Catholic sculptor Timothy Schmalz sits next to his recently unveiled statue, When I Was a Stranger, at Toronto’s St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Photo by Evan Boudreau

Toronto Anglican parish welcomes Schmalz's latest Christ sculpture

  • October 17, 2016

On a busy Bloor Street sidewalk outside a 174-year-old downtown Toronto church sits the likeness of a familiar figure wrapped in a stranger’s cloak.

That figure, cast in dark bronze, is Jesus, the subject of the newest sculpture by Catholic artist Tim Schmalz.

Best known for his Homeless Jesus statue, which drew the attention of Pope Francis in March, Schmalz called his new sculpture When I Was a Stranger. It is the latest addition to his When I Was series, inspired by the Gospel of Matthew.

The sculpture shows Christ encircled by six bronze stumps, representing seats that invite passers-by to join the lonely stranger. Schmalz said the sculpture, outside of St. Paul’s Anglican Church, took more than four years to evolve from an idea into reality.

“This was one that I struggled with,” he said.

In addition to earlier works that depict Christ as homeless and as a stranger, the series includes Christ in prison, naked and sick.

“After I created the Homeless Jesus I wanted to take the individual images that are represented in Matthew 25 and I thought each of them warranted their own individual sculpture,” said the St. Jacob, Ont., artist.

What began 10 years ago as an art project quickly evolved into Schmalz’s vocation.

“I’ve been working on what I would consider one of the most challenging projects in my career,” he said. “That is to give form and to bring to life some of the most hard-core ideas of the Gospel. Some of the sculptures came quite easily while others were very difficult.”

Rev. Barry Parker, rector of St. Paul’s, wants people to have a little fun with the sculpture.

“We are going to encourage you, if you have Instagram or Twitter or Facebook, to have a seat and take a selfie,” he said. “The hastag is #sittingwithjesus. We want to get the word, and the pictures, out that when I was a stranger He welcomed me.”

Irene Jones, in her late 70s, was the first person to have her picture taken with the statue.

“In the invitations from the church we only saw the feet and we saw the little stool around it and so I wanted to come and see what this was all about,” she said. “I am so impressed by the enormous piercing of the nails, the holes that we can see on the feet and in the hands.”

The original cast of the statue will be sent to Rome to be displayed on a fourth-century pillar outside of the basilica of San Lorenzo in Lucina.

“To have the sculpture unfolded around the world really is moving,” said Schmalz. “I think I’ve touch upon a blind spot with Christian artwork.”

His work, however, has not met universal approval.

“About 10 per cent of people are really angry that Jesus is represented like that,” he said. “(But) one of the benefits of the sculpture is that it becomes the starting point of discussions about the Gospel. So we can have a discourse with the 10 per cent who think it is ridiculous or unneeded or something like that.”

It’s not important that everyone likes the sculpture, said Schmalz. He just wants people to reflect on it in the context of faith.

“If my sculptures are used by people as a tool to think, then I’m very happy,” he said.

“We need to see the Gospels unfolding, turned around and inspected on a constant basis. Hopefully that is what these sculptures do.”

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