be there.
Is this the REAL face of Jesus? Forensic experts use ancient Semite skulls to reveal what Christ may have looked like
In 2015, retired medical artist Richard Neave has recreated the face of ‘Jesus’ by studying Semite skulls using modern-day forensic techniques.
His portrait shows the Son of God may have had a wide face, dark eyes, a bushy beard and short curly hair, as well as a tanned complexion.
These features would likely have been typical of Middle Eastern Jews in the Galilee area of northern Israel.
Dr Neave stressed the portrait is that of an adult man living at the same time and place as Jesus, but some experts say his depiction is still likely far more accurate than paintings by the great masters.
Without a skeleton or remains that can be categorically confirmed as Jesus, and a lack of physical descriptions in the New Testament, many previous images have been based either on the society in which the painter or sculptor lived, or hearsay.
The technique uses cultural and archaeological data, as well as techniques similar to those used to solve crimes to study different groups of people.
The team hypothesised Jesus would have had facial features typical of Galilean Semites of his era, based on a description of events in the Garden of Gethsemane, written in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew.
He wrote that Jesus closely resembled his disciples.
Dr Neave and his team X-rayed three Semite skulls from the time, previously found by Israeli archaeologists.