The Stations of the Cross

The stations are the wooden carvings, which can be seen, hung on three walls of the church. For many centuries Christians have depicted the path that Jesus took on the road to Calvary in the form of a series of paintings or sculptures displayed in their churches and cathedral.

At various periods of history there have been as many as 36 stations recalling the numerous points of Our Lords last journey through the streets of Jerusalem. In the sixteenth century 14 stations were chosen and have become familiar.

More recently however, with the approval of the Church authorities, a new set of 14 stations have been chosen which differ somewhat from the traditional format: and it is to this new pattern, first seen at Clifton Cathedral, that the stations of St Basil’s and All Saints conform.

They were carved by the sculptor David John using the timber jelutong. Above each is a small cross of darker wood, which is bog oak, brought from Ireland by Fr Patrick Conefrey, the first Roman Catholic incumbent at the church.

Before we look at each of the stations in greater details, it is interesting to note that whilst some of the figures appear ‘faceless’, others have been given features. This is a particular characteristic of the work by this artist. He often chooses to portray an historical figure with the features of a contemporary person. In doing so, it helps to make the work relevant for today; either because there are similarities in the respective social standing of the subject and his counterpart, or because he has simply based the figure on a person he has met or admired who ‘struck chords’ because of their work or ideals.

David was keen to show that Christian’s works are not confined to the familiar Saints, but can be seen in people in every age.

There is always the possibility however, that a contemporary person, characterised as illustrating a particular idea of thought, may go on to be remembered for something else in later life.

Who would have known, for example, that Nelson Mandella, portrayed in Station No. 12 as a condemned prisoner in recognition of his many years in jail at the time the stations were made, would eventually be not only released, but become the President of his nation. Conversely, his estranged wife Winnie, chosen as one of the modern-day heroines on the bronze sculpture on the outside of the church was to be later implicated with reports of criminal activity.

It is important therefore, that we should interpret the inclusion of such figures, purely in the context of events at the time, 1983. 

1. Jesus shares the last supper with his disciples

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying , “take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them , saying “drink from it all of you, this is my blood of new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Matthew 26 v 26-28.

Only 11 disciples are shown as Judas has already left the upper room. The contemporary faces to be seen here include, on the left: Peter who is a peace worker from Dusseldorff; Steve Biko, a black South African who died in suspicious circumstances in a police cell; Captain Gardner who worked for many years in India, and the Hungarian Pal Maleter who tried to negotiate peace during the uprising.

On the right: Matt Talbot, a Mayan Indian who attended a Mass held in Guatemala by John Paul II in March 1983; and Paul Cezanne the French painter. The figure of Christ is based on Helder Camara. 

2. Jesus prays in the garden

Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My Soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Going a little further he fell with his face to the ground and prayed. “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet no as I will, but as you will.”
Matthew 26 v 36-39

The gospels tell us that Jesus and his disciples often met in this garden to pray. In springtime a stream runs through Gethsemane, and with Jerusalem’s warm climate, this makes it a place of peace and refreshment. However, it is obvious that on this occasion the atmosphere would have been quite different for Jesus was in fear for his life. He deliberately chose this particular time and place to prepare for his ultimate act of self-sacrifice.

3. Jesus is betrayed and arrested

“Look the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer.” While he was still speaking, Judus, one of the twelve arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the Chief Priests and the Elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “the one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.

Matthew 26 v 45-50

Jesus knew which disciple was to betray him, and the manner in which he would do it. 30 silver coins was the price that Judas Iscariot agreed with the Chief Priests. He was later seized with remorse and tried to return the money to them. When they refused it he threw the coins into the temple and went away and hanged Himself.

4. Jesus is disowned by Peter

Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a  servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went our to the gateway, where another girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again with an oath: “I Don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “surely you are one of them for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”.  Immediately a cock crowed. Then Peter remembered the words Jesus had spoken: “Before the cock crows you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Matthew 26 v 69-75

In this scene we can see Peter by the gateway and Jesus bound up in the courtyard. The cock is on the courtyard wall. Who cannot sympathise with Peter? It is all too easy, when the going gets tough, to abandon the cause for fear of being criticised, ridiculed or facing personal injury or death. 

5. Jesus is scourged and mocked

Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers round him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then wove a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, King of the Jews!” they said. They spat on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
Matthew 27 v 2

The artist illustrates two points here. Firstly, he wanted to convey the idea that materialism and consumerism are present day forms of persecution for Christians. Secondly he wanted to highlight the responsibility of those appointed to lead, hence his decision to base the soldier on the right on a former lady Minister of Consumer affairs (note the high heels). Similarly, the second figure is not a hapless soldier or policeman simply carrying out orders from above, but the then Minister of Defence.

6. Jesus is condemned to death

Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and turned him over to Pilate. “Are you the King of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say.” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.” But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed.

Mark 15 v 1-4

Pilate was the head of the legal system in Jerusalem at the time and has been portrayed here by Lord Hailsham who was Lord Chancellor when the Stations were made. He held the comparable role in our own society.

The soldier would have been an officer, a man of rank on foreign soil and himself under orders from a higher authority. His position was not dissimilar then, thought the artist, to that of the Commandant of the US base at Mildenhall, Suffolk.

7. Jesus falls under his cross

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from who men hide their faces he was despised, an we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted,
Isaiah 53 v 2-4

There appears to be no reference to this event in the Gospels. However taking into account a walk of over a mile to a place of execution, it is likely that a man who had recently been badly beaten would struggle with the weight of such a burden. We are at least told that Jesus was given some help.

 

8. Jesus is helped by Simon of Cyrene.

A Certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.
Mark 15 v 21.

In the gospel account the soldiers seized an ordinary citizen, minding his own business, to carry the cross. Suitably then, the artist has based Simon on an unemployed member of his own congregation; an ordinary man who suffers from ill health.

9. Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem


A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. For the time will come when you will say, “Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!”
Luke 23 v 27-29

The artist has chosen Mother Teresa and two of the Greenham Common peace women whom he knew, to represent the three women of Jerusalem shown here. Tradition tells us that one of the women wiped Jesus’ face as he passed. Her name was Veronica, and she was rewarded for her kindness by having the imprint of his face left permanently on the cloth.

10. Jesus is nailed to the cross

They came to a place called Golgotha (which means The Place of the Skull). There they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.
Matthew 27 v 33-38

The gospel writers seem to have spared us the more harrowing details of the crucifixion, and small wonder. This barbaric method of execution was universally used as a form of punishment, and among Romans it was reserved for slaves and foreign rebels of the state.

 

11. Jesus speaks to his mother

Near the cross of Jesus, stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdela. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your Son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your Mother.” From that time on this disciple took her into his home.
John 19 v 26-27

John, who was the youngest of all the disciples, is here portrayed as another of the artist’s church congregation.

12. Jesus forgives the repentant thief

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said , “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you shall be with me in paradise.”
Luke 23 v 39-43

The repentant thief is here depicted by Nelson Mandela, who as leader of the African National Congress has more personal experience than most of an unjust legal system.

13. Jesus dies on the cross

It was about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun had stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Luke 23 v 44-46

Under Jewish law, those who had been crucified were not allowed to remain on the cross after sunset. To speed up death therefore, very often their legs were cruelly broken to prevent resting their weight on them. We are told this was unnecessary in Jesus’ case, as he had already died.
  

14. Jesus is risen

Pilate said, “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal in the stone and posting the guard.
Matthew 27 65-66

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
Matthew 28 v 2-4

Regardless of personal preference for one form of the stations or the other, it could be argued that this contemporary set’s biggest asset is the fourteenth station, ‘Jesus is risen’. Without it, the traditional stations end rather solemnly with the entombment of the dead Jesus in the sepulchre. Here however, the Christian message of joy and hope reaches its true climax. The tomb is empty. Death has been overcome.

 
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