He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Isaiah 53:3 – KJV
This passage from Isaiah is perhaps best known as the words to one of the most moving moments in Handel’s The Messiah and were first sung by Susannah Cibber at Dublin’s Great Music Hall on Fishamble Street in 1742. The choral forces for those first performances were drawn from the men and boys choirs of St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals. It is perhaps fitting then that this is the first thing you see as you enter the precincts of Dublin’s great medieval Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (Christ Church). The face of the figure sleeping on the bench may be hidden but the wounds on the feet are unmistakable.
In 2012 Jesus the Homeless, the work of Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, was offered to St Michael’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Toronto and St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Both institutions refused the work for reasons that suggested, amongst other things, that the clergy were not comfortable with the image being presented or its message.
A year later the first casting was installed at Regis College, the Jesuit School of Theology at University of Toronto. Since then, and not without controversy, some 40 bronzes have been installed throughout the world. In May 2015 the yard at Christ Church became the first European location for this moving and disturbing piece. In an act of union the Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland Archbishops of Dublin dedicated and blessed the work.
At the unveiling the Anglican Archbishop referred to the “scandalous fact that the relentlessness of homelessness and the statistics of individual homeless people in Dublin in 2015 still merit such a sculpture as a reminder and as a memorial.” That was brought home on Saturday night as we walked back to our hotel on O’Connell street. The portico of the Post Office was crowded with street people being given haircuts and shaves, and a needle exchange caravan was parked nearby. One of several volunteer programmes that operate throughout the city it was a sobering sight that brought home the message of Schmalz’s reminder.