14 March 2014

Art for Lent (10): ‘Stations of the Cross,’
Firhouse (1991-1992), by Imogen Stuart

Three stations from Imogen Stuart’s Stations of the Cross in Firhouse: 2, Jesus takes up the Cross; 5, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross; and 7, Jesus falls the second time

Patrick Comerford

Last Sunday afternoon, during my visits to my old school Gormanston and my walks along the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, I took time to reflect on the carved, outdoor Stations of the Cross in the Franciscan community graveyard in Gormanston, and the stark, modern Stations of the Cross designed by Caroline Bond in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Laytown.

Few Anglican churches have Stations of the Cross, although I am familiar with those in Saint John’s Church, Sandymount, Co Dublin, and the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield.

It strikes me that meditating on the Stations of the Cross is appropriate exercise in Lent, particularly on Fridays in Lent.

On Sunday afternoon, I was also reminded of the beauty of the very modern Stations of the Cross in the Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, in Firhouse, Co Dublin, carved in teak by Imogen Stuart.

I have chosen three of these stations as my work of Art for Lent this morning [14 March 2014].

Imogen Stuart’s work can be seen many Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland churches throughout Ireland. She works in wood, stone, bronze, steel, clay, plaster and terracotta, and her influences range from German expressionism to early Irish Christian art, including stone-carving and metalwork.

Imogen Stuart was born in Berlin in 1927, where her father was an art critic and the editor of a cultural journal. She was a 12-year-old shopping in an elegant Berlin department store when World War II broke out. She was evacuated with her mother and sister , first to Bavaria and later to Vienna, but her father, who was half-Jewish, had to go underground to avoid the Nazis.

After World War II she was became a pupil of Otto Hitzberger, an acclaimed sculptor and former professor of the National College of Fine Art in Berlin. She spent five years working with him and developing the skills that enabled her to work in a variety of media – wood, bronze, stone, stained glass, etching and terracotta.

In 1948, she met Ian Stuart, who had come to Germany to study sculpture. His father was the novelist Francis Stuart, and his mother Iseult was the daughter of Maud Gonne.

In 1948, she held one of her first exhibitions in the Royal Hibernian Academy in Dublin.

Imogen and Ian married in 1951 and moved to Ireland that year, and at first they lived in in Laragh, Co Wicklow, where they had no electricity or running water.

Her sculptures have been seen in churches and public places throughout Ireland, including Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, Lough Derg, Co Donegal, and the church at Dublin Airport.

She got on well with Irish priests but had a notable and oft-recalled confrontation with Bishop Michael Browne of Galway over the bronze doors she created for the new cathedral.

Her works include: the metal Main Doors and Reliefs, Galway Cathedral (1963-1964); the granite grave of President Erskine Childers (Derralossary, Co Wicklow, 1979); Pope John Paul II in bronze outside the library in NUI Maynooth (1986), the Arch of Peace, Market Square, Cavan (1989); the limestone Fountain Wall with 18 reliefs) in Knock, Co Mayo (1991); Madonna in bronze, in the Lady Chapel, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1991); and the granite Standing Stone in the Church of Ireland College of Education, Rathmines (2001).

Her work is in the National Self-Portrait Collection in Limerick, and she has exhibited at the Salzburg Biennale (1962); the Hugh Lane Municipal Gallery, Dublin (1987); and the Solomon Gallery, Dublin (1996, 1997, 2002). She has received the Oireachtas art exhibition award (1972) and the ESB Keating McLoughlin award at the RHA annual exhibition (1999), among others.

She was elected Professor of Sculpture at the RHA in 2000, and a retrospective exhibition of her work was held at the RHA in 2002. She has received honorary degrees from Trinity College Dublin (2002), UCD (2004) and the NUI Maynooth (2005).

Imogen and Ian separated in 1970, and she suffered further personal tragedy when her daughter Siobhán died as a result of a car accident in 1988. Her daughter Aisling runs a family guest house at Rosnaree near Slane, Co Meath, where she runs a Summer school for artists.

In an interview with RTÉ in 2012, she described her decision to move from being a Lutheran to being a Roman Catholic. But she now thinks that artists have their own way at looking at God and at religion.

Her teak Stations of the Cross in Firhouse date from 1991-1992. In these Stations, she produces part images that tell the story of the way of the cross by selecting significant details, such as a hand – nailed and roped – representing Christ nailed to the cross, or two hands in a bowl for Pilate washing his hands.

She said later: “My idea is to give the impression that I was in possession of the accrual cross on which Our Lord was crucified and that I cut and carved these fourteen stations from it. At the beginning, I help the viewer to recognize each station, but after the third they have to walk them alone, without help. My purpose is to help the praying person to look at the stations in a fresh light and mediate on the mysteries present.”

This morning, I have chosen two of those stations, Station 2, Jesus takes up the Cross, Station 5, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross, and Station 7, Jesus falls the second time.

2, Jesus takes up the Cross

The hands of Christ grasp the cross as he takes upon himself my sins and the sins of all the world.

Lord it is for love of me that you take up the cross and place it upon your bruised and bleeding shoulder.

For the times I have burdened others with my selfishness,
Lord have mercy.

Response: We adore you, O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

5, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross

The strong hand of Simon takes some of the burden of the cross and eases the weight on the shoulders of Jesus.

Lord, you are the creator of heaven and earth, yet you need the help of my hands to carry out your work of mercy in this world.

For the times I have done nothing to ease the burden of others,
Lord have mercy.

Response: We adore you, O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

7, Jesus falls the second time

Once again, Jesus loses his footing and falls full length upon the hard unyielding street. Lord, you know that my heart is as hard and unyielding as the street on which you fall. Help me to weep for your sufferings.

For the times I have hardened my heart against your grace,
Lord have mercy.

Response: We adore you, O Christ and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

The Church of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Firhouse is open on Sundays until about 1p.m. and on weekdays for a short time after 10 am Mass.

The Stations of the Cross by Caroline Bond in the Church of the Sacred Heart, Laytown, Co Meath (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Tomorrow: Art for Lent (11): ‘Balaclava’ (1876), by Lady Elizabeth Butler.

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