On September 15, 1963, Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, was bombed. Four girls died and the face of Jesus Christ fell out of a stained-glass window. This event inspired the most famous image of Jesus created for the Magic City, John Petts’s Wales Window for Alabama. The story of the bombing and of these windows opens Edward Blum and Paul Harvey’s study of the rise, meanings, and transformations of images of Jesus The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America.
The Wales Window is the oldest of three depictions of Jesus in Birmingham examined here by students from Samford University’s Department of Biblical and Religious Studies. Each image highlights a different aspect of Jesus’ identity. Each has a distinct relationship to the story of Americans’ struggle with racializaiton.
These images were all made specifically for Birmingham are part of the fabric of our city. Yet the artists who made them were not from Alabama. They were from Wales, Italy, and China. As you will read, these depictions of Christ have different meanings to different people. We hope these essays help you think more deeply about the work of religious art, the story of race in America, and life and teachings Jesus of Nazareth.
Due to the social distancing that COVID-19 has imposed other projects which students had begun preparing had to be abandoned. We plan to be back in fall 2020 with more profiles of local religious communities and pieces of religious art and architecture. What would you like to see here? Let me know! firstname.lastname@example.org
— David R. Bains, Tuesday of Holy Week, April 7, 2020
Breaking the Window of Racism By Jessica McCasland & Eva Parker Seated high above the pews of a red-carpeted, early twentieth century Baptist church in the heart of Alabama, there is a stained-glass window that depicts Jesus in an uncommon manner: as a black man. Looking at his congregation with downcast eyes and a solemn … Continue reading “Wales Window for Alabama”
A look into the history of the Mother of God of Saint Theodore and the perception of the icon By Emma Buckles and Anne Marie Vines One of Birmingham’s most prominent religious images is the icon of Jesus and Mary, his mother, outside of St. Symeon Orthodox Church. This Italian mosaic depicts Mary, known in … Continue reading “Jesus and the Theotokos of St. Theodore”
By Jacob Patton and Madeline Jackson Chinese artist He Qi’s painting Messiah is a unique and expressive depiction of the Christian messiah Jesus. Contrary to the pervasive rendering of Jesus, He does not represent Jesus as white. This artistic choice has significance for Native American liberation theology and Asian liberation theology. Further, where Messiah is … Continue reading “Messiah”
In spring 2020 two other student wrote essays related to this story.
Christ of the Nations
In recent years, artists have searched for a new and more modern way to depict the image of Jesus Christ. One platform, the National Catholic Reporter, challenged artists with the question, “What would Jesus Christ look like in the year 2000” (“Jesus 2000”)? Above the altar of St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church in Birmingham, there once hung a crucifix that in its unique way answered this question. Continue reading . . .
Christ the Good Shepherd
The Good Shepherd stained-glass window is a beautiful piece holding a wonderful place in the Magic City. This window is one of many stained-glass windows in the Cathedral of St. Paul, in Birmingham. Continue reading . . .
Published April 7, 2020; updated June 30, 2021