An Icon’s Provenance

Black Christ icon   Artist Keith Carrington

The stunning image of the crucifixion in the St. Michael’s narthex is bound into worshippers’ experience in our church. A black Christ in his torment yet with eyes heavenward hangs against a backdrop of the Lord’s Prayer.

How did this crucifixion come to us?

Not long after the Rev. Canon George W. Brandt became rector, he met Keith Carrington, the artist, an occasional churchgoer.

“Father Brandt was amazing and encouraging,” recalls Carrington, who now lives in Palm Beach, Fla., and works as an interior designer. “He knew so much about the arts.”

Father Brandt recalls, “At some point, [Keith] said he had a painting of Jesus that he would like to give to the church.”

“I told him there was just one possible problem,” Carrington says. “‘You might not like the painting. Jesus is black.’”

Father Brandt laughed and said, “Why wouldn’t I like it?” When Carrington brought in the painting, Father Brandt, impressed by the image’s power, offered to pay for it. Carrington insisted that it be a gift.

“Father Brandt’s approval was a tremendous affirmation,” Carrington says. The painting was part of a series that he had done about black people in America.

On Palm Sunday 1995, the Rt. Rev. Walter D. Dennis, suffragan bishop of the New York diocese, blessed the painting. One prominent congregant walked out. An acolyte was so moved that he wept.

“When you leave the church, ” Brandt says, ”that Jesus on the cross is the last thing you see — the heart of faith — as you go out the door.”

—Jean Ballard Terepka