Officials in Westminster, a London borough with the highest U.K. population of people sleeping on the streets, have rejected an application to install a sculpture depicting Jesus as a homeless person.
As the Guardian reported earlier this week, Timothy Schmalz’s “Homeless Jesus” was denied for installation in front of Methodist Central Hall, which is steps away from Westminster Abbey, because there are already too many other statues in that area, the Westminster Council writes in its refusal letter.
“Because of its location within the City Council’s Monument Saturation Zone, the proposed sculpture would fail to maintain or improve (preserve or enhance) the character or appearance of the Westminster Abbey and Parliament Square Conservation Area,” the letter states.
A Council spokeperson told the Guardian, “[this area] reached saturation point some years ago when the council introduced a policy of no further statues being allowed in this area. The council feels that in respect of this application an exception is not warranted.”
At least one permanent sculpture, a statue of Gandhi, has been granted an exception to this policy in the past few years.
Many other casts of “Homeless Jesus” have been installed across the U.S. as well as in Dublin, and this is not the first time it has sparked debate or been rejected (including by churches, reportedly!). However, “Homeless Jesus” can count among its fans the 1,000+ petitioners calling for the sculpture to be installed at Methodist Central Hall, as well as the Pope himself. According to the Guardian, Francis blessed the sculpture in 2013 and called it a “beautiful and excellent representation of Jesus.”
I’ll give the last word to the artist, who told Artnet his interpretation of the decision:
“When I heard that there’s too many monuments in the area, I just had to laugh because the size of this piece is literally a bronze park bench,” he said. “The reality of the situation is that they’re very uncomfortable with the message… that all human life is a sacred… People are supposed to acknowledge the fact that it might make one feel uncomfortable, but it’s a good thing to feel.”