Edwina Sandys had seen this before: the 250-pound bronze statue of a bare-breasted woman on a translucent acrylic cross being installed in the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine.
This time around, however, she does not expect to see something else she had seen before: the statue being packed up after a call from a ranking church official telling her it had to go.
That happened the first time “Christa,” Ms. Sandys’s sculpture of a crucified woman, was shown at the cathedral in Manhattan during Holy Week in 1984.
A controversy erupted, complete with hate mail attacking it as blasphemous. Overruling the dean of the cathedral at the time, the suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York called the statue “theologically and historically indefensible” and ordered Ms. Sandys to take it away.
This time, it is being installed on the altar in the Chapel of St. Saviour as the centerpiece of “The Christa Project: Manifesting Divine Bodies,” an exhibition of more than 50 contemporary works that interpret — or reinterpret — the symbolism associated with the image of Jesus.
She came to know the Very Rev. James Park Morton, the dean of the cathedral for 25 years until 1996. “I said, ‘How brave are you?’” in 1984, she recalled. “He may not have said ‘try me,’ but words to that effect. I said, ‘How would you like to exhibit “Christa,” the female Christ?’ He said, ‘I’d be delighted.’ I took a deep breath, and that was that.”
Except with that, as Ms. Sandys put it, “all hell broke loose.” Angry letters arrived (the cathedral preserved them in its archives) and, according to Ms. Sandys, the suffragan bishop, Walter Dennis, “said he didn’t want it, and I had to come and get ‘Christa.’”
The full story of Christa is here.