RALEIGH -- "Jesus Christ!" uttered in complete sincerity, would be a valid reaction from someone driving down Western Boulevard these days.

For there he is, 13 feet tall, an imposing wooden sculpture bearing a cross over his left shoulder as he impassively surveys the traffic and fast-food restaurants that lend this main drag its character.

Jesus sprouts from a tree trunk at 3917 Western Blvd., in front of the Triangle Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which owns the Vineyard Cafe next door, which is where Leah Pavel watches people watch Jesus.

Pavel, the cafe's general manager, said Jesus just showed up one day. "I was like, 'Oh, there's a big statue in front.' "



It wasn't long before everyone else started noticing.

Pavel would see drivers do double takes coming over the dip on Western Boulevard. "People pull over and stop and take pictures," she said. "People will come in and ask about him."

Jesus is a newcomer to this part of town. Until recently, he graced a lumberyard on Hillsborough Street near the fairgrounds. Apparently, the statue belongs to the owner of the lumberyard, a fellow named Jim, though no one at American Woodyards would yield more information than that. And apparently "Jim" attends Triangle Vineyard Christian Fellowship, which is why Jesus recently relocated.

Even Pavel doesn't know much about the statue. When she made a phone call to find out details, she was instructed to release only the following information: "The point of the statue in being carved was to give glory to the Lord and not to a person, so anyone involved will remain anonymous."

Pavel can appreciate that.

Vineyard Cafe's mission is to serve as a refuge from a hurried, impersonal world. The cafe is owned and run by Christians, and if someone comes in and requests some prayer along with their latte, Pavel will happily accommodate.

So Jesus, who's visible from the cafe's window, fits nicely into the Vineyard ambiance.

Chip Bugner, who recently lingered with his wife over a table, said he had a hunch that the Western Boulevard Jesus was the former Hillsborough Jesus. "It looked like the same one," he said.

Indeed, Jesus is a formidable fellow, rising as he does from the trunk of a white oak tree bigger by far than the wheel of a tractor-trailer. The Bible verse John 3:16: "For God so loved the world ...." is carved in his base.

Back on Hillsborough Street, his former neighbors miss him.

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