A German expert is defending a controversial crucifix in a Mönchengladbach church with a headless lamb carcass for the body of Christ.

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The artwork has stirred debate since at least early November, when the Diocese of Aachen, where the church is located, received complaints from the public.

The piece by artist Axel Vater shows an animal carcass fixed to a cross representing a blood-soaked Lamb of God.

Though the work isn’t hung in the body of the church and isn’t visible during services – insteading adorning a room off the nave – it has attracted particularly harsh criticisms from Catholics who see it as blasphemy and an “atrocity” and have petitioned to have it removed.

But the diocese defended the piece as a “disturbance of fixed perceptions” and an “intervention into habitual perceptions in the faith debate”.

“The depiction of a crucified God is a provocation for us humans, whose meaning we always have to rediscover”, said a diocesan spokesman.

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In an interview with Domradio, a service of the Cologne archdiocese, director of the archdiocesan art museum Dr Stefan Kraus also dismissed the controversy and said he finds the work “very exciting”.

“That there is a controversy is first a good sign. Because it shows that the cross is really taken seriously as a subject worthy of discussion and not just as a decoration”, Kraus explained.

“The cross itself is an offensive sign”, the expert recalled, explaining his point of view on the polemical crucifix.

“I think we have to make that clear. That is the peculiarity of our religion.

“The crucifix has a very ambivalent effect, because it first of all shows a tortured person who died on the cross and at the same time is a sign of hope for us Christians”.

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Praising the “expressiveness” of the Mönchengladbach crucifix and its artist for injecting “indecency” and freshness once again into a traditional depiction of Christ’s passion, Kraus said in terms of freedom of expression art must be “allowed to do everything”.

The freedom to shock and to disturb “is an essential feature of art that we have to live with, that we have to endure”, the Cologne archdiocesan expert explained.

“It is also part of our Christian understanding of this concept of beauty in art that art really shows us vulnerability and partly shows a brutality that we can not dismiss with a simple concept of beauty in a decorative sense”, Kraus continued.

The expert said he was certain the intention of neither the artist nor the pastor of the Mönchengladbach church was in the first place to provoke.

But he welcomed that provocation as a sign that the work had succeeded in going beyond expectations and limits, a key function of art as a reflection of the realities of human life.

A commission of the Diocese of Aachen is expected to decide on the future of the artwork – whether it stays on the wall of the church or is taken down – sometime in the New Year.

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