16 February 2018
Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 3:
Longford 1, Jesus is
condemned to death
Each morning in Lent, as part of my meditations and reflections for Lent this year, I am being guided by the Stations of the Cross from three locations.
The idea for this series of morning Lenten meditations came from reading about Peter Walker’s new exhibition, ‘Imagining the Crucifixion,’ inspired by the Stations of the Cross, which opened in Lichfield Cathedral the day before yesterday, Ash Wednesday [14 February 2018], and continues throughout Lent.
Throughout Lent, my meditations each morning are inspired by three sets of Stations of the Cross that I have found either inspiring or unusual. They are the stations in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, at Saint John’s Well on a mountainside near Millstreet, Co Cork, and in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.
In my meditations, I am drawing on a portion of the Stabat Mater, the 12th century hymn of the Crucifixion (‘At the cross her station keeping’) attributed to the Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi. Some prayers are traditional, some are from the Book of Common Prayer, and other meditations and prayers are by Canon Frank Logue and the Revd Victoria Logue of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia.
For the next two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford, sculpted by Ken Thompson in Bath stone with chisel and mallet, with lettering inspired by the work of Eric Gill and haloes picked out in gold leaf.
He uses blue to give a background dimension that works almost like a shadow in itself, impelling the foreground figures into greater relief. The 24-carat gold leaf haloes establish not only the central image of Christ and also those of his mother or disciples.
Rather than using the traditional title for each station, the text at the foot of each panel is allusive. He has chosen two lines of scripture for each panel, cut them in lettering inspired by Eric Gill, and highlighted them in terracotta.
Station 1, Jesus is condemned to death
In this station, Christ is central figure, standing by a pillar in Pilate’s Court – perhaps this is the pillar at which he has been scourged, but the arches on each side give it a shape that reminds us that we are on the way to the Cross. Christ is holding a reed or rod in his hand, has a simple robe over his shoulders and has a crown of thorns on his head, all part of the ritual in which he was mocked and scorned after being brought before Pilate (Matthew 27; 28-30; Mark 16: 17; John 19: 2; cf Luke 23: 11).
Behind him, three figures are pushing him forward to face trial. Perhaps they stand in contrast to the three Wise Men who visited Christ at his birth.
Pilate is seated, washing his hands (see Matthew 27: 24) in a bowl held up by servile, kneeling slave. Pilate’s wife looks over his shoulder, as if to warn him not to be involved in this process, but by holding a towel over arm she indicates that she too is party to what is happening, however reluctant she may be (see Matthew 27: 19).
On the pavement below, are the initials INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum), ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews,’ the inscription that Pilate had written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek and put on the Cross (John 19: 19).
Beside this Latin acronym, Thompson has carved a fish: the Greek acronym ΙΧΘΥΣ (ιχθυσ (ichthus) means fish and was the fish was used by early, persecuted Christians to symbolise the phrase Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour).
The inscription in terracotta capital letters below the panel reads: ‘Truth Pilate Said To Jesus What is Truth’ – Pilate asked him, ‘What is truth?’ (John 18: 38).
From Stabat Mater:
Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
At the cross her station keeping,
Stood the mournful Mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Betrayed. Deserted. Alone. Jesus stands before an unjust judge. Dry palm branches crackle under the feet of the crowd. Soldiers rain down punches and crown him with thorns. Jesus is condemned to die.
Lamb of God, who came to take away the sins of the world, you knew no sin and yet were sentenced to death. Assist me by your mercy to see the beam in my own eye and to remove it before I look to the speck in the eyes of others. This we pray in the name of Jesus, our crucified Lord, the King of Glory, the King of Peace. Amen.
We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you.
Because by your holy cross You have redeemed the world.
Jesus, you stand all alone before Pilate. Nobody speaks up for you. Nobody helps defend you. You devoted your entire life to helping others, listening to the smallest ones, caring for those who were ignored by others. They do not seem to remember that as they prepare to put you to death.
My Jesus, often have I signed the death warrant by my sins; save me by your death from that eternal death which I have so often deserved.
A prayer before walking to the next station:
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.
Tomorrow: Station 2: Jesus accepts his Cross.
The Ichthus symbol remains discreetly unnoticed in the pebble mosaic of a courtyard in the former Church of the Annunciation in Kaş in southern Turkey … the church has been converted into a mosque (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)