SEARCHING for a London home for his sculpture Jesus the
Homeless, which features Christ huddled under a blanket, and
sleeping on a park bench, the Canadian sculptor Tim Schmalz thought
that he had found the perfect host in St Martin-in-the-Fields, in
But, despite the church's long-standing ministry to the
homeless, the Vicar, Canon Sam Wells, said that he could not accept
the sculpture because of a rule banning anyone from sleeping or
lying down inside the church.
"It would open us to ridicule. People would say: 'Jesus does it:
why can't I do this?'" he said on Monday. "It sounds trivial, but
it is significant that we have a whole-site policy that doesn't
allow people to lie down on our site."
Mr Schmalz has been looking for somewhere in London to place the
artwork. It has already been installed in seven cities around the
world, and is due to be erected in Washington, DC, and Rome in the
coming months (News, 22
He said that he was surprised by Canon Wells's response. "People
might say: 'Why should Jesus be able to sleep on a park bench when
real homeless people cannot?' The irony of that just speaks
Canon Wells described placing the statue at St
Martin-in-the-Fields as "sending coals to Newcastle".
He said: "That's why I suggested it shouldn't be in St
Martin-in-the-Fields. . . We don't need a statue; we are the real
There were other reasons why the church turned down Mr Schmalz's
offer, Canon Wells said. Not only did the statue not represent the
reality of being homeless in central London, where more people
slept on overnight buses than on benches: it also objectified the
very people St Martin-in-the-Fields was trying to help, he
"They are called Peter, or Sally; they are not just homeless
people, but people with a past, and a future, and an identity. It
could be in danger of encouraging stereotypes, and trying to turn
people into issues. The homeless are not a different caste. They
need to be the chief drivers of their own redemption rather than
being objects of pity or concern."
But Mr Schmalz said that "In a sense, the job of an artist is to
objectify things. This statue objectifies the homeless person
within the context of the most sacred and precious respect, as the
Son of Man wanted us to see them. . . You have this church in the
centre of London. What was the idea of building that church? It was
to proclaim Jesus. This sculpture does that visibly. It's a 24/7
preacher of one of the most powerful parts of the gospel."