(PRWEB) August 23, 2005
Angry e-mailers and callers to Saint Paul's Episcopal church in Norwalk, Connecticut have repeatedly invoked 9-11 in response to articles about their new stations of the cross. Conservative Christians have denounced the paintings as a political statement inappropriate for a house of worship.
"They are not a political statement, but a theological statement about suffering in the world," responded Rev. Nicholas Lang, rector of Saint Paul's. "The reality is that war, no matter why it is being fought, has got to be viewed as tragic."
The paintings were commissioned by Saint Paul's in March 2004, from New York City artist Gwyneth Leech. "I was asked to combine the traditional stations iconography with elements of the world we live in. This brief eventually led to my vision of Christ as a prisoner of war, and as a hostage tortured by insurgents. The crowds are refugees. The people weeping at the foot of the cross are grieving Iraqis and Americans who have lost family members to bombs and to violence," Leech said.
At Saint Paul's the congregation has embraced the new stations of the cross, dedicated in Lent of 2005. "They were startling, but they were very moving," said Ann Watkins, a longtime parishioner. However, among those who have served in the military there has been a difference of opinion about the images of soldiers carrying rifles along streets girded with barbed-wire and references to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib.
"My understanding of the teachings of Jesus is that we might want to love and forgive others rather than kill them," wrote David Gilroy in a recent letter published in the Hartford Courant, responding to an article about the paintings at St. Paul's. "Of course this is still a radical notion after 2,000 years, and many among us are not happy with the concept.
"However, to imply that an anti-war statement could be inappropriate in a place dedicated to the teachings of Jesus implies what must be a willful denial of what Jesus actually taught. Either that or maybe there was more than one Jesus."
The stations of the cross are now on permanent display at Saint Paul's, which is open to the public seven days a week.
About the Commission
New York Artist, Gwyneth Leech was commissioned in March 2004 to paint stations of the cross that blend traditional Christian iconography with contemporary elements. She found a vivid way of depicting Christ's journey to the cross for modern viewers, by incorporating the suffering and grief of people around the world who are caught in the midst of armed conflict.
The paintings combine Christian imagery with references to a year of turmoil in the Middle East and beyond, including the war in Iraq, the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison, and genocide in Darfur, Sudan.
"The commission to paint stations of the cross for Saint Paul's gave me an extraordinary opportunity to explore crucifixion iconography in light of current events. The year that I worked on the commission, starting in March 2004 was dominated by conflict in the Middle East, especially the war in Iraq. The many photographs of the torture and humiliation of captives, whether by soldiers or by insurgents turned the Way of the Cross into a contemporary narrative.
The paintings are also my response to the seeming deluge of images of grief in the press - the grief of families around the world, as well as in the United States, who have lost loved ones to war and to terrorist attacks. I decided to reference these contemporary expressions of suffering and grief that come in the form of newspaper imagery, underlining the enduring message of the road to Calvary and the universal nature of its emotional force." – Gwyneth Leech
The stations of the cross were sponsored by 40 members of the congregation. Response, especially from outside the church, has been heated since the paintings were first unveiled during Lent.
"There are those who find them absolutely compelling and profoundly moving and some who find them very difficult to look at. They are reminders not only of the suffering of one person--Jesus, God's Son--but of the suffering that continues in our lives and the lives of people all over the globe. The events they depict are not meant to comfort us but to make us think deeply about why Jesus was hung on a cross to die and why people continue to be crucified in a variety of ways because of who they are. If when we walk station to station, we do not see the cross in the pain experienced in Iraq and in the Middle East and in Africa and in so many other parts of the globe--including the violence and oppression in our own cities--we have sadly missed the point." - Nicholas Lang, Rector of Saint Paul's
The church is pleased to announce that they are now open seven days a week for the public to view the artwork:
Mondays-Fridays 10-3, Saturdays 10-1, and Sundays before and after church services.
About the Artist
Gwyneth Leech is a painter and video artist based in New York City. A native of Philadelphia, she was educated at the University of Pennsylvania and Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland. She has exhibited widely in the United States and in Britain, including numerous solo exhibitions in Edinburgh, Glasgow and London. In New York City, she has exhibited at the Susan Teller Gallery and at La MaMa La Galleria.
Previous commissions include extensive murals for the interior of St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, Glasgow, Scotland.
Oil studies for the commission are currently on view at Susan Teller Gallery, New York City, through August 26 as part of "the Family Business: 1877-2005", a group show of eight artist families.
The Norwalk stations of the cross paintings have been featured in press and on television. They were the subject of articles in the Hartford Courant (July 31), the Advocate (Norwalk ed. July 30), the Philadelphia Inquirer (May 15) and the Fairfield Weekly cover story on May 26th. The stations of the cross will be featured in the October issue of Art New England.
About Saint Paul's
Saint Paul's on the Green is a diverse, Anglo-Catholic parish church welcoming all. The church is located at 60 East Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06851.
# # #