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‘For those in peril on the sea’: new windows to tell a different story about Bristol

26 September 2022

St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

AN IMAGE of Jesus crossing the rough seas in a life raft with fellow refugees has won a design competition to replace panels of stained glass which were removed from a Bristol church in 2020 owing to their links with the slave trade.

St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol, launched a competition in May to replace four of its Victorian panels in memory of the 17th-century merchant and slave trader Edward Colston (News, 27 May/3 June). These had been temporarily replaced with plain glass in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, during which a statue of Colston in the city was torn down and thrown into the harbour (News, 12 June 2020). Window panes in Bristol Cathedral that commemorated Colston had also been covered up or removed.

St Mary Redcliffe, BristolSt Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

St Mary, Redcliffe, received 21 entries from people across the UK. The winning design, announced on Thursday, was by Ealish Swift, a Bristol-based junior doctor. Of the four panels, the first depicts Jesus calming the raging seas of the Middle Passage on a Bristol ship during the transatlantic slave trade; another celebrates the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963, with Jesus among the protesters; a third depicts a diverse group of “neighbours” with the Suspension Bridge in the background; and, in the fourth, Jesus is depicted as a child refugee fleeing to Egypt.

Ms Swift explained: “My design draws from the deep and complex history of Bristol, from atrocities of the past to modern-day concerns, to remind us of the journeys of our neighbours and how we have come to be together at this moment, looking forwards towards a shared future.

“Jesus is depicted as multiple ethnicities to counter the Anglo-centric narrative of ‘white Jesus’, and running water flows between the panels to centre the designs in the sea-port city of Bristol.”

St Mary Redcliffe, BristolSt Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

She continued: “Underneath the four panels runs an uncompromising and powerful call to ‘Love your neighbour’. The design references the style of the removed panels, acknowledging without erasing. However, instead of Colston’s hypocritical motto, this is now a call to gospel in triplicate, blending together the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures along with modern English translation in an acknowledgement of the geographic origins of our faith.”

These panels will be created and installed next year and are currently being displayed in a small temporary exhibition in the church, alongside four other shortlisted designs (until 9 October).

Ms Swift, who was unable to be at the unveiling of her design as she was performing surgery, said: “I am deeply honoured that my design has been chosen for this wonderful space that means so much to me.”

St Mary Redcliffe, BristolSt Mary Redcliffe, Bristol

The Vicar, Canon Dan Tyndall, said: “The winning design is powerful and imaginative, managing to resonate with contemporary issues and yet will also stand the test of time. Ealish’s concept was very popular with visitors to the church, and will sit well within the current Victorian window.”

The original windows in St Mary’s were part of a larger design in the church’s north transept illustrating the story of the Good Samaritan, in which a lawyer tests Jesus by asking him: “And who is my neighbour?” They bore Colston’s name, his emblem, and the personal motto that he took from Jesus’s response: “Go and do thou likewise.”

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