Excited about this new commission for Sewanee, University of the South!
CHRIST IN FULL COLOR: REPLACING THE CRUCIFIX IN THE CHAPEL OF THE APOSTLES
by Carly Nations
At the beginning of the 2020 Advent term, newly appointed Dean of the School of Theology James F. Turrell sent an important announcement to all faculty, staff, and students: “For the past 20 years, the Chapel of the Apostles (COTA) has displayed a crucifix with the body of Christ as a white, European man. As a result of a community meeting on Aug. 3, the faculty recommended unanimously to take down the crucifix and convene a committee consisting of an alum, two students, and five faculty members to discern the crucifix that the community needs and to bring a suggested course of action to the dean and faculty by the end of the academic term.”
This move, though it may come as a shock to some, is part of the larger picture of racial reconciliation at the University of the South. Officially begun in 2017 by the formation of the Roberson Project on Slavery, Race, and Reconciliation, the university has started the long but necessary process of recognizing its role in the history of racial oppression and addressing the continued perpetuation of white supremacist assumptions and structures that remain today. In order to avoid the white-washing that has so often occurred in Christian churches, the School of Theology is working to display an image of Jesus that better reflects his historical identity as a Middle Eastern Jew.
The Rev. Malcolm McLaurin, T’21, a student representative on the School of Theology’s committee, remarked, “Sewanee was not just an innocent bystander in the wounds of racial injustice; Sewanee is a place that caused many wounds of racial injustice. And, I believe that Sewanee has a responsibility and an obligation to do our part in healing those wounds.”
Under the leadership of committee chair Bishop James Tengatenga, distinguished professor of global Anglicanism, the group of students, alumni, and faculty collaborated to discern what would be presented to the full faculty of the School of Theology. At the end of October, the school’s faculty endorsed the committee’s recommendation to commission an artist who would paint the new crucifix in a style inspired by the Ethiopian icon tradition. In doing so, the new crucifix would not only better reflect Jesus’s historical identity, but also will be in keeping with the colorful Greek-style icons already in place in COTA.