24 March 2024

Introducing the Stations
of the Cross at the start
of Holy Week 2024 in
St Alban’s Church, Holborn

‘Jesus dies on the cross’ … Station 12 in the Stations of the Cross by Hans Feibusch in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Holy Week began today and at the Palm Sunday liturgy in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, this morning, I was involved as the narrator in the reading of the Passion Narrative.

In previous years, my reflections in Lent, in Passiontide or in Holy Week, my reflections have looked at the Stations of the Cross in a variety of locations including: Saint Mel’s Cathedral, Longford (2018); Saint John’s Well, Millstreet, Co Cork (2018); the chapel in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (2018); Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Co Limerick (2019); Gormanston College, Co Meath (2019); Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth (2019); the Church of the Annunciation, Clonard, Wexford (2022); Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (2022); Saint Dunstan and All Saints’ Church, Stepney (2023); and Saint Frances de Sales Church, Wolverton (2023).

This afternoon, on Palm Sunday, as we enter Holy Week and prepare for Good Friday and Easter Day, I am looking at the Stations of the Cross in Saint Alban’s Church, in Holborn, London.

I was in Saint Alban’s Church last month for the annual ‘Founder’s Day’ or Bray Day, organised by SPCK (Society for the Promoting Christian Knowledge) and USPG (United Society Propagation of the Gospel), both founded by Thomas Bray.

Saint Alban’s is a well-known but well-hidden church between the City of London and the West End. A beautiful Victorian church, it was rebuilt after World War II, and has a striking mural on the east wall and Stations of the Cross by the German-Jewish painter and sculptor Hans Feibusch (1898-1998).

Hans Feibusch arrived in England in 1933 as a refugee from Nazi Germany. After World War II, he became known for his church murals and he was baptised and joined the Church of England in 1963. He worshipped at Saint Alban’s, where the east wall mural is his largest.

Hans Feibusch also painted the 14 Stations of the Cross in Saint Alban’s, where they were marouflaged to the north and south walls of the church in 1969-1970. Feibusch is also the artist of the sculpture ‘Jesus being Raised from the Dead’ (1985) at the entrance to the church.

In the last years of his life, Hans Feibusch returned to the Judaism of his youth and he was buried with Jewish rites at Golders Green Jewish Cemetery in 1998.

Station 1, Jesus is condemned to death

‘Jesus is condemned to death’ … Station 1 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Station I, Christ stands alone in Pilate’s Court – perhaps by the pillar at which he has been scourged. In his hand he holds a reed or rod, a simple robe hangs on his shoulders has a crown of thorns is on his head. All are 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).

Station 2, Jesus accepts his Cross

‘Jesus accepts his Cross’ … Station 2 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station II, Christ takes the cross on his shoulders. Saint John’s Gospel alone says that Christ carried the cross by himself (John 19: 17); the other three Gospels say Simon of Cyrene was compelled to carry the cross behind him.

Station 3: Jesus falls for the first time

‘Jesus falls for the first time’ … Station 3 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station III, Christ falls beneath the weight of his Cross. This is one of the traditional Stations of the Cross that depict Passion scenes that are not recalled in any of the Gospel accounts.

Station 4: Jesus meets his mother Mary

‘Jesus meets his mother Mary’ … Station 4 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station IV, Christ meets his Mother Mary. Perhaps he drops his Cross forgetfully as he rushes towards her and she rushes towards him. She stretches out both hands as if she is about to embrace him; he has one arm around her neck, his right hand clutching her left shoulder. But his other arm is being pulled back by the arm of another, a soldier, an official, someone who has also been brutalised.

Station 5: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross

‘Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus carry the Cross’ … Station 5 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

At Station V, we meet Simon of Cyrene, who is compelled to carry Christ’s Cross, according to all three Synoptic Gospels (see Matthew 27: 32; Mark 15: 21-22; Luke 23-26).

Station 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus

‘Veronica wipes the face of Jesus’ … Station 6 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station VI tells a story not told in any of the four Gospels, 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 popular depictions of this station, Veronica is often seen on her knees, offering her veil with both hands. Christ stretches out to receive the veil, while Simon of Cyrene continues to prop up the Cross. 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.

Station 7: Jesus falls for the second time

‘Jesus falls for the second time’ … Station 7 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station VII also illustrates a story that is not told any of the four Gospel accounts of Christ’s journey to Calvary, although the popular numbering of three falls may have a Trinitarian intention. In this station, Christ falls to his knees beneath the weight of his cross. As children, we used to say: ‘Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names shall never hurt me.’ Do those who force Christ to carry his cross beat him as he falls with sticks and stones? Do they berate him verbally and call him names?

Station 8: Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem

‘Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem’ … Station 8 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Luke alone among the Gospel writers tells the story recalled in Station VIII, where Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem:

A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, “Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.” Then they will begin to say to the mountains, “Fall on us”; and to the hills, “Cover us.” For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?’ (Luke 23: 26-35).

The ‘Daughters of Jerusalem’ are mentioned several times in the Song of Solomon (see 1: 5, 2: 7, 3: 10-11, 5: 8, 5: 16). For example: ‘O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love’ (Song of Solomon 5: 8).

Station 9: Jesus falls a third time

‘Jesus falls a third time’ … Station 9 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station IX is another of the traditional stations that does not recall an event in any of the passion narratives in the four Gospels. The third fall, like the other two falls, is not mentioned in the Gospel accounts of the Passion, but the incident is part of traditional Christian piety and Station IX in the Stations of the Cross.

Station 10: Jesus is stripped of his clothes

‘Jesus is stripped of his clothes’ … Station 10 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Station X depicts a scene described in all four Gospels:

And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him (Matthew 27: 35-36).

And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take. (Mark 15: 24).

And they cast lots to divide his clothing (Luke 23: 34).

When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,
‘They divided my clothes among themselves,
and for my clothing they cast lots’ (John 19: 23-24).

Station 11: Jesus is nailed to the cross

‘Jesus is nailed to the cross’ … Station 11 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Station XI, Christ is nailed to the cross. When I search for ‘Nails’ on Google, trying any of the towns I have lived in, I get endless lists of nail bars offering glamorous treatments that I am never going to contemplate or need. But there is nothing glamorous about the nails and hands in Station XI in the Stations of the Cross.

Two thieves will also be nailed to two more crosses on the hilltop. One will ask for mercy and forgiveness and he will receive the promise he seeks from Christ.

In a Byzantine-style crucifix by Laurence King (1907-1981) in the crypt of the Church of Saint Mary le Bow on Cheapside in London, the Cross is placed between the words: ‘Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the Sins of the World.’

Station 12: Jesus dies on the cross

‘Jesus dies on the cross’ … Station 12 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

In Station XII, the Crucified Christ dies between the two thieves on either side. At the top of the Cross are the words written by Pilate, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.’ In Saint Luke’s Gospel alone, the Penitent Thief cries out: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom’ (Luke 23: 42).

When Christ dies on the Cross in Station XII, the group at the foot of the Cross are mainly women. The Gospel writers say many women were there (Matthew 27: 55; Luke 23: 55), and they name his mother Mary (John 19: 25-27), her sister Mary, the wife of Clopas (John 19: 25), Mary Magdalene (Matthew 27: 56; Mark 15: 40, 47; John 19: 25), Mary the mother of James and Joseph (Matthew 27: 56; Mark 15: 40, 47), Mary the mother of the sons of Zebedee (Matthew 27: 56), and Salome (Mark 15: 40).

The only man at the Cross on Good Friday, apart from those who condemned Christ and the two thieves, is Saint John the Beloved Disciple (John 19: 26).

Station 13: Jesus is taken down from the cross

‘Jesus is taken down from the cross’ … Station 13 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Sometimes, Station XIII is described as ‘The Body of Jesus Is Placed in the Arms of his Mother.’ In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke say Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus, took the body, and wrapped it a clean linen cloth (Matthew 27: 28; Mark 15: 43, 46; Luke 23: 50-53); Saint John’s Gospel adds that Nicodemus helped Joseph with the preparation of the body for burial.

None of the Gospels says that the Virgin Mary held the body of her son when he was taken down from the Cross and before he was buried. But this has become a popular image in Passion scenes, from Michelangelo’s Pieta to the statues that dominate Good Friday processions today in Italy, Spain and Portugal.

The Mother who once cradled the Infant Child on her lap, now holds her dead son on her lap. The hands once raised in adoration and in love, are now raised in horror and in anguish. Had she known that this was the end, would she have said yes to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation when he greeted her with those words, ‘Ave Maria, Hail Mary’?

Does she remember now how she once cradled the Christ Child on her lap? Are the grave clothes he is to be wrapped in as he is laid in the grave a reminder to her of the swaddling clothes she wrapped him in as she laid him down to sleep in his crib in Bethlehem?

Station 14: Jesus is placed in the tomb

‘Jesus is placed in the tomb’ … Station 14 in Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

When Christ is laid in the tomb at Station XIV, the Virgin Mary, hands crossed as if she is about to approach the Altar at the Eucharist to receive the Body of Christ, watches as Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus gently lay Christ’s body in the grave.

Nicodemus who came to see Christ under the cover of darkness, now prepares to bury his body before darkness falls. Nicodemus who had questions and doubts, now holds the Body of Christ in his hands. Nicodemus has become a full communicant member of the Church.

In death he knows what is meant by new birth.

‘The Body of Christ given for you.’


But this is not the end.

There are seven days of creation. God’s work is complete and God rests on the seventh day; now Christ is to rest in the grave on the seventh day, his work is complete.

Early on Sunday morning, before dawn on the first day of the week, the women come to the tomb with spices they have prepared. But they find the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, there is no body, and two men in dazzling clothes ask them ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’ (Luke 24: 5). There is a similar greeting in the other two Synoptic Gospels: ‘He is not here; for he has been raised’ (Matthew 28: 6); ‘He has been raised; he is not here’ (Mark 16: 6).

The Cross is empty.

The Grave is empty.

We have Good News to proclaim.

‘Jesus being Raised from the Dead’ (1985), a sculpture by Hans Feibusch (1898-1998), at the entrance to Saint Alban’s Church, Holborn (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Stations of the Cross in Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and Saint Dunstan and All Saints, Stephney (Photographs: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayer in Lent with
early English saints:
40, 24 March 2024,
Saint Edmund Rich of Abingdon

A sculpture by Rodney Mundayat St Edmund Hall, Oxford, shows Saint Edmund Rich as an impoverished student (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are beginning the last week of Lent, Holy Week, today on Palm Sunday, the Sixth Sunday in Lent (24 March 2024). The Orthodox Calendar is slightly different, and today is the first Sunday of Great Lent. It is called the Sunday of Orthodoxy and commemorates the restoration of the Holy Icons and the triumph of the Orthodox Faith against the heresy of the iconoclasts.

In the Jewish calendar, the festival of Purim began last night (23 March) and continues until this evening (24 March).

Throughout Lent this year, I am taking time each morning to reflect on the lives of early, pre-Reformation English saints commemorated in Common Worship.

Later this morning, I hope to take part in the Palm Sunday liturgy in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford, reading the part of the Narrator in the Passion Gospel. But, before today begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, A reflection on an early, pre-Reformation English saint;

2, today’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The dying words of Saint Edmund of Abingdon are inscribed on the well in the Front Quad in St Edmund Hall, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Early English pre-Reformation saints: 40, Saint Edmund Rich of Abingdon

Saint Edmund Rich of Abingdon is remembered in Common Worship on 16 November. He was born ca 1175 in Abingdon, once the country town of Berkshire but now part of Oxfordshire. His father was a merchant whose wealth probably led to Edmund being later surnamed ‘Rich’, and who himself became a monk later in life.

Edmund was educated at Oxford and in Paris. He is said to have been the first person to teach Aristotle in Oxford. After also teaching in both Oxford and Paris, he became Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral in 1222 and was eventually made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1233.

He was a reforming bishop and, as well as bringing gifts of administration to his task, appointed clergy of outstanding talent to senior positions in the Church. He also acted as peacemaker between the king and his barons, many believing that his actions averted civil war. He died in Pontigny, France, on 16 November 1240, on a journey to Rome. He was canonised in 1247.

Saint Edmund gives his name to St Edmund Hall in Oxford. There, the mediaeval well in the centre of the front quad is believed to be the original well from which Saint Edmund drew water. The Latin inscription, haurietis aquas in gaudio de fontibus salvatoris, ‘with joy, draw water from the wells of salvation’ (Isaiah 12: 3), is said to be the last words by Saint Edmund on his deathbed.

St Edmund Hall, Oxford, takes its name from Saint Edmund of Abingdon, the first Oxford-educated Archbishop of Canterbury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Mark 11: 1-1 (NRSVA):

1 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples 2 and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. 3 If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately”.’ 4 They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, 5 some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ 6 They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. 7 Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. 8 Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. 9 Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

The dying words of Saint Edmund of Abingdon are inscribed on the well in the Front Quad in St Edmund Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 24 March 2024, Palm Sunday):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘Holy Week Reflection.’ This theme is introduced today by the Revd Canon Dr Peniel Rajkumar, Theologian and Director of Global Mission, USPG:

‘Holy Week is, for many, a time of spiritual pilgrimage. It is an opportunity to follow Jesus on his journey towards the Cross, from which flows possibilities for the fullness and wholeness of all life.

‘At the heart of Holy Week is the theme of solidarity. Jesus’s solidarity is a YES to self-identification with all those pushed to the margins of society by the powerful, and a NO to the powers of the world.

‘The NO to the powers of the world comes out clearly on Maundy Thursday, where according to John, Jesus knowing fully well that God “had given all things into His hands” takes the form of a slave and washes His disciples’ feet. Jesus replaces the love of power with the power of love – teaching the powerful a lesson in giving up power.

‘The YES to Jesus’s self-identification with the marginalised comes on Good Friday in the way Jesus suffers “outside the city gate” (Hebrews 13: 12) in solidarity with the many outcasts, who have been made scapegoats of unjust systems.

‘It is in this solidarity – resisting the patterns and powers of this world, and embracing the broken and the broken hearted into His own bruised body – that Jesus the crucified Christ opens up possibilities for healing and hope.

‘During Holy Week, as we focus on the Cross, we are reminded that our resources for hope are often found in places where we least expect it – even on the Cross.’

The USPG Prayer Diary today (24 March 2024, Palm Sunday) invites us to pray in these words:

Christ in our darkness risen,
help all who long for light
to hold the hand of promise
till faith receives its light.
(Brian Wren, b. 1936).

St Edmund Hall library is housed the 12th-century former Church of Saint Peter-in-the-East … the Lady Chapel is said to have been donated by Saint Edmund of Abingdon while he was a lecturer in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who in your tender love towards the human race
sent your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ
to take upon him our flesh
and to suffer death upon the cross:
grant that we may follow the example of his patience and humility,
and also be made partakers of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ,
you humbled yourself in taking the form of a servant,
and in obedience died on the cross for our salvation:
give us the mind to follow you
and to proclaim you as Lord and King,
to the glory of God the Father.

Additional Collect:

True and humble king,
hailed by the crowd as Messiah:
grant us the faith to know you and love you,
that we may be found beside you
on the way of the cross,
which is the path of glory.

Yesterday: Saint Hugh of Lincoln

Tomorrow: Saint Richard of Chichester

The arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury displayed in the front quad at St Edmund Hall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday … an icon by Theodoros Papadopoulos of Larissa