Notre Dame University Will Cover Up Christopher Columbus Murals Due To Controversy

Notre Dame received complaints about historical university artwork depicting Christopher Columbus.

Image of Notre Dame University campus.
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Notre Dame received complaints about historical university artwork depicting Christopher Columbus.

The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, is the home of a wide assortment of historical art, some of which dates back to the 1800s. The Catholic university recently received complaints regarding some of the murals located on campus, which include depictions of Christopher Columbus, according to NBC News.

The historical pieces in question were created by artist Luis Gregori more than two centuries ago. At the time, immigrants were flocking to the United States to escape religious persecution. The artwork was meant to celebrate the freedom that was believed to be brought about by Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. There are 12 murals in total, some of which include Native Americans. In one particularly large image, Columbus is shown standing next to a cross while a group of Native Americans bow down to him.

Those who have criticized the murals believe that they offer a false representation of history and promote racial stereotypes. They disregard the part of Columbus’ past in which he contributed to the oppression of Native Americans, forcing them out of their homes. Because of this, Rev. John Jenkins, the president of Notre Dame, has decided to have the murals covered. It is a “darker side of this story, a side we must acknowledge,” Jenkins said in a letter Sunday.

The murals are currently located in the university’s main building. Because they are painted directly onto the walls, they cannot be immediately taken down and replaced. The school plans to eventually have them relocated to a separate location of campus where they can be occasionally viewed as a type of educational display. Context will be offered along with the display to provide the full story of what they depict. In the meantime, they will be hidden from the public eye.

Jenkins hopes that by moving the artwork, they will not cause offense to any minority groups.

“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,” he said. His decision follows a 2017 letter of protest signed by over 300 of the school’s alumni, students and staff. They asked the murals to be removed due to the controversy they caused.

Notre Dame students have spoken out in support of Jenkins’ decision to have the images covered.

“This is a good step towards acknowledging the full humanity of those native people who have come before us,” said Marcus Winchester-Jones of Dowagiac, Michigan.