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World News

Bristol church replaces Colston window with 'non-white' Jesus

by Donna Birrell

A church in Bristol has unveiled a new set of stained glass windows to replace one depicting the 17th century slave trader Edward Colston.

The new panels depict Jesus in multiple ethnicities to counter the narrative of a ‘white Jesus’.

St Mary Redcliffe Church decided to hold a competition to design a new window after the statue of Colston was tipped into the harbour following the death of George Floyd in the United States in 2020. By then the church had already stopped using artefacts that were not aligned with its values of compassion, inclusivity and justice.

As a slave trader and senior official in the Royal African Company from 1680 to 1692, Edward Colston is estimated to have been involved in the transportation of over 84,000 slaves from West Africa to the Caribbean and Americas.

The Victorian glass that was removed quoted Colston’s family motto of ‘Go thou and do likewise’. The quote comes from the end of the story of the Good Samaritan which is pictured in the main window. The new panels will also have a quote from the same story: ‘And who is my neighbour?’ Each of the four new panels encourage the viewer to consider that question for themselves.

Dozens of people entered the competition and five shortlisted designs were displayed during an exhibition that took place at St Mary Redcliffe during the summer of 2021. Members of the public were invited to provide feedback on the five designs and their comments were included in the decision-making process.

Local NHS Junior Doctor Ealish Swift won the competition with four designs that referred to Bristol’s rich multicultural past and present.

Vicar of St Mary Redcliffe, Rev Dan Tyndall told Premier :

“We are a thriving parish church in the heart of Bristol and have been on a journey for some time, knowing that some of the artefacts that we have in church aren't quite aligned with our desire and aspiration and who we are as a thriving, inclusive Christian community.

“The toppling of the statue prompted us to really think very fully about this enormous window, which was dedicated to Edward Colston in the 1870s. We wanted to tell the story of the Good Samaritan and the story ‘and who is my neighbour?’

“So we're able to think about the global village and how life has changed in the last 150 years as we understand what it means to love your neighbour now in this in this century, in this place at this time.”

Each of the four panels depict Jesus in multiple ethnicities. The first shows him at the front of a boat, calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee – Rev Tyndall says this is a clear reference to Bristol’s history of the transatlantic slave trafficking.

The second panel references the boycott of a Bristol omnibus company 60 years ago after black men were refused employment. Jesus here is depicted with the protestors with placard in hand.

The third panel depicts the Holy Family in the midst of a refugee boat and inflatable raft on the seas.   

The fourth panel shows Jesus standing with a diverse group of people underneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge.

Rev Tyndall said :

“Historically, Christian art portrays Jesus as a white man, which clearly he wasn't. So we are beginning to be able to reframe that reference.

The panels are due to be installed at St Mary Redcliffe later this year.

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