TOLLESON — The Arizona artist who painted an exterior mural of the Last Supper at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Tolleson roughly 20 years ago returned during the final days of Lent and the first days of the Easter season to offer touch ups. The heat and sun faded the original work, which students in the parish’s first reconciliation class also helped paint.
David Murrieta, a high school art and ceramics teacher who grew up at the parish, offered to do the restoration. It stretches the width of the church hall and greets passersby on their way to and from the surrounding neighborhood and bordering school.
Maria Lopez, director of faith formation, said art serves to bring its beholder closer to a religious experience and has seen the mural serve as such a bridge. Catechists bring their classes out to use it as an instructional tool and people have left candles, flowers and notes at Jesus’ feet.
“One man put his hands in Jesus’ hands and just prayed for the longest time. Then he put his hands and head in front of His feet,” Lopez said. “He turned around to leave, then something in him made him run back and kiss it.”
Murrieta, himself, hopes to one day have a similar personal encounter with Leonardo da Vinci’s original painting at Santa Maria delle Grazie monastery in Milan, Italy. He said it’s about half the size of the one he is restoring though stretching only 29 feet long and 15 feet high.
“I really enjoy doing this to bring the thought of Jesus and the Last Supper as people drive by on such busy days,” Murrieta told The Catholic Sun.
Despite an area susceptible to vandalism, Murrieta said the mural has never been affected.
So far, Murrieta has applied a fresh coat of latex paint to every main figure present at the Last Supper. He added the details — every wrinkle — for Jesus’ garments and had a few friends help him with the bread and chalices April 15.
“I wanted to get a lot of that done so people could see Jesus first,” Murrieta said, later calling his efforts part of the new evangelization.
He said it’s the details that will take the longest and will make the mural pop. Those details will feature slight variations this time around. The mountain range visible through the Upper Room window now mirrors the Estrella Mountains the parish hall backs up against. Murrieta plans to make the chalices more clay-like this time too. Joseph Yanez, a fellow Marine and parishioner, changed the background color too.
Murrieta looks forward to painting the faces of each disciple.
“A lot of them will be said and emotional,” he said, recalling the events of the Last Supper.
This isn’t Murrieta’s first mural. He also painted an image of the sacred heart at the Phoenix parish that bears its name and its mural depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe.
He hopes to branch out by challenging himself to depict saints for other local parishes or schools. Murrieta would love to find a fitting spot for a mural of St. Michael the archangel stabbing the devil.