21 February 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 8:
Longford 6: Veronica
wipes the face of Jesus

Station 6 in Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford … Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (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 a week ago [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 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 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

Station 6 illustrates a story that is not told in any of the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s journey to Calvary, although there are some parallels with the story of the woman who was healed miraculously by touching the hem Christ’s garment (Luke 8: 43-48).

In this station in Longford, Veronica is on her knees, offering her veil with both her hands. Christ stretches out his left hand, while Simon of Cyrene continues to prop up the Cross. All three are crowned with haloes.

Once again, a daffodil has come to full bloom, seen on the ground between Veronica and Christ, a sing of hope in Spring-time. In William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale (Act 4, Scene 3), Perdita speaks of

... ... Daffodils,
That come before the swallow dares, and take
The winds of March with beauty ...

Above, in this Station an owl observes the scene, hovering above the head of Saint Veronica as an omen of death.

The inscription in terracotta capital letters below the panel reads: ‘When Can I Enter & See the Face of God.’ This seems to be a reference to Psalm 42: ‘My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?’ (Psalm Luke 42: 2).

According to tradition, Veronica is moved with sympathy when she sees Christ carrying his cross and gives him her veil to wipe his forehead. When he hands back the veil, it is marked with the image of his face.

In the Middle Ages, there was a mistaken idea that the name Veronica was derived from the Latin vera (true) and Greek eikon (image). But, in fact, Veronica is a Latin transliteration of the Greek name Berenice (Βερενίκη). This, in turn, was the Macedonian form of the Athenian Φερενίκη (Phereníkē) or Φερονίκη (Pheroníkē), meaning ‘she who brings victory.’ It became popular because of its use by the Ptolemies, the Seleucids and other dynasties in the east Mediterranean.

The popular mediaeval stories that developed in the West around the figure of Veronica have their counterpart in the East in the legends about King Abgar of Edessa and the Mandylion, also known as ‘The Icon not made by Hands’.

A copy of ‘The Icon not made by Hands’ or the ‘Mandylion’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

From Stabat Mater:

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!
Can the human heart refrain
From partaking in her pain,
In that Mother’s pain untold?


Cloth. Sweat. Blood. Icon.
Legend tells of a woman wiping Jesus’ face and
gaining an image of Christ painted in his blood on her cloth.
In relieving the suffering of others we, too, find the face of Jesus.


Immanuel, God with us, you came as the image of God made flesh and we scorned you. May we seek not to do great things in your name, but to honour you with small acts of mercy done with great love. 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, suddenly a woman comes out of the crowd. Her name is Veronica. You can see how she cares for you as she takes a cloth and begins to wipe the blood and sweat from your face. She cannot do much, but she offers what little help she can.

A prayer before walking to the next station:

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

Tomorrow: Station 7: Jesus falls for the second time.

Yesterday’s reflection

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