Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 7:
Longford 5: Simon of Cyrene
helps Jesus carry the Cross

Station 5 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

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 last week on Ash Wednesday 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 portions 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 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, providing the foreground figures with greater relief. The bright gold leaf haloes establish the central image of Christ as well as his mother and disciples or saints.

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 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross

Station 5 illustrates the story of Simon of Cyrene, who is compelled by the Romans to carry Christ’s Cross, according to all three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 27: 32; Mark 15: 21-22; Luke 23-26).

The inscription in terracotta capital letters below the panel reads: ‘But he asked Jesus who is my neighbour’ (see Luke 10: 29).

The full verse in Saint Luke’s Gospel reads: But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’ The question is put by a lawyer who ‘stood up to test Jesus’ (verse 25). The answer Jesus provides is the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 30-37).

The neighbour is ‘the one who showed him mercy’ (verse 37).

Simon the Cyrene is neither a lawyer nor a Samaritan, but shows himself to be a neighbour to the man who is beaten up on his journey in Jerusalem.

Cyrene was a Greek settlement in the province of Cyrenaica in east Libya in north Africa. it had a Jewish community where 100,000 Judean Jews had been forced to settle during the reign of Ptolemy Soter (323-285 BC) and later it was an early centre of Christianity. The Cyrenian Jews had a synagogue in Jerusalem, where many went for annual feasts.

Cyrene was supposedly the destination of many Sicari or rebels who fled the Roman legions at the time of the Jewish Revolt.

Some commentators suggest Simon was chosen because he may have shown sympathy for Jesus. Others point out that the text says nothing, that Simon had no choice, and that there is no basis to consider carrying the cross an act of sympathetic generosity.

In this station, Simon has a golden halo used by Ken Thompson to indicate saints. Saint Mark identifies Simon as ‘the father of Alexander and Rufus’ (Mark 15: 21). Tradition says they became missionaries, and identifies Rufus with the Rufus named by Saint Paul (see Romans 16: 13). Some traditions also link Simon with the ‘men of Cyrene’ who preached the Gospel to the Greeks (see Acts 11: 20).

Simon is depicted holding the cross with two hands, balancing the weight of the cross which has been crushing Christ’s shoulders and back as he begins to climb some steps. The cross is inscribed with the acronym or Christogram IHS. In Latin, IHS means Jesus Hominum Salvator, Jesus, Saviour of Humanity, although it is also interpreted as In Hoc Signo, ‘In this sign you will conquer.’ In Greek, ΙΗΣ or IHC denotes the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, Ιησούς; the normal equivalent Christogram in Greek is the four-letter abbreviation, ΙϹ ΧϹ, representing the first and last letters of each word in the name Ιησούς Χριστός.

There is a contrast between Simon who is free to wear sandals on his feet, and Christ whose feet are bare. In this station, there are signs of spring and of hope in the two daffodils that are blooming on either side of Simon.

At Simon’s heel in Station V, and again in Station XIII, a mouse appears as a reminder of a tradition that as a carpenter Saint Joseph made mousetraps – the mousetrap can be seen in Station XIII. But there is a less benign legend in which a mouse appears as the devil in disguise.

The Cyrenian and Simon movements in Britain and Ireland take their names from Simon of Cyrene. The guiding principle is ‘sharing the burden’ in providing services to homeless and disadvantaged groups in society.

From Stabat Mater:

Jesus Christ, crucified, have mercy on us!
Is there one who would not weep
Whelmed in miseries so deep
Christ’s dear Mother to Behold?


Stranger. Neighbour. Friend.
Simon takes up your cross. In so doing takes up his own.
Another innocent man joins the procession to Calvary.


Suffering Servant, beaten beyond human semblance, through the Good Samaritan you taught us that everyone in need is our neighbour. Help us to follow in your way of love that we do not need be compelled to take up the cross of another when they cannot bear their burdens alone. 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, the soldiers are becoming impatient. This is taking longer than they wanted it to. They are afraid you will not make it to the hill where you will be crucified. As you grow weaker, they grab a man out of the crowd and make him help you carry your cross. He was just watching what was happening, but all of a sudden he is helping you carry your cross.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

Holy God,
Holy and mighty Holy immortal one,
Have mercy on us.

Tomorrow: Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Yesterday’s reflection

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