Of course, rhetorical speaking – not to be confused with a rhetorical question asked for dramatic effect rather than to receive an answer – is the art of talking persuasively, and, as the Chair of the Committee for Restoring the Charm of the Cathedral-Basilica of St Louis, New Orleans, it is rather my job to speak in such a manner.
Among my recent successes was convincing the parish of New Orleans to commission a new head for the Jesus sculpture in the nave at the Cathedral-Basilica of St Louis. The original stone sculpture was poor. His nose a little too pointed, his eyes too bulbous, but worst of all was the mouth, curled into a smirk. Every Sunday for 64 years Jesus looked down upon me, and not in the godly kind of way, in the patronising kind of way. Judging me. And every Sunday I plotted my revenge.
There was, naturally, some opposition to my suggestion, but being hundreds of years old is no defence for poor craftsmanship. It really just became a battle of wills once I had affirmed that the sculpture was not included in the listing of the building. The UNESCO Preservation listing protects only the exterior of the church after all.
Did you know that it is not just buildings that can be protected? Pretty much anything permanent can. If the fellow who made the original UNESCO application had had the foresight to write the words ‘Jesus statue’ in the listing then perhaps the original head would remain. But history is made from such what-ifs. Most of all for Jesus.
Despite my support for the job, I do admit that decapitating our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ seemed like a cruel punishment considering everything he’s been through already. Therefore I endeavoured to have Jesus’ face covered for several weeks with a thick velvet curtain. The sculptor – who had been working for weeks on the replacement head in his own, private workshop – laboured behind this screen. Lest any church visitors be shocked to catch a glimpse of this craftsman furiously chiselling our lord and saviour in the face with sharp tools after all.
What to do with the old head of Jesus? The committee could think of no dignified way to get rid of the thing. It was not John the Baptist after all. So we hid him, or should it be “it”, under a veil, and quickly moved “it”, or him, in the boot of my Cadillac to rest on top of the piano in my study. I couldn’t be seen to crush the Lord’s head into gravel or defenestrate him in to the satanic rocks of New Orleans' Blue Lagoon.
Mama Mia, after all this, I promised to keep the head of our Lord and Saviour in my house. I thought it would please him to see me, and me to see him, knowing what I had achieved.
There was quite a clamour at the unveiling. Excited children stood on pews to watch over the tops of their parents’ heads. The local press waited anxiously, poised with cameras. The priest pulled the curtain to one side in one fluid motion and revealed the new ‘Jesus’ in all his glory.
The flashes popped, illuminating the same…
the very same...
the exact same…
smirk of the original Jesus.
In fact, it took me some moments to believe it. But as my eyes flitted between the bulbous eyes, the pointed nose and nauseating smile, it was clear. The sculptor had created an exact copy of the head we had removed.
To my astonishment the crowd clapped and cheered. The sculptor stood proud and beaming next to his creation. His chest puffed out for more press photographs. The vice chair of the committee congratulated me. Either none had realised that it was a copy of the original head or they had all forgotten why it was being replaced in the first place.
I returned home.
It was dark.
Jesus smirked at me from the study.