The president of Indiana’s prestigious University of Notre Dame announced over the weekend that several historical murals depicting Christopher Columbus will soon be covered up.
The 12 murals were painted by Luigi Gregori in the 1880s and were intended to combat the anti-Catholic sentiment of the time.
“In recent years, however, many have come to see the murals as at best blind to the consequences of Columbus’ voyage for the indigenous peoples who inhabited this ‘new’ world and at worst demeaning toward them,” President Fr. John Jenkins wrote in a Sunday letter.
The murals are located in Notre Dame’s Main Building and were painted directly on to the plaster of the walls, making them difficult to move. For now, Jenkins said they will “be covered by woven material consistent with the décor of the space.”
“Because the second-floor hall of the Main Building is a busy throughway for visitors and members of the university community, it is not well suited for a thoughtful consideration of these paintings and the context of their composition. We will, therefore, create a permanent display for high-quality, high-resolution images of the murals in a campus setting to be determined that will be conducive to such an informed and careful consideration,” Jenkins wrote.
As he acknowledges in his letter, the murals have been a regular topic of conversation on campus after a group of 300 students and faculty published a 2017 letter calling for their removal. Jenkins notes that the murals were initially intended to address the “significant anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant attitudes in American public life” at the time.
“For the native peoples of this ‘new’ land, however, Columbus’ arrival was nothing short of a catastrophe. Whatever else Columbus’ arrival brought, for these peoples it led to exploitation, expropriation of land, repression of vibrant cultures, enslavement, and new diseases causing epidemics that killed millions,” he continued.
Jenkins said his plan will “respect both Gregori’s murals, understood in their historical context,” as well as “the reality and experience of Native Americans in the aftermath of Columbus’ arrival.”
“We wish to preserve artistic works originally intended to celebrate immigrant Catholics who were marginalized at the time in society, but do so in a way that avoids unintentionally marginalizing others,” Jenkins concluded his Sunday letter. “The course described above, we believe, honors the university’s heritage, of which we are justly proud, and better respects the heritage of native peoples, who have known great adversity since the arrival of Europeans.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Photos “Fr. John Jenkins” and “Christopher Colunbus” by University of Notre Dame.
Read more about the Columbus murals here.