The Stations of the Cross - a Meditation and Sonnet

The Stations of the Cross - Via Crucis

I am not Roman Catholic. In fact, I am not religious at all. But a love of great art and architecture has taken me to some of Europe's finest churches and cathedrals. Some years ago, in Rome, I visited one of the many cathedrals (I forget which one but it wasn't St Peters) to see two large alter-pieces by Caravaggio. While there, I noticed a series of small engravings, fourteen in number and very ancient, placed at regular intervals around the nave. They were numbered (I to XIV) but not signed or titled. Each depicted a scene from the last few hours leading up to Jesus' crucifixion.

My wife (who was raised Catholic) explained that these 'Stations of the Cross' can be found in every Catholic church and though they vary in style and execution, they always follow exactly the same sequence:

  1. Christ is condemned to death;
  2. the cross is laid upon him;
  3. His first fall;
  4. He meets His Blessed Mother;
  5. Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross;
  6. Christ's face is wiped by Veronica;
  7. His second fall;
  8. He comforts the women of Jerusalem;
  9. His third fall;
  10. He is stripped of His garments;
  11. His crucifixion;
  12. His death on the cross;
  13. His body is taken down from the cross;
  14. His body is laid in the tomb.

I became fascinated with the tradition and over a period of time found out more about it, for example:

  • The Stations of the Cross (or Way of the Cross, Via Crucis) provides, in each church, an echo of the Via Dolorosa, a pilgrimage to the holy places in Jerusalem, allowing the faithful to visit, in spirit, the scenes and events of Christ's last days on Earth.
  • Tradition says that after His death, Mary visited these places each day, in remembrance of His persecution and suffering.
  • There is a correct way to approach the Stations, with an appropriate prescribed prayer and meditation at each one.
  • There is no 15th resurrection station (everyone asks this!) because the intention is to focus on the Passion of Christ, the judgment, humiliation, crucifixion and burial.

For me, the fascination was in the huge variety of realisations of this relatively simple concept of fourteen tableaux. If any proof were needed, it showed me that art and human ingenuity flourishes when restricted, not when totally free. To an extent, there was a correlation between the wealth of the church or cathedral and the ornateness of the Stations, but this was not always true, as I have seen many exquisite pieces in quite humble settings, especially in small country churches, made by unknown local craftsmen. I have memories only, not photographs, because I don't think it is appropriate to click away like a tourist in someone's place of worship. Here are a few:

  • tempera (egg white & pigment) paintings directly applied to the plasterwork
  • conventional framed oil paintings
  • wood carvings, sometimes painted, often set into small alcoves
  • bas-relief sculpture, either mounted on the walls or cut directly
  • gilded marble statuary, nowadays usually behind glass
  • calligraphy, in Latin and/or a modern language, often with illuminated capitals

I have even seen a few churches where only the Roman numerals were carved into the masonry but with no accompanying text, illustration or sculpture and no evidence of any having been removed. Possibly a rejected commission or a crisis of funding - who knows?

My modest contribution

As mentioned previously, my interest in the Stations is purely artistic and historical. You could say they are wasted on me! Nevertheless, I thought it would be good to add something personal to this huge legacy of artistic creativity. Unfortunately, I have no skill in drawing. painting, the plastic arts or calligraphy. So, what to do?

Some years ago, in Madrid Cathedral, I had the sudden notion to write a poem where each line in some way related to one of the stations. The magic number fourteen clearly pointed to a Sonnet, a controlled and intense poetic form in fourteen lines. I resolved to walk round the Stations, in sequence, taking as long as required, but not to leave the church without completing at least a workable draft.

I took as few liberties as possible, though in the final couplet I borrowed from the tradition that the body of Jesus was taken down from the cross in Mary's presence, and it was she who arranged the body in the tomb. For what it's worth, here is my effort. Thank you for reading:

Stations of the Cross

We are the Power of Law, and you are wrong -
this shall be yours to carry evermore.
Its weight will drag you down where you belong,
among our feet. Your mother will implore
in vain, your friend extend a helping hand,
the gentle one will wipe your sweated brow,
but still you stumble in your journey, and
who will believe your words of comfort now?
Is it fatigue that drops you, or despair
when soldiers rob you of your last effects
and bind you to your burden, leave you there
until the spirit shudders, then defects?
You will not hear the voice of one whose womb
gave life to you, to lay you in the tomb.


Dave McClure, c2002

(the friend - Simon of Cyrene, the gentle one - Veronica)

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Comments 22 comments

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

I have read this and I applaud you once more for your in depth looking at the station of the cross. Arts has been one of the medium of religion, i saw that also when I went to europe....i like your poem for its originality and the content too, keep on writing, you are my idol, I wish i could be a good writer as you, even half of your capability will do for me, here I am waiting for your 100th article....congrats in advance


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Prettydarkhorse - some of the greatest music is in settings of religious texts. Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus and Bruckner's Virga Jesse Floruit are maybe my two all-time favourites.

Yes, that hundredth hub. There might be a slight pause while I decide how to mark the occasion. It won't be about toothpaste.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 7 years ago from UK

Like you, PG, I have visited churches and cathedrals along my travels, primarily to enjoy the art and architecture. For centuries, the church gave a living to artists and sculptors, and in return those talented craftmen gave the ordinary people a visual understanding of stories that they would never read. I've only vaguely come across the stations of the cross before (they have them on Croagh Patrick, Ireland's Holy Mountain) but I hadn't appreciated that they were in all Catholic churches. Now I know, I'll look out for them. Your poem is beautifully done BTW.


Aya Katz profile image

Aya Katz 7 years ago from The Ozarks

Paraglider, effective sonnet! Perhaps long after you are gone and Hubpages are no more, some church will have these lines engraved, one by each roman numeral of the stations of the cross, and all will count the unknown author as one of the faithful!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Amanda - have you read 'The Cloister & the Hearth' by Charles Reade? Maybe the best ever insight into serving the church as an artisan and as a priest, towards the end of the Dark Ages.

Aya - HubPages was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end - or maybe not :)


Quilligrapher profile image

Quilligrapher 7 years ago from New York

While you may not have been raised with this tradition, I was. This hub and your sonnet really touched me. They carried me back to my youth when I was lighting the candles before mass and walking along the communion rail placing the plate under each waiting chin.

In this regard, you succeeded in imitating the purpose of the art placed at each station. Just as you transported me, they, too, transport the participants to another time and another place. I thank you, Para, for the journey.

Q.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Q - thank you too. I was hoping this hub would not be seen as irreverent, as an intrusion into the sacred by the profane. But I can empathise with the persecution and crucifixion, though I cannot believe in the resurrection. Perhaps that is why the Stations of the Cross continue to fascinate me.


Make  Money profile image

Make Money 7 years ago from Ontario

Well written Hub Mr. Dave McClure. Nice to know your real name too Paraglider.


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 7 years ago from East Coast, United States

I have attended services for Stations of the Cross and it can be very beautiful and uplifting, once you get over the idea that the whole thing seems all about how awful people can be. Anyway, they did a prayer for each station, and in the prayer, we attempt to ease Christ's suffering by offering to take the cross from Him and carry it for a while; or to help someone else and that assistance should lighten Christ's load because what you do for anyone, you do for Christ.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Mike - you are my reference on all things Catholic!

Dolores - I have seen many people in private meditation around the Stations. Thanks for describing the service. Sadly such cruelty is still all around us today.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

I am recently returned from my first visit to Israel and a week ago I walked the Via Dolorosa for real. I love your sonnet. It is very good.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi James - I have never been to Israel but may visit after I've finished working in the Arab countries. (I'd need a second passport). Thanks for the sonnet comment :)


neysajasper profile image

neysajasper 7 years ago

When I came to know your conclusion that your main motto is artistic and historical, I applauded your approaches. I find that at least your searches goes near to peace. Your researches are beneficial to readers.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thank you Neysajasper, and welcome.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 7 years ago from South Africa

What a splendid Hub - and the sonnet's not bad either! (Just kidding - it is very good).

Thanks for sharing. As a part-time believer (which I amj also a part-time unbeliever!) I found this very moving. I have attended Stations on Good Friday and so the feeling was evoked again for me.

Most of the Stations that I have seen have been unbelievably kitsch and awful, though. It is weird, to say the least, to come across a church in deeply rural Africa and find there a glorification of a blond, blue-eyed Jesus surrounded by people in some Victorian artist's idea of what the people in ancient Israel might have been wearing. Not an edifying spectacle at all!

Love and peace

Tony


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Tony. I've seen my share of kitsch stations too, but didn't bother to list them in the main hub. I think most of the best I've seen have been bas-relief sculptures in the natural stone colour.


dragonbear profile image

dragonbear 6 years ago from Essex UK

Excellent hub. The art and sculpture of stations in various churches can be truly beautiful. A great time to remind us to visit them. Thanks Paraglider


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Most welcome, Dragonbear - thanks for the visit.


ALL4JESUS profile image

ALL4JESUS 6 years ago from USA

Wonderful! You are a true genius! I will link to this Hub! Thank you!


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thank you :) But I'll pass on the 'genius', I'm not quite that mad!


Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 2 years ago from California Gold Country

Glad to come across this gem, and appreciate the thought and insight that went into it.


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Rochelle - thank you for the appreciation.

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