The story behind Glasgow’s controversial ‘Homeless Jesus’ statue on Nelson Mandela Square

Many commuters walk past the statue everyday - but not everyone realises who the statue is and what it represents

Tucked away around the back of St Georges Tron Church on Nelson Mandela Square lies a bronze cast statue, covered in a veil laying on its side on a bench - the identity of the man is given away by the stigmata on his feet - the sclupture is meant to represent a homeless Jesus.

Created by Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz, the shrouded Homeless Jesus was brought to Glasgow in 2017 - but its not the only iteration of the art installation - over 100 casts of the statue are scattered across the world. Glasgow was the first in the UK to install a Homeless Jesus statue six years ago - while the original model was placed outside Regis College in Toronto Canada in early 2013.

Other locations with a depiction of the Homeless Jesus include the Vatican, Madrid, Chennai, and a number of cities in North America. The statue was brought to Glasgow by Father Willy Slavan, the former parish priest in St Simon’s Church in Park and former chair of Glasgow Emmaus after he was approached by Schmalz.

Father Slavin told the Scotsman in December of 2017: “Christmas is a time when people are more likely to show concern, kindness and generosity towards the rough sleepers in our society.

“But the homelessness issue is with us all year round. This thought-provoking work of art can act as a daily reminder.”

The statue is identifiable by the stigmata on the feet from Jesus’ crucifixion

Father Slavin organised the installation of the statue along with the inter-faith Glasgow Churches Together - with Catholic Archbishop Philip Tartaglia, Church of Scotland Glasgow presbytery moderator Rev Ian Galloway, and Bishop Gregor Duncan of the Scottish Episcopalian Church, along with representatives of Glasgow’s homelessness agencies, were present at the unveiling ceremony in 2017.

The statue has been described by the artist as a ‘visual translation’ of the Gospel of Matthew passage in which Jesus tells his disciples, ‘as you did it to one of the least of my brothers, you did it to me’. Timothy Schmalz intended for the bronze sculpture to be provocative, admitting: “That’s essentially what the sculpture is there to do. It’s meant to challenge people.”

Costing a total of £25,000 for the church, the initiative was met with donations from parishioners and locals - with pro bono work undertaken by architects and other contractors.

The sculpture has met with controversy in America with Christians who think Jesus shoud not be depicted as homeless - carrying the belief that being unhoused carries negative connotations that shouldn’t be associated with the son of God.

The face of Jesus looks out at Nelson Mandela Square from beneath his shroud

According to American news broadcaster, NPR:“The reaction [to the cast in Davidson, North Carolina] was immediate. Some loved it; some didn’t.

“Some Davidson residents felt it was an ‘insulting depiction’ of Jesus that ‘demeaned’ the neighborhood. One Davidson resident called police the first time she saw it, mistaking the statue for a real homeless person.

“Another neighbor wrote a letter, saying it ‘creeped him out’. However, according to Buck, residents are often seen sitting on the bench alongside the statue, resting their hands on Jesus and praying.”

One copy of the statue in Bay Village, Ohio had the police called on it by a local resident - who believed it to be a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. This call was made within 20 minutes of the statue being installed at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. Reaction in Glasgow has been much more tame.

The Homeless Jesus Statue can be found around the back of St George Tron Church on Nelson Mandela Square, just off Buchanan Street

Reviews of the statue on Nelson Mandela Square on TripAdvisor are mostly positive - with a few posters lamenting that it’s hidden around the back of the church, and at least one expressing that the £25,000 paid for the statue could have gone to Glasgow homeless charities instead. One reviewer expressed their mixed opinions succintly, they wrote:”Apparently this is a world famous sculpture but its the first I’ve seen or heard of it and honestly I have mixed feelings.

“It is undoubtedly controversial but on the other hand its powerful and thought provoking and highlights the issue of homelessness, the obscured face is meant to suggest that this could be anyone and homelessness can happen to anyone but why does it have to be Jesus.

“I don’t know, I love the statue and I love what it represents but the fact that it’s Jesus homeless on a bench doesn’t sit right with me. So yeah, mixed feelings, love/hate this one.”