Installed outside of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in wealthy Davidson, North Carolina, the statue known as Homeless Jesus is a powerful message about Christ’s humble life, but some feel that it makes the savior seem…dirty.
The work of sculptor Timothy P. Shmalz, the life-size statue looks like a shockingly realistic figure almost completely wrapped in a blanket and sleeping on a public bench. The only portion of the figure that is visible are his exposed feet, sticking out in the elements and bearing telltale stigmata. Inspired by a passage from Matthew which extolls Christ’s connection with even society’s most impoverished citizens, Shmalz wanted to comment on Jesus’s spartan hardships. There is even room to sit next to the figure, allowing the faithful to get up close and personal with the sacrifices of their savior.
The art is a replica of a sculpture Shmalz originally installed in Toronto. The sculptor had also previously sent a smaller version of the work to Vatican City where Pope Francis literally gave it his blessing.
This one, the first full-size, permanent version of the piece to enter the United States, was purchased by a church in affluent Davidson, North Carolina. Upon its installation, the shrouded Christ figure almost immediately began having the police called on it as citizens mistook the statue for an actual vagrant. While the initial confusion has died down, a number of the area’s residents find the statue to be in poor taste, not only in its depiction of Jesus but also in its suggestion that there are poor people in their town.
The parish which purchased the statue stands by the work saying that they believe Jesus essentially did live as a homeless person during much of his life. The reaction to the Davidson Homeless Jesus aside, there are now plans to install another of the work in Chicago.