What better day than Easter to celebrate one of Alabama’s most unusual landmarks, known as the Eggbeater Jesus? The mosaic (not a painting) on Huntsville’s First Baptist Church is a well-known landmark. It’s history is excerpted below from my book “Forgotten Tales of Alabama,” but currently, the mosaic is in bad shape. Because church officials discovered it cannot be repaired, they are planning to replace the mosaic but thankfully with the same design.
Here’s the excerpt (see a synopsis of Forgotten Tales of Alabama here and order a signed copy at email@example.com):
While it may seem disrespectful to some to refer to the famous mosaic adorning the outer wall of Huntsville’s First Baptist Church as “the Eggbeater Jesus,” it is said by local residents with affection. The nickname refers to the artist’s rendering of Jesus with a seeming spinning of robes, which the church website calls an “obvious centrifugal motion.”
Huntsville – home to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center and NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center – is called the Rocket City and the massive artwork was created to represent a scripture referring to “a cosmic Christ.”
The mosaic, which has an “Age of Aquarius” appearance that many find ultra-contemporary for a Southern church, has been a landmark in Huntsville since 1973 and also has the distinction of being one of the largest mosaics in the United States. It cost $115,000 to complete.
About 14 million pieces of Italian tile no larger than a thumbnail were needed to create the artwork. After the design was laid out by artist Gordon Smith of Smith Stained Glass Studios in Fort Worth, Texas, each tile was painstakingly cut and hand painted by artisans at the studio. Finally, the tiles were brought to Huntsville and applied by the artist with his fingers or tweezers.
The Biblical significance of the number seven is portrayed repeatedly in the mosaic so perhaps it is not coincidence that the artwork would take seven years to complete. It was first conceived in 1966, completed in 1973 and formally dedicated on January 13, 1974.
The seven arched bays of the roofline that provide cover for the artwork symbolize the seven trumpets of God heralding the coming of Christ in the book of Revelation. Seven outer doorways on the front of the sanctuary are an invitation to people to enter. In addition, Jesus holds seven stars in His right hand and the seven churches are symbolized by balls of light with Christ at their center, representing his perfection.
The figure of Christ is 43 feet high with a head more than 5 feet high. Each of Jesus’ eyes is 8 inches in diameter.
According to the church website at www.fbchsv.org, “The facade has been designed not only to capture the attention of the eye, but to issue a strong invitation to come inside the church.” Inside the sanctuary, stained glass windows created by of Smith Stained Glass Studios feature the same cosmic design.
In addition, a 48-bell carillon tower that stands beside the church building. The 229-foot steeple created by Campbellsville Industries Inc. is the largest prefabricated steeple in the world and was recognized in 1990 by the Guinness Book of World Records. It is sometimes called “the God Rocket.”
In January 2010, the church caught attention of a different kind when a tornado struck in the Five Points district of Huntsville. No one was injured but many homes were damaged. As the unusual white twister passed behind the spinning mosaic, Ryan Crim captured the image on film. The photo inspires so much awe that many believe it to be a fake but several news sources, including the Huntsville Times, report the image to be real. You can see it here.
First Baptist Church is located at 600 Governors Drive and is visible from South Memorial Parkway.