A tree obscuring the face of what some locals call the "Googley-Eyed Jesus" on Holy Cross Church in South Portland was cut down on Wednesday. The enamel and steel mural depicting the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension was installed in 1980 by artist John Laberge. The face, which some consider an eyesore, has been covered by an ailing pine for several years.

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — A long-obscured mural on Holy Cross church referred to by many locals at the “Googley-Eyed Jesus” is once again visible to the public. For several years, a strategically planted pine tree hid the striking, lower portion of the artwork. It depicts Christ, with large eyes rolled back in his head, looking heavenward, during the crucifixion. The upper portion, showing the resurrection and ascension, remained visible.

“I’m so excited to go see him,” wrote Amy Simpson Tavano, who posted a picture on Facebook of the tree coming down. “I’ve lived in this house long enough to see the tree planted, watch the tree grow, plot the tree’s death and see my wishes fulfilled. What a day.”

Artist John Laberge created the landmark enamel and steel mural in 1980. It didn’t become controversial until roughly two decades later when the church was undergoing renovations. Some locals and parishioners thought the image was “creepy” and wanted to see it taken down. Others thought it was a realistic depiction of their savior’s pain and suffering.

At the time, Laberge refused to change the mural but said he would not fight efforts to get it removed. That’s about the time the tree appeared.

Credit: Troy R. Bennett

In 2016, Monsignor Michael Henchal, who oversaw the parish including Holy Cross, told the Portland Press Herald that the tree’s planting predated him and no one on his staff knew how or when it got there.

It’s also unclear why the tree was removed this week. Messages to the Portland Roman Catholic Dioceses were not returned Thursday morning. But judging by responses on Facebook, the mural is as controversial as ever.

Riley Shryock called it “Our Lady of the Bad Acid Trip.”

Tanya Kelly wrote, “My dad always used to say they ought to change the name from Holy Cross to Holy Sh*t.”

Keagan Hammond Rule chimed in with, “The world needs Scary Jesus now more than ever.”

With most people stuck at home with the coronavirus pandemic, and many of them spending hours on Facebook, word is spreading fast about the mural’s re-emergence.

“I love how everyone has such a personal experience with him,” Tavano said. “Maybe it’s the quarantine talking but it was really like seeing an old friend.”

Credit: Troy R. Bennett
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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.