Thursday, 8 March 2018

Following the Stations
of the Cross in Lent 23:
Millstreet 6: Veronica
wipes the face of Jesus

Station 6 at Saint John’s Well, Millstreet, Co Cork … Veronica wipes the face of Jesus (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I am continuing my Lenten journey each morning in Lent, when my meditations and reflections are 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 month 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 these two weeks, I am looking at the 14 Stations of the Cross at Saint John’s Well in a forested area on the slopes of Mushera, outside Millstreet in north Co Cork.

Saint John’s Well is 8 or 9 km south-east of Millstreet, on the slopes of Mushera, on the Aubane side of the mountain, opposite the entrance to Millstreet Country Park and a short distance from the Cork/Kerry border. The Stations date from 1984 and were designed by Liam Cosgrave and Sons, Sculptors, of Blackpool, Cork.

Millstreet 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

In the sixth station by Liam Cosgrave in Millstreet, Christ is holding his cross alone, and there is no sign of Simon who helped him to take up the cross in the previous station. Christ is holding the cross with one hand and has used the other to hand her veil back to Veronica, who has fallen to her knees.

This encounter is not recorded in any of the four Gospels, but this is International Women’s Day, and this morning I think of Veronica as a representative of every woman who shows care and compassion in the face of violence and oppression.

The first historical record of the Veil of Veronica being displayed in Rome only dates from 1199, when two pilgrims, Giraldus Cambrensis, the early historian of Ireland, and Gervase of Tilbury, make direct references to the existence of the Veil of Veronica.

A few years later, in 1207, the cloth was publicly paraded for the first time and displayed by Pope Innocent III. This procession, between Saint Peter’s and the Santo Spirito Hospital, became an annual event and the procession inspired Pope Boniface VIII to proclaim the first Jubilee in 1300. For the next 200 years, the ‘Veronica’ was regarded as one of the most precious Christian relics.

Some accounts say the veil was stolen or destroyed after the Sack of Rome in 1527, others say it survived, but it disappears almost entirely from public view after 1629, when the Pope prohibited making reproductions.

But that association of the image of Jesus with Santo Spirito brings back memories of another image of Christ I saw on the steps of Santo Spirito in Rome last year.

The hospital was built for paupers and abandoned children by Pope Innocent III, who began this procession. Two years ago [March 2016], the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz donated a bronze statue on the steps of the hospital showing ‘Christ the Beggar’, sitting on the steps, with the words beside him: ‘Ha avuto fame e mi avete dato da mangiare, ho avuto sete e mi avete dato da bere. I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink’ (Matthew 25: 35).

The bowl and cup in front of ‘Christ the Beggar’ could be a chalice and paten. True Communion with Christ is giving food and drink to those who hunger and thirst.

A second statue at Santo Spirito shows Christ as an impoverished patient lying on a makeshift bed on the steps of the hospital. The words beneath him read: ‘Ero malato e mi avete visitato. I was ill and you visited me’ (Matthew 25: 36).

The story of the Veil of Veronica challenges us to ask: ‘Where do I see the face of Christ.’

‘Christ the Beggar’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital in Rome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

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.

‘I was ill and you visited me’ … a sculpture by Timothy Schmalz on the steps of Santo Spirito Hospital near the Vatican (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Tomorrow: Station 7: Jesus falls the second time.

Yesterday’s reflection

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