Church replaces Edward Colston stained glass window ... with Jesus in a migrant boat

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Artist and junior doctor Ealish Swift is the winner of the stained glass window competition at St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS
Artist and junior doctor Ealish Swift is the winner of the stained glass window competition at St Mary Redcliffe, Bristol - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS

A picture of a Jesus in a migrant boat is set to replace a stained glass window dedicated to Edward Colston, the slave trader, in an historic Anglican church.

St Mary Redcliffe church in Bristol made the decision to remove four stained glass panels dedicated to Colston two years ago after the toppling of his statue.

The window was temporarily replaced with plain panels, and the church invited the public to submit new designs in a competition.

The panels formerly made up the bottom section of the North Transept window, commonly known as The Good Samaritan, depicting the story that Colston had taken as his motto.

The four new panels are designed to “depict a crucial aspect of our shared Bristolian history as neighbours, and reference a relevant aspect of the character of Christ”, according to Ealish Swift, the artist.

St Mary Redcliffe invited the public to submit new designs in a competition - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS
St Mary Redcliffe invited the public to submit new designs in a competition - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS

Among them is one that “portrays the current refugee crisis, and Jesus as a child refugee fleeing to Egypt”, Ms Swift, a Bristol-based junior doctor, said in her artist’s statement.

“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 seaport city of Bristol,” she added.

Ms Swift said her design draws upon the “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 forward towards a shared future”.

She was unable to be at the unveiling of her design as she was performing surgery, but was delighted to find out she was the winner, but told the South West News Service: “I am deeply honoured that my design has been chosen for this wonderful space that means so much to me.”

The competition explored a contemporary understanding of what it means to be a good Samaritan - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS
The competition explored a contemporary understanding of what it means to be a good Samaritan - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS

Although prompted by the toppling of the Colston statue, the replacement of the Colston window was part of a larger process at St Mary Redcliffe in the ongoing exploration of, and engagement with, contested heritage that will continue over the coming months and years.

The grade I-listed church is deeply rooted in British history, having been described by Queen Elizabeth I upon her visit in 1574 as “the fairest, goodliest and most famous parish church in England.”

A spokesman from the church said the competition was launched as “part of an ongoing process of reflection and action to ensure that today’s church building echoes St Mary Redcliffe’s stated values and is welcoming to all”.

Dan Tyndall, the parish priest, told South West News Service: “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”.

One of the panels celebrates the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS
One of the panels celebrates the Bristol Bus Boycott in 1963 - St Mary Redcliffe Church/SWNS

Another of the new panels celebrates the Bristol Bus Boycott, which Ms Swift said “paved the way for the Race Relations Act of 1965, with Jesus as a fellow protester and radical.”

The Bristol Bus Boycott of 1963 arose from the refusal of the Bristol Omnibus Company to employ black or Asian bus crews in the city.