A Commitment to Truth and the Dignity of Every Person

In autumn of 2020, the Christopher Columbus murals of 1882-1884 by the Vatican-based painter Luigi Gregori in the University’s Main Building were covered with removable tapestries. This followed an intensive period of discussion, research and reflection across the Notre Dame and regional communities on how best to address a complex narrative that was considered celebratory in the late 19th century but that many found troubling by the early 21st century –- especially in its depiction of Native Americans.

Across the United States, innumerable projects related to Columbus were initiated in the 1880’s and 1890’s related to the 400th anniversary of his historic voyage. Gregori arrived at Notre Dame in 1874 through the invitation of Father Edward Sorin C.S.C., the University’s founder, to create works for the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.  After the devastating fire and rebuilding of the Main Building in 1879, the twelve scenes from the life of Columbus were painted directly on the plaster walls of the new structure. 

Removable for study, the tapestries evidence the decision to preserve the murals as an opportunity to appreciate the context in which they were created and to understand the University’s history, while respecting the dignity and experience of indigenous people, especially in the aftermath of Columbus’ arrival. Careful attention to details informed the design of the tapestries which draws inspiration from Christian and Marian imagery as well as the artwork of the Pokagon people native to this region and the plant life they find important.

The murals will be available at various times each year, including for the observance of Notre Dame’s Founder’s Day which will, among other dimensions of the University’s history, recognize in a public and tangible way the Native American communities integral to the University’s founding. A temporary exhibit about the murals will be installed on the second floor of the Main Building during the 2020-2021 academic year, to be replaced by a more permanent exhibition about the University’s early history.