Black Saints Matter

A young girl seeing large billboards in the street asked her mother what they were. The mother explained that they are adverts, and what they were for. They then went into church and the little girl looked at the saints in the stained glass windows. “Are they God’s adverts, then?” she asked.

Icon of St Josephine Bakhita in St Chrysostom’s Church

Perhaps you are familiar with that simple story. Through history the Church has identified holy women and men to be particularly good examples, inspirations, to Christians. In a sense they are ‘God’s adverts.’ There are thousands of them, from all parts of the world, of differing ages, cultures and backgrounds. From them churches choose and form their own Calendar of saints to be observed. Through the years, as times change, the saints chosen can change, and often holy men and women, not officially named ‘saints’ are added into the calendar too. Saints local to a geographic area can be added too.

Selection for the church’s calendar must be quite a tricky task, and through time revisions are needed. In an earlier blog post we saw how ridiculously imbalanced the Common Worship Calendar of the Church of England is against women and non ordained people. 80% of the holy people listed are men, and most of those are clergy.

The issue goes deeper and enters the serious area of institutional racial prejudice. Here is the startling fact: Of the 329 observances in the Common Worship calendar four can be unequivocally named as black saints, five if Martin de Porres (dual heritage) is included.

That is to say of the observances  0.02% are black saints. All the named black saints are men. They are Janani Luwum, Apolo Kivebulaya, Bernard Mizeki and the Martyrs of Uganda.

If BAME people are included then the figure would include Biblical saints such as Mary and the disciples, for example, and the percentage then rises to 18% non white.

Statue of Manche Masemola at Westminster Abbey

One of the observances is to the ‘Ugandan Martyrs’ but no black people are specifically named (unlike in the equivalent Roman Catholic observance). Bishop James Hannington who died in one of the Ugandan persecutions has his own observance on another date, as indeed does Archbishop Janani Luwum (one of the four black people named).

Observances that should be considered include: Samuel Ajayo Crowther, Josephine Bakhita, Takla Haymanot, Sojourner Truth, Samuel Ferguson, Martyrs of the Sudan, Albert John Luthuli, Elizabeth Paul of Mthatha, Manche Masemola, Martin Luther King.

Black lives matter. Black saints matter.

The inspiring examples of black saints, men and women cry out to be included in the Church’s calendar. Institutional racism is deeply seated and can be subtly hidden – not least in the church.

A serious revision of the Church of England’s  Calendar which recognises that Black Saints Matter is clearly long overdue.

We are aware that this blog post raises several questions, not least of iconography, some of which we hope to explore in later posts.

About stchrysostoms

St Chrysostom’s is an Anglican (Church of England) parish church in Manchester, UK. We’re an inclusive, diverse and welcoming faith community rejoicing in our Anglo Catholic tradition, where people of many differing backgrounds make friends. Find our Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/2364267899/
This entry was posted in Anglican, Anglo Catholic, Saints and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Black Saints Matter

  1. Sister Gloriamarie Amalfitano says:

    Black Saints do indeed matter. However, some of them have been whitewashed such as Perpetua and Felicitas and Augustine of Hippo. While I realize no photographers existed then, it seems to be the church could restore the black saints to blackness.

    I have been trying for quite sometime now to find holy cards of back saints which depict them as black.

    If anyone knows where I might order them, I would be grateful for the information. Thank you/

  2. Indeed and thank you – and you anticipate a future blog post on that very topic!

  3. Pingback: Opinion – 24 June 2020 – Thinking Anglicans

  4. David Cleugh says:

    Would also put in a word for Olaudah Equiano, a Black British campaigner for the abolition of slavery. https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2019/15-february/news/uk/c-of-e-s-slave-trade-guilt-highlighted-at-equiano-commemoration Was married at St Andrew’s Soham, a neighbouring parish, his wife grew in up in Fordham which is one the parishes in which I serve

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