A stained glass window showing a dark-skinned Jesus Christ is heading to a Memphis museum

A nearly 150-year-old stained-glass church window in Rhode Island that depicts a dark-skinned Jesus Christ interacting with women in New Testament scenes — known to many as the “Black Gospel Window” — has found a new home at a museum in Tennessee.

The window was installed in 1878 at the now-closed St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Warren. It is the oldest known public example of stained glass on which Christ is depicted as a person of color that one expert has seen. Scholars have studied the work, trying to determine the artist’s motivations.

Measuring 12 feet tall and 5 feet wide (3.7 meters by 1.5 meters), the window depicts two biblical passages in which women, also painted with dark skin, appear as equals to Christ. One shows Christ in conversation with Martha and Mary, the sisters of Lazarus, from the Gospel of Luke. The other shows Christ speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well from the Gospel of John.

Made by the Henry E. Sharp studio in New York, the window had largely been forgotten until a few years ago, when Hadley Arnold and her family bought the Greek Revival church building, which opened as a church in 1830 and closed in 2010, to convert into their home.

Arnold hoped to find a museum, college or other institution to display the window. She worked with a panel of Rhode Island leaders in the arts, historical preservation and Black history before deciding that its new home would be the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee.

Supporters of the move note the museum is committed to serving as a powerhouse of Black artistic and curatorial excellence. They also note that Memphis is one of the nation’s largest Black-majority cities, one with a vital religious community that played a leading role in the nation’s civil rights movement.

Virginia Raguin, an expert on the history of stained glass at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, said last year that she and other experts confirmed the skin tones — in black and brown paint on milky white glass that was fired in an oven to set the image — were original and deliberate.

Whether it depicts a Black Jesus has been open to speculation.

Arnold doesn’t feel comfortable using that term, preferring to say it depicts Christ as a person of color, probably Middle Eastern, which she says would make sense, given where the Galilean Jewish preacher was from.

“The 1877 Black Gospel Window will have pride of place,” Arnold said in a statement. “It will be on permanent display in a glass-walled gallery adjacent to a central courtyard, flooded with natural light by day, illuminated and visible from a public courtyard by night.”

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Republished with permission from The Associated Press.




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