It was a serendipitous occurrence that some might even call the hand of God himself for Father Kieran Kleczewskii and sculptor James Muir to find each other.
For years, the cross in the famous Chapel of The Holy Cross has sat empty. “It always felt so naked,” Kleczewski said.
But this spring, a 30-foot Christus sculpted by Muir will take its place on the cross. “People from all faiths are very excited about this,” he said. “It’s all very moving.” Muir and Kleczewski hosted a reception at the chapel on Oct. 19 to provide a preview of the statue for Sedona residents and guests.
Both Muir and Kleczewski spoke at an after party as the sun set behind the red buttes of the chapel. Donna Hauser, who is from Kentucky but was on vacation visiting Sedona, didn’t even know about the reception until a woman she bumped into told her about it.
“I think she must have been sent from God,” Hauser said. “I cried when I came up. I was raised Catholic and it meant to much to me. I was just so happy to be part of it.” Kleczewski said he was looking at multiple candidates to do the piece before running into Muir at a gallery.
“I knew it was meant to be,” he said. “I think it was the Holy Spirit that brought us together.”
Initially, there was hesitation before Muir agreed to do the sculpture, Kleczewski said.
“Muir is evangelical and they don’t believe in putting the body of Christ on the cross,” he said.
The crucifix is less common in Protestant denominations, who embrace the empty cross to focus on Jesus’ resurrection, not his death.
“Some people think the body of Christ on the cross is an indulgence of guilt, to say, ‘Look what God’s son did for you,’” Kleczewski said. “I told James, ‘Look at the face. It’s a face of love, not guilt.’ That’s when James understood.”
Muir said he studied crucifixion extensively to get the anatomy of the corpus correct.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but you actually suffocate to death when you’re crucified, so I tried to capture that look,” he said.
As Muir began searching for a model to base his sculpture on, he came across Thomas McPherson, owner of The Collective in the Village of Oak Creek. At the time, McPherson had long brown hair, a beard and eyes Muir described as “penetrating.”
“[Muir] told me I looked just like Jesus and I agreed to do it,” McPherson said.
Muir described McPherson as looking like a “Hollywood” Jesus. “He was literally crucified in my studio as I worked,” he said.
Muir describes his work as allegorical and tries to fill his work with symbolic meaning.
“I think there are parallels in all faiths and I hope this is a piece that will touch everyone,” he said.