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Nelson Mandela's widow says statues are part of our history and we must learn from them

Nelson Mandela's widow says statues are part of our history and we must learn from them
Archbishop of Canterbury warns some 'will have to come down' as Church thinks again about portraying Jesus as white
Graca Machel said: 'I believe even it might be much more positive to keep them'
The widow of former the South African president said statues should remain
Rev Welby said statues in Canterbury Cathedral would be looked at 'carefully'
He said Jesus is portrayed differently, and Middle Eastern was 'most accurate'
Asked if the West needs to reimagine Jesus' whiteness, he said: 'Yes of course'

June 25, 2020

Nelson Mandela's widow Graca Machel has implored anti-racism campaigners not to tear down statues because they serve as grave reminders of past atrocities.

The activist said: 'I believe even it might be much more positive to keep them because you are going to tell generations to come "this is how it started and this is how it should never be."'

Her remarks put her at loggerheads with the Archbishop of Canterbury, who today revealed he would be reviewing statues at Canterbury Cathedral.

Justin Welby said monuments would be looked at 'very carefully' to see if they all 'should be there'.

In a wide-ranging interview, he also urged the West to reconsider its prevailing mindset that Jesus was white, and pointed to different portrayals of Christ as Black, Middle Eastern and Chinese in different countries.

The two figures waded into the heated statue debate at a time when monuments of controversial figures are under the microscope following the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests.

But Machel, the widow of the former prisoner-turned-South African president who campaigned against apartheid, stressed that historic sculptures were important to learn the lessons of the past.

Speaking to BBC Today, she said: 'It is not the issue of bringing down a statue which is going to resolve the ills of the past.

'What is important is to look at the history of what is it which brought us to the situation where we are.

'And of course you have to see who are the architects of the past. But I believe even it might be much more positive to keep them because you are going to tell generations to come "this is how it started and this is how it should never be".

'So I'm not really concerned with bringing down and breaking the statues. I know this is controversial but, you know, we need to have the memory and some of those symbols remind us, and they make the memory still valid.'

On the same programme, the head of the Church of England was asked if the 'way the western church portrays Jesus needs to be thought about again'.

He immediately replied: 'Yes of course it does, this sense that God was white... You go into churches (around the world) and you don't see a white Jesus.

'You see a black Jesus, a Chinese Jesus, a Middle Eastern Jesus - which is of course the most accurate - you see a Fijian Jesus.'

Rev Welby stressed his view was not to 'throw out' the past but instead offer a rounded picture of the 'universality' of Christ.

Speaking this morning in a wide-ranging interview Rev Welby told BBC's Today: 'Jesus is portrayed in as many ways as there are cultures languages and understandings.

'And I don't think that throwing out everything we've got in the past is the way to do it but I do think saying 'that's not the Jesus who exists, that's not who we worship', it is a reminder of the universality of the God who became fully human.'

In 2015, retired medical artist Richard Neave has recreated the face of 'Jesus' by studying Semite skulls using modern-day forensic techniques.

His portrait shows the Son of God may have had a wide face, dark eyes, a bushy beard and short curly hair, as well as a tanned complexion.

These features would likely have been typical of Middle Eastern Jews in the Galilee area of northern Israel.

Dr Neave stressed the portrait is that of an adult man living at the same time and place as Jesus, but some experts say his depiction is still likely far more accurate than paintings by the great masters.

Without a skeleton or remains that can be categorically confirmed as Jesus, and a lack of physical descriptions in the New Testament, many previous images have been based either on the society in which the painter or sculptor lived, or hearsay.

The technique uses cultural and archaeological data, as well as techniques similar to those used to solve crimes to study different groups of people.

The team hypothesised Jesus would have had facial features typical of Galilean Semites of his era, based on a description of events in the Garden of Gethsemane, written in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew.

He wrote that Jesus closely resembled his disciples.

Rev Welby also revealed that statues in Canterbury Cathedral would be under review on the back of a nationwide Black Lives Matter campaign to rip down monuments to controversial figures.

Speaking about the recent calls for statue removals, he said people should forgive the 'trespasses' of people immortalised in the form of statues, rather than tearing them down.

But he added: 'We can only do that if we've got justice, which means the statue needs to be put in context. Some will have to come down.'

He added: 'Some names will have to change. I mean, the church, goodness me, you know, you just go around Canterbury Cathedral, there's monuments everywhere, or Westminster Abbey, and we're looking at all that, and some will have to come down.

'But yes, there can be forgiveness, I hope and pray as we come together, but only if there's justice.

'If we change the way we behave now, and say this was then and we learned from that, and change how we're going to be in the future, internationally, as well.'

He said he does not have the power to unilaterally remove statues in Canterbury Cathedral, but said the Church would be reviewing the monuments.

Pressed on whether he was saying statues will be torn down in the cathedral, Mr Welby said: 'No I didn't say that. I very carefully didn't say that.'

He said it is not his decision, and told the Today programme: 'We're going to be looking very carefully and putting them in context and seeing if they all should be there.'

Rev Welby added: 'The question arises. Of course it does.'

He said it is 'what people do at times like this', adding: 'And it's a good thing, but there has to be, for forgiveness, there has to be this turning round, this conversion, the Pope called it.

'The change of heart that says we learned from them not to be like that, and to change the way we are in the future.'

It is unclear which statues will be reviewed, and Lambeth Palace did not immediately respond to request for clarification.

Dozens of sculptures line the walls of the magnificent Cathedral in Canterbury, ranging from William, Duke of Normandy to Queen Elizabeth II.

The Archbishop said that forgiveness and justice must go hand in hand, and added: 'We've seen in some of the crises we've first over the last few months, not just Covid, but also Black Lives Matter and the economic downturn, that there is great injustice.

'And we need a collective turning away from that, which is what repentance means, but we also need to learn to forgive.'

A spokesperson for Canterbury Cathedral said: 'All of the Cathedral's items are being reviewed to ensure that any connected with slavery, colonialism or contentious figures from other historic periods are displayed with clear objective interpretations and contextual information, and are presented in a way that avoids any sense of aggrandisement.

We hope that by providing this context -- and acknowledging any associated oppression, exploitation, injustice and suffering connected with these objects -- all visitors can leave with a greater understanding of our shared history and be inspired to undertake further learning and discussion.

Acknowledging the nationwide approach to these issues, The Church of England's Director of Churches and Cathedrals, Becky Clark, said: 'There are monuments in our churches and cathedrals to individuals and events whose destructive impact is still being felt by people living in the UK today.

'Meaningful dialogue needs to engage with this reality, recognise that these voices have often not been listened to in the past, and make decisions that allow these unjust experiences to form a recognised part of both the history and future of our churches.'


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