Thursday, 3 March 2016

Lenten reflections on the Stations
of the Cross in Lichfield Cathedral

Station X, Jesus is stripped of his garments … one of the Stations of the Cross in the Exhibition during Lent in Lichfield Cathedral; below is a hassock that includes the embroidered name of Comberford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

As a light snow fell on Lichfield late yesterday morning [2 March 2016], the news spread throughout the Diocese of Lichfield on Saint Chad’s Day that Bishop Michael Ipgrave of Woolwich has been appointed the new Bishop of Lichfield, in succession to Bishop Jonathan Gledhill who retired last September, having announced his retirement last year, also on Saint Chad’s Day.

I was in Lichfield Cathedral as the news broke yesterday, some hours before the new bishop arrived in his new cathedral. I was in the cathedral a few times this week, taking some time to pray, think and reflect in the middle of Lent during these few days that I have spent back in Lichfield.

During Lent, Holy Week and Easter each year, Lichfield Cathedral exhibits a set of images depicting Christ’s journey to the Cross from the place of his condemnation before Pontius Pilate to the place of his execution and burial.

The word ‘station’ means a stopping place or place to stand still. For centuries, many Christians, unable to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, instead used ‘Stations of the Cross during Lent.

Stations of the Cross can be found in many Anglican churches: I was interested in the Stations of the Cross I saw this week in Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, Dublin, where I was presiding at the Eucharist and preaching on Sunday morning [28 February 2016], and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, which I visit on each return visit to Lichfield.

Station XII … Jesus dies on the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

This year, Lichfield Cathedral has commissioned a special set of photo montages that capture scenes in contemporary Jerusalem on the Via Dolorosa (the Way of Sorrows), alongside pictures of the crowd and bystanders, the faces of people.

These photo montages are combined with traditional images of Christ’s suffering and Crucifixion, selected from images in the windows of Lichfield Cathedral, including the Herkenrode Glass in the Lady Chapel.

The project was undertaken by David Healey, part of the Lichfield Cathedral Photographers, who photographed the two recent from Lichfield Cathedral to Israel/Palestine in 2013 and in 2015, and other photographs are by Barley Studios, John Yarnall, Christ Ruston and Alex Bishay. They include Franciscan and other pilgrims’ re-enactments, and are supplemented by depictions of Biblical events and Christian symbols from churches in both Palestine and from Cathedral.

In Jerusalem today, buildings block the route along which Christ would have carried his Cross in the first century. Today, Visitors to Jerusalem walk along the Via Dolorosa or the Way of Sorrows.

Station XIII … Jesus is taken down from the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Many of the stations refer to events in the Gospel accounts of the Passion of Christ, others are part of devotional tradition. Stations X to XIV are in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which stands on the place where it is most likely that the Crucifixion, burial and Resurrection of Christ took place.

Station XV adds to the traditional 14 Stations of the Cross, so that this exhibition ends with the joys and hopes of Easter: ‘The Resurrection’.

The design of the display and the layout is the work of James Burnham and Alex MacDonald of King Edward VI School Aston.

Station XIV … Jesus is laid in the tomb (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

These Stations of the Cross have been on exhibition in Lichfield Cathedral since 8 February 2016, and the exhibition continues until 11 April 2016.

The exhibition is accompanied by a number of ‘prayer stations’ throughout the cathedral. One is a ‘Prayer for the Victims of the Syrian Conflict’:

We pray for those damaged
by the fighting in Syria.
To the wounded and injured:
Come Lord Jesus.
To the terrified and shocked:
Come Lord Jesus.
To the hungry and homeless, refugee and exile:
Come Lord Jesus.
To those bringing humanitarian aid:
Give protection Lord Jesus.
To those administering medical assistance:
Give protection Lord Jesus.
To those offering counsel and care:
Give protection Lord Jesus.
For all making the sacrifice of love:
Give the strength of your Spirit,
and the joy of your comfort.
In the hope of Christ we pray. Amen.


A prayer for the refugee crisis:

Heavenly Father,
you are the source of all goodness,
generosity and love.
We thank you
for the opening the hearts of many
to those who are fleeing for their lives.

Help us now to open our arms in welcome
and reach out our hands in support.
That the desperate may find new hope,
and lives torn apart be restored.
We ask this in the name of
Jesus Christ Your Son, Our Lord,
who fled persecution at His birth
and at His last triumphed over death.
Amen.


From the Stations of the Cross in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Meanwhile, the Lent Lecture series in the College Hall at Lichfield Cathedral continues each Thursday in Lent, as well as the programme of Saturday Evening Prayer.

This evening’s lecture [3 March 2016] at 7.30 p.m., which had a brief version earlier at 1.30 p.m., is on the topic ‘Encountering Jerusalem – the pool of Siloam, the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane: Rejection, Pilgrimage, Tears.’ Next Thursday [10 March 2016], the theme is: ‘Jerusalem – Temple, Passover: Via Dolorosa, Tomb: Conflict, Reconciliation, Eucharist.’

There will be a devotional service of the Stations of the Cross in Lichfield Cathedral on Palm Sunday [20 March 2016] at 6 p.m.

With the new Bishop of Lichfield, Bishop Michael Ipgrave (right), and Bishop Trevor Williams (left), then Bishop of Limerick, at an interfaith conference in Dublin in September 2011

A journey through Lent 2016
with Samuel Johnson (23)

‘There mark what Ills the Scholar’s Life assail, / Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron, and the Jail’ … the former prison cells in the Guildhall in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on words by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

I have been in Lichfield these days, walking the same streets and paths and lanes that Johnson knew as a child growing up in this city. This morning [3 March 2016], I am continuing to read his poem, ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes,’ which both Walter Scott and TS Eliot considered to be Johnson’s greatest poem.

Johnson wrote ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ in 1749 while he was completing A Dictionary of the English Language, and it was the first published work to include his name on the title page.

In this poem, Johnson draws on his own experiences when, in Lines 151-160, he describes the life of the scholar and the difficulties facing the writer who depends on the generosity of a wealthy patron:

Should Beauty blunt on fops her fatal dart,
Nor claim the triumph of a letter’d heart;
Should no Disease thy torpid veins invade,
Nor Melancholy’s phantoms haunt thy Shade;
Yet hope not Life from Grief or Danger free,
Nor think the doom of Man revrs’d for thee:
Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes,
And pause awhile from Letters, to be wise;
There mark what ills the Scholar’s life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron and the Jayl.


In the original version of the poem, lines 159-160 read:

There mark what ill the Scholar’s life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Garret and the Jayl.


Johnson retains the word “garret” in the first published edition of the poem. However, after the failure of Lord Chesterfield to provide financial support for his Dictionary in 1755, Johnson included a mordant definition of “patron” in his Dictionary:

Patron: Commonly a wretch who supports with insolence, and is paid with flattery.”

At the same time, he revised line 160 in this poem to reflect his disillusionment with Chesterfield, so that these two lines would read:

There mark what Ills the Scholar’s Life assail,
Toil, Envy, Want, the Patron, and the Jail.


TS Eliot quoted these and other lines from ‘The Vanity of Human Wishes’ in 1930 in an Introductory Essay, and said: “The precision of such verse gives, I think, an immense satisfaction to the reader; he has said what he wanted to say, with that urbanity which contemporary verse would do well to study; and the satisfaction I get from such lines is what I call the minimal quality of poetry.”

Yesterday’s reflection.

Continued tomorrow.