It is the lack of self-denial and self-discipline that explains the mediocrity of so much devotional art. Thomas Merton

Engelbert Mveng: Ugandan Martyrs Altar

ArtWay Visual Meditation June 18, 2017

Engelbert Mveng: Ugandan Martyrs Altar

The Christ in Majesty

by Engelbert Mveng

The Christ in majesty standing above the altar recapitulates the offering of the whole world and all of humanity in the sacrifice of the cross.

At the foot of Christ crucified stand the martyrs of Uganda: they are the image of all those people in Africa who have united the sacrifice of their lives to that of Christ crucified. The cross rises up out of a cosmic background of cruciform patterns (the four points of the compass), of sun and moon motifs (circles and crescents) and triangular and diamond shapes, symbols of fertility and life. The whole is in three fundamental colours: red the colour of life, black the colour of suffering, and white the colour of death.

Thus Africa, mankind and the whole cosmos are evoked and comprised in the vast gesture of Christ on the cross: ‘Father into thy hands I commend my breath of life.’ But the splendour and majesty of this cross sings the paschal triumph of the resurrection: ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.’


Engelbert Mveng: Ugandan Martyrs Altar, Libermann College, Douala, Cameroon.

Engelbert Mveng: Resurrection, Hekima College, Nairobi, Kenya, 1962.

Published in Hans-Ruedi Weber: On a Friday Noon. Meditations under the Cross, World Council of Churches – Geneva, 1979. Taken over with permission by the publisher.

Engelbert Mveng (1930-1995) was a child of Presbyterian parents. He became a Jesuit priest, author, artist, theologian and prominent Cameroonian historian and was a key figure in African Christian art circles. Father Mveng studied the aesthetics of African arts and published his findings in numerous books and articles. He opened a studio where he trained artists. His teaching was based on what he called the universal rules of African art. As a historian and theologian he made a great contribution to the study of African culture and history, especially in the realms of cultural and religious anthropology and iconology. The last thirty years of his life he was professor at the University of Yaoundé, Cameroon, Department of History. On the night of April 22-23, 1995, an unknown assailant brutally murdered the Reverend Engelbert Mveng in his residence outside of Yaounde. The murder was only one of several unsolved murders of clergy and remains unsolved. The internationally renowned artistic work of Fr. Mveng can be found in churches, chapels and educational centers around the world, for example: Stations of the Cross and Resurrection in the Jesuit Hekima College in Nairobi, Kenya; Our Lady of Africa in the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel; a mural for Holy Angels Church in Chicago depicting the roles and interventions of angels throughout the history of mankind; and the decoration of the chapel of the Catholic University of Central Africa, Yaoundé, Cameroon.



1. ENGLAND - 3 July – 16 July, St Stephen Walbrook, 39 Walbrook, London: An exhibition of Jamaican spiritual art arranged by Art Jamaica ( The exhibition has been curated by Art Jamaica founder Theresa Roberts who has included mainly new work from young Jamaican artists but will also be featuring selected work from her own extensive collection. The show is made up of painting, sculpture and photography highlighting the strong spiritual nature of Jamaica and its people. Whilst predominantly Christian, Jamaica is home to a wide variety of religions which coexist peacefully. The variety of spiritual beliefs held on the island reflect the diverse nature of the people who live there and the motto of the country "Out of many we are one". Whilst spirituality is the overriding theme the exhibition inevitably also offers a compelling insight into the diverse nature and vibrancy of modern Jamaica.

2. CANADA - 17 May – 22 June, Lookout Gallery, 5800 University Blvd., Vancouver, B.C.: Grace Tan, Through the Eyes of Agape. Inspired by the story of Hagar in Genesis, Grace captures the creative and compassionate nature of "The God who sees" as she portrays a myriad of characters in figurative charcoal drawings. Mo – Fr, 8.30 – 17 h, Sa, 12 – 16 h.

3. USA - 11 August – 12 August, Imago Dei Community, Portland, Oregon: “Canvas, A Conference on Theology and Creativity – Inscape, God, Art, and the Inner Life”. The Canvas Conference humbly exists to inform all acts of human creativity and beauty with biblical, gospel-centered theology for the worship of the triune God. "We want to help build strong theological foundations for the artist and, likewise, to push Christians to pursue creative orthodoxy in their theological craft. We have found that without theology, creativity wanders from its original significance and purpose; while without creativity, theology often becomes cold, distant, and futile. In response, The Canvas Conference seeks to build bridges between the artist and the theologian by inviting God to take center stage in every human endeavor.”

For more exhibitions, lectures, conferences etc. inside and outside your country, click here


Other recent meditations:
- June 2017: Regan O Callaghan: 3 Mothers
- June 2017: Stefan Balkenhol: Man in Tower
- June 2017: Arnulf Rainer: Pentecost
- May 2017: Rembrandt: The Ascension of Christ

For more Visual Meditations, see under Artists