Spotlight on Statues: The Homeless Jesus

Outside St Ann’s Church is a statue which depicts a sight we sadly see on a daily basis.

Lying on a bench, is a statue of Jesus covered in a blanket with his bare feet sticking out. On his feet are the stigmata – the holes through his feet where he was nailed to the cross during his crucifixion -and the body is a little under life-size which makes him seems frail.

This sculpture speaks volumes about homelessness in Manchester and is designed to challenge and reflect on the growing crisis that is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

Manchester is home to approximately 1,800 rough sleepers in the city centre alone and it is growing every day. It is not an uncommon sight to see people, bundled in sleeping bags, in doorways, outside shops and under flyovers, so much so that it has almost become the norm in a cruel twist of circumstance.

This statue, which was unveiled earlier this year, is designed by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz and is part of a series that places these touching and thought-provoking sculptures all over the world.

This is the first in England, and it was accepted by Manchester City Council and the Bishop of Manchester after it was rejected by Westminster Council and the Houses of Parliament.

There are a few things about this statue which are of interest. We know this is designed to question the attitude of passers-by towards homeless and marginalised people, but choosing to put Jesus in that context makes a sight we see daily much more inflammatory.

Whether you are religious or not, Jesus is a symbol of ultimate goodness and purity. He is humble, kind, forgiving and most importantly the saviour of man. To see Jesus, a person we are taught so much about, in this vulnerable situation is a symbol that all hope is lost.

I personally am a non-religious person, but there is also the idea that Jesus is, or at least partly is us.

If we are all equal, then any homeless person we walk past is both our and Jesus’ equal in the eyes of God – equally, kind, equally pure and equally helpless. This statue is a stark reminder of that.

I think the placement outside a church is an extension of this. Perhaps Jesus sleeping rough outside his own ‘house’ is a stark reminder of the reality of homelessness- a more than obvious and poignant metaphor for the state of homelessness in Manchester (and the UK) right now. The inscription drives this point further:

“Jesus said, I was hungry and you gave me food.”

It’s obvious what Schmalz is trying to say when we read this. It is asking us to put Jesus and more importantly, ourselves, in the shoes of all the marginalised people we walk past on our way to work – donate, volunteer and most importantly feed our fellow man.

Even as someone with no faith, I find this message rather moving indeed.

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