‘Graffiti has been around for thousands of years’

By the Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Rev Christopher Foster

Thursday, 31st January 2019, 12:03 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 10:00 pm
Artwork by Banksy found in Tailbach in Port Talbot, Wales. The Bishop of Portsmouth, Christopher Foster says graffiti has been around for thousands of years depicting and mocking Christians Photo credit: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

It’s easy to think of graffiti as a modern thing, and one that is becoming increasingly mainstream with artists like Banksy.

By contrast, it’s also easy to imagine that everything written centuries ago was serious and poetic.

But you can visit many churches and historic buildings and find little bits of graffiti –  perhaps a name or word – dating back hundreds of years.

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And very occasionally, we find something that dates back thousands of years.

We find graffiti in many old churches. There’s one – in a museum now - from about the year 200.

It’s a picture of a man with a donkey’s head who has been crucified, while another man looks on.

There’s a caption as well, which says ‘Alexamenos worships his God’. 

The likelihood is that Alexamenos was a Christian, and someone who knew him decided to draw a little picture mocking him for worshipping Jesus who got himself crucified.

And just to really rub it in, they have given Jesus a donkey’s head.

So if Christians today sometimes complain about being mocked by wider society, we can remember that it’s been going on for nearly 2,000 years.

But in fact the strangeness of the Christian story has always been there, and St Paul writes in the Bible about the foolishness of God, the foolishness of proclaiming that the Saviour of the world was humiliated and crucified.

The heart of Christianity is foolish because it proclaims that God is not found where we usually look for what’s powerful, but instead in times and places of weakness.

It also says that God identifies with those who are rejected by society as being unimportant or second class.

And that’s a challenge to Christians or any of us, whenever we get tempted to seek power and status for ourselves.

But perhaps for all of us there’s hope, because it means we don’t need to be afraid in our times of weakness, and that God was prepared to look foolish for the sake of all of us.