A picture of the Last Supper showing a black Jesus has been installed in a cathedral in what campaigners described as a “bold statement”.
The print, by Lorna May Wadsworth, has been placed at the Altar of the Persecuted in the North Transept of St Albans Cathedral.
The church said it was in “support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement”.
The original artwork, painted in 2010, had previously been shot while on display at a church in Gloucestershire.
St Albans for BLM said the cathedral’s move had “brought about a countywide conversation”.
The artist used a Jamaican-born model for the basis of her interpretation of Leonardo da Vinci’s 15th Century work, and said she wanted “to make people question the Western myth that [Jesus Christ] had fair hair and blue eyes”.
The cathedral said the 8ft 8in-high (2.6m) picture was part of a prayer installation to mark its reopening, and called on people to “look with fresh eyes at something you think you know”.
In a statement, the cathedral said: “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.”
A spokeswoman added it was “the sentiment [of the movement] that we support, and we don’t uncritically support any political organisation”.
The St Albans for BLM group, which is not affiliated to UKBLM and is a separate group created to support the city’s response to the movement, said the picture “was not about accurate portrayal of Jesus’ appearance” but about “promoting conversation about how history is often whitewashed”.
Shelley Hayles, from the group, said: “Much of our society has had no problem accepting the inaccurate portrayal of a ‘white’ Jesus, but are quick to take issue with a ‘black’ Jesus and this is just another example of the systemic racism in the UK.
“The bold statement by St Albans Cathedral has brought about a countywide conversation which would have been unlikely to happen before Black Lives Matter gained momentum.”
The installation has provoked debate on the cathedral’s Facebook page, with one poster saying: “Why do we have to be all about colour? If Jesus was from Jerusalem he would’ve probably looked darker, but he taught us to love everyone, that’s my belief anyway.”
Others had a different view, with another poster saying: “I think this is a very welcome initiative. Thank you for it – it is needed.”
A Last Supper
- Da Vinci’s mural was for the convent of Santa Maria delle Grazia in Milan, Italy
- Wadsworth’s original painting hangs in St George’s Church in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire
- The artist said it made her “really think about how we are accustomed to seeing Jesus portrayed”