Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

Stormtrooper crucifix removed after parishioner complaints

Star Wars themed crucifix called blasphemous and vulgar

A a life-sized Star Wars Imperial Stormtrooper hanging from a cross in a City of London parish has been removed from a “Stations of the Cross” exhibit after complaints were made by parishioners and set up in a less conspicuous place, the Diocese of London reports.

Built to a design by Sir Christopher Wren after the great fire of London, the Church of St Stephen Walbrook in recent years was noted for the creation in 1953 of the Samaritans, a voluntary organisation that staffs a 24-hour telephone hotline for people in emotional need. Founded by the parish rector, the Rev. Chad Varah, the Samaritans began with a single telephone in the crypt beneath the church. Today it has over 200 branches across the UK. Upon his retirement in 2003 after 50 years as rector, Dr. Varah was the oldest serving incumbent in the Church of England.

The current priest in charge, the Rev. Jonathan Evens, invited Art Below to organize a Stations of the Cross exhibit in the church. With works by Francis Bacon, Paul Benney and Ricardo Cinalli among the Stations of the Cross, Mr. Evens said he hoped the exhibit would prompt debate. “This is an exhibition of images designed to provoke thought from artists grappling with their response to the challenge and scandal of Christ’s cross. I commend these images to you as an image that can open our ideas and minds to new reflections on the eternal significance.”

However, the life-sized Stormtrooper crucifix made by Ryan Callahan, a street artist whose professional name is RYCA, prompted complaints of blasphemy and bad taste from parishioners. The day before the public exhibition, the church removed the Stormtrooper crucifix and hung it in another part of the church.

In a statement to the media a spokesman for the Diocese of London said: “St Stephen Walbrook is pleased to be hosting Art Below’s exhibition on the Stations of the Cross. One work of art in particular, a depiction of a crucified Star Wars Stormtrooper by Ryan Callanan, was larger and more prominent than was anticipated when the exhibition was approved. Its position in the church as currently installed has proved to be distracting for some worshippers. As a result, following discussions with the curator, we have asked Art Below to reposition the work, so that it remains prominent but it is less of a distraction from the altar.”

Image copyright Art Below and RYCA

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