During the summer I had the opportunity to interview Edwina Sandys, the creator of the sculpture, Christa. Initially, I was drawn to this sculpture during a seminary class with Whitney Bodman – “Jesus and His Interpreters.”
I came to seminary in 2013, a 47 year old single mom with two teenage kids in tow having left a very difficult sixteen year marriage. Seeing the picture of Christa during our class was a sacred moment for me. It echoed my journey and pain and yet also uplifted the beauty inherent in human suffering and our daily gift of grace and promise of resurrection. The debate over the cross itself and its center in Christianity, its usage to elevate patriarchal power, is ongoing, but for me, in that moment, seeing Christ as female was deeply spiritual.
Christa is a Bronze sculpture weighing 250 pounds, and measuring 4 x 5 ft. mounted on a Lucite cross. Supporters of the cross contend that the statue reveals Jesus’ call to understand suffering and resurrection.
Shown first in London in 1975, Christa is the first representation of a female Christ on a cross. It has been exhibited in galleries and churches in Rome, Toronto, New York, Washington, Kansas City, and at Yale and other universities over the years.
The statue Christa is displayed in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Ms. Sandys donated the statue permanently to St. John’s this year and noted, “I am in discussion with the (earthly) powers that be to decide where and how she should be displayed. My hope is that one of the little chapels at the side of the cathedral can be made into the Christa Chapel.”
Ms. Sandys also said there is an ongoing discussion on mounting an exhibit at the cathedral on the subject of Christa and other related art.
During my interview with her, what was most surprising is how over the years the statue has evoked strong emotions from both men and women in regard to its representation of suffering. What follows is the interview I conducted with her this past June, 2015.
Interview with Edwina Sandys:
Q. How long did it take you to plan sculpting Christa?
A. Actually, I did it in about three days and did not first plan a rationale for it.
Q. You’ve said in the past, “Christa should be included as an important image of Jesus on the cross.”
A. Yes, I do believe that. I think that Christa should be included as one of the important images (interpretations) of Jesus on the Cross. The interpretation is valuable.
Q. Can you describe in particular how her face in bronze was created and how long it took you to just work on those features? Her face is so beatific and striking and juxtaposes both sorrow and also a resolute power.
A. I just made the face without planning. I wanted her to be suffering but compassionate. As I was modeling her out of clay and began to think of the meaning, I told some other women artists in the sculpture studio that I wanted to portray the suffering of women.
Q: Has the sculpture and its meaning to you personally, changed or grown in terms of equality and what you hoped it would present to women?
A. I didn’t make Christa as a campaign for women’s rights or Women’s Lib as such but I have always believed in equality and I am glad that Christa is just as relevant today as it was in 1975. I didn’t make Christa just for women. Men also suffer and that is one of the meanings of Jesus on the Cross. (Over the years I have received many letters from men, many of them priests of all denominations.)
In the past there were matriarchs in many societies and religions, and gender was not always a factor. Today women are finding their way to take their place in the Christian church and in society in general. Most women of my generation have been stamped with the idea of Man’s superiority over Woman which is hard to throw off without seeming aggressive. I hope that Christa continues to reveal the journey of suffering that we all have in common.
Thank you Ms. Sandys. I hope your work continues to flourish.
For more information on Christa and her history you can see Ms. Sandys website – http://www.edwinasandys.com/Christa .
Nettie Reynolds is a playwright, essayist and hospital chaplain. She is currently finishing her MDIV degree at Austin Theological Presbyterian Seminary. Her Twitter ID is https://twitter.com/netreynolds