When an electrical fire engulfed the rafters of the then 124-year-old St Francis Xavier Cathedral, September 25, 2009, Archbishop Patrick Pinder of Nassau vowed immediately to restore that sacred space.
He took his time assembling the builders, artisans and artists who would contribute to the restoration and embellishment of the historic structure. With great trepidation, Bahamian artist Neko Meicholas accepted the challenge. He decided that he would need to create three paintings to have a dynamic visual impact. The two additional paintings would be his gift to the Church.
His grand triptych (a picture or carving in three panels side by side) called ‘Christ Pantocrator: The Message’ now graces the altar of the restored cathedral.
Interestingly, the diocese’s August/September issue of Bahama Catholic reported that the Christ who is the central figure of the Meicholas rendition is not the polished, boardroom CEO, blue-eyed with golden hair flowing and coiffed who for so long dominated Christian art. Rather, it is one that encompasses “the rough locks of a Middle-Eastern village carpenter”.
“Here is a brown man, browner to reflect the Bahamian majority. Christ’s face is not one that will attract Hollywood contracts, but appropriately reflects the suffering appropriate to a ‘man of sorrows’, acquainted with grief and existential pain.”
The Bahama Catholic reported that Meicholas, a ‘cradle’ Catholic was chosen for two very special tasks: to create a Christ Pantocrator painting that would serve as the altarpiece and restore the 14 Stations of the Cross, which had been extensively impacted by corrosive smoke.
His emergent paintings are each 36” by 48” acrylic on linen covering the entire wall on which they are mounted. The central constituent parts of the image are specified by the Pantocrator’s long and deeply embedded history in the Church’s iconography.
Christ’s head, the publication stated, is encircled by a halo pictured half-length from the waist up, holding the Gospels in his left hand with his right hand making a gesture of teaching or of blessing. Bordering the side canvasses are faces of believers turned towards Christ in adoration.
“Their expressions are reflective of the suffering endured by those who would keep faith in a world that tries to rebury a revolutionary whose Gospels are subversive of joys that rest stubbornly in the secular, egocentric and immediate. And, as truthful a depiction are the male and female figures in cameo, who turn away in rejection.”