Tag Archives: Cross

29 March. Before the Cross XV: at the bedside of good Pope John XXIII

cross.st.nick.cathedral

The words that follow were attributed to Good Pope John XXIII as he lay dying, by his secretary, Monsignor  (later Cardinal) Loris Capovilla in his memoir ‘The heart and mind of John XXIII’, London, Corgi, 1966. We found a few copies for sale on-line. The shadowy Crucifix above is in the dark chapel of Saint Nicholas at Canterbury Cathedral. During the Second World War the future pope was Apostolic Delegate to Turkey, where Saint Nicholas was Bishop of Myra (Dembre). I imagined Pope John seeing such a shadowy cross during the long nights when he lay dying but later read that it was a white Crucifix. The one below hangs in Christina Chase’s room; here she is holding it for us to see clearly.

Christina.cross2

This bed is an altar, and an altar wants a victim. I am ready. I offer my life for the Church, the continuation of the Ecumenical Council, for peace in the world, for the union of Christians.

The secret of my priesthood lies in the crucifix I wanted in front of my bed.

john xxiii Christ looks at me, and I speak to him. In our long and frequent conversations during the night, the thought of the world’s redemption has seemed to me more urgent than ever. ‘And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold.’ (John !0:16).

Those outstretched arms tell us he died for everyone, for everyone. No one is refused his love, his forgiveness. But especially that ‘they may be one’ he entrusted to his church. The sanctification of the clergy and of the people, the union of Christians, the world’s conversion are therefore urgent responsibilities of the Pope and of the bishops.

I had the great fortune to be born in a modest, poor Christian family that feared God, and the fortune to be called to serve. Since childhood I have thought of nothing else, or desired nothing else.

for my own part, I do not think I have offended anyone, but if I have, I ask pardon. And you, if you know someone who has not been edified by my behaviour, ask him to tolerate me and to forgive.

In this last hour, I feel calm and certain that my Lord, through his mercy, will not reject me. Unworthy though I be, I wanted only to serve him … and bear witness to the Gospel. …

My days on earth are ending, but Christ lives, and the Church continues her task. The souls, the souls, ‘may they be one, may they be one.’

 

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28 March. Before the Cross XIV, Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

It’s always a joy to receive a post from Christina Chase. Here is her contribution to our season of reflections ‘Before the Cross’.

Meditation upon a crucifix,

remembering an image at Ste. Anne de Beaupré

of Christ with St. Francis of Assisi,

while having my bedroom wall crucifix in sight

Christina.cross1

Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Arms for work, so strong and sure,

are not dependable

unless they’re open wide in love.

They cannot hold dear wisdom close

or carry souls in need,

they cannot lift the sobbing low to soaring heights of joy,

until they’re held and pinioned fast

by love’s relinquishing embrace.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord.

Legs of strength, so swift and free,

are but weak and purposeless

unless they run the endless race of love’s pursuit

and stand upon the heart of God —

for flight is stronger, swifter, freer, when nailed down

into the power of love.

Conform me to your likeness, Lord!

See me, here, little and lacking,

my own body twisted thin,

limbs immobile, lungs slowly failing.

Teach me, Lord, mould me, shape me,

move me in your stillness

with emulating love,

tell me from the silence

of the Cross that you love me,

and I will be able to go every where that you are.

© 2019 Christina Chase
Christina.cross2

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27 March: Before the Cross XIII: Peace or Power?


osagie.osifo.x.rupertCrucified Jesus between two standing figures by Osagie Osifo

A wooden panel displayed in the Catholic Chapel of the University of Ibadan, carved by Osagie Osifo in 1961. (Willett, F. 2002 African Art London, Thames & Hudson Ltd.)

Here, Jesus is flanked by Mary, his mother, and John the “beloved disciple”, in a moment that could not be more serene. Mary and John both have their eyes closed, and their hands positioned as if in prayer. The object of their devotion is obviously the crucified Jesus, who, raised above and between them, forms the focus of the carving. Adding to the peace and calm of the image are the leaves: trefoil forms (possibly alluding to the trinity of the Christian God), while the simple interlace designs at top and bottom call to mind those of Celtic art. I think the whole composition has something of a Celtic “feel” to it.

Except, of course, that this is clearly an African work, and specifically one informed by the art and history of the kingdom of Benin, now a part of Nigeria. Osagie Osifo, himself from Benin, has fashioned this image deliberately to echo the famous bronzes, “rescued” by a British punitive expedition in 1897 mounted against the Oba (King of Benin) and his chiefs.

The Oba ruled over a highly organised society which, though famed now for its art and advanced understanding of casting bronze, was also extremely warlike. It was a culture where much of the religion and ritual was focused upon the King himself and on his ancestors. Some of these customs have been restored and are practised today in modern Benin. Osifo’s carving of Jesus challenges this in the most radical way.

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https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1990.332/

The Oba stands between two of his officials in this bronze plaque. He holds a huge sword in one hand, and a staff of office on the other. The three figures are helmeted, the Oba appearing the most fearsome of all with his distinctive collar and his domineering stance. His helmet is spiked. Nothing in this image would signify peace or tranquillity; it has only to do with naked power and aggression. By substituting the Oba for Jesus, and the two warriors for Mary and John, Osifo has consciously declared his position: Christ is Lord. He alone is worthy of worship.

Stylistically, Jesus and the Oba might share some characteristics: short legs and long arms, and both sport a similar wrapped garment with its hem rising to the waist at the front. (And there are leaf shapes on the Oba’s bronze background, too). But there the similarity ends. Much as with the confrontation between Jesus and Pilate, here two entirely opposite world-views collide. The one exercises power by bullying and coercion, military might and political clout. The other, relying on the power and authority of a loving Father, chooses to suffer, and dies on a cross.

Osifo’s carving is beautiful in its own right, but for me it becomes all the more so as I consider how it, and how the gospel, subverts the traditional order of things. Paul writes to the church at Colossae:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Col.2:15.

The work is a beautifully contextualised statement on how Jesus challenges that which diminishes our humanity, oppresses us, or distracts us from our true vocation. It is in recognising the truth of Israel’s God and of the one he sent, that we can then see a hope for the world. Without him, insecurity and violence are sure to reign. The carving redeems something of Benin’s art, but in doing so must drastically alter it. Rightly, Jesus is at the centre, and the true power lies – as it should in our lives – in the crucifixion itself.

Rupert Greville

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26 March. Before the Cross XII: the beatific vision.

RoodEngMartyrsCamb

Rood, Our Lady and English Martyrs, Cambridge.

This Crucifix is like that of Tignes a couple of days ago in one respect: it is a representation of the Risen Christ, but in a different context, and equally valid.

This Victorian Rood, full of symbolism, is in the Catholic Church of Or Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England. It is challenging in a different way to some of the other images we have seen this Lent, but like the Welcoming Christ, it is essentially an image of resurrection. No way is this Christ dead or in agony!

So what is the Rood telling us?

Let’s start with the Christ figure. We see a man in the prime of life, vigorously alive, not hanging naked on the cross but standing tall and robed in majesty. No-one could say of him, he cannot save himself! The crown on his head is of royal gold, not thorns; the nails in his hands and feet are in gold also, but lest we forget the earthly reality of the cross, we see red blood on his palms and insteps. As well as a King’s crown, he wears the long white alb and the red scarf or stole of a priest vested for Mass.

The white scarf around his neck is called a pallium. These are woven from lambs’ wool and given to archbishops by the pope. One appears on the coat of arms of Canterbury Anglican diocese and that of Westminster Catholic diocese. As well as announcing Christ as high priest, the pallium is associated with the idea of the Good Shepherd who brings home the lost sheep, and with the sacrificial Lamb of God.

The alb is a symbol of purity – we see in the Book of Revelation all the saints in white garments. Christ’s here has red trimmings; together with the red stole they tell of blood shed in martyrdom or persecution. The priest celebrating Mass today wears an alb to show that he is representing Christ, the High Priest, and seeks to be as saintly as the white garment implies. Christ, of course, has every right to wear the white garment, and each baptised Christian is given a white garment at Baptism: so we are crucified and risen with Christ: a thought to sustain us in times of hardship.

At the foot of the Cross stand Mary – the dedicatee of the Church, and John the Apostle and Evangelist. They are not mourning in this Resurrection Crucifixion but are absorbed in the beatific vision: this cross presents the artist’s interpretation of the true meaning of the Crucifixion.

Angels adore the Lord from around the Cross: again sending us to Revelation and pointing out the one-ness of Creation, of our world of time and space where Jesus died in Jerusalem with the heavenly Jerusalem where he is Priest and King; King of All Creation, not just of the Jews.

At the foot of the Cross and along its trunk and arms are stylised leaves and grapes: in John’s Gospel Jesus says, I am the Vine, make your home in me as I make mine in you. The wine pressed from the fruit of the Cross brings relief from our spiritual thirst and joy to our hearts. Take up your Cross daily and follow me – to the Crucifixion, yes, in smaller and bigger ways each day, but to the risen life each day as well, even before we die and go to meet the Good Shepherd.

Finally, at the feet of Jesus we see a chalice – for the cup at every Eucharist is indeed the Holy Grail, the cup of the Last Supper – and above the cup, marked with a Cross and radiant in gold, is a round of white unleavened bread; the ‘forms of bread and wine’ that make present in our day all that this Crucifix sets out to tell us.

If, like me, silence does not always come easily to your heart in church or in prayer, maybe sitting with this image can help direct your thoughts to the eternal reality which it professes. The whole story of Jesus is symbolised here from his birth to Mary, up to John running to the empty tomb and seeing and believing – and witnessing to what he believed. May we be ever more faithful witnesses to what we believe.

MMB

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March 24: Before the Cross XI: The Truest Love of All

christ acc2

 

If clouds of doubt should ever fall,

A fog so thick that I should cry:

Is this the truest love of all –

Where men still suffer, bleed and die?

A quiet voice might ask of me

What other love I thought so true

What greater, deeper love I see

More heartfelt than the God I knew?

 

See there, beside the poor and weak,

Among the broken, there, he stands,

And with the voiceless, there to speak

With grieving heart and nail-pierced hands.

Abandoned once by dearest friends,

He meets the lonely, brings them near,

His mercy and gentle presence mends

Souls bound by bitterness and fear.

 

And he would show me in my prayer,

His woundedness, his cross, his shame:

The truest love of all was there –

There, even there, he knew my name.

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23 March. Before the Cross X: Christ crucified welcomes us.

 

 
christ acc2

As a teenager I visited the resort of Tignes in France on a family skiing holiday. On our way through the French Alps from the airport, our coach crossed a dam, and we could see a large reservoir stretching up the valley to our left. Our ski rep began to tell us a story. There had been a village known as Tignes, which had been flooded and destroyed with the creation of the reservoir in 1952, and its people had been relocated to a newly built village, Tignes Les Boisses. The church there, l’église Saint Jacques de Tarentaise, had been built to a design similar to that in “Old Tignes”. All this is verifiable history. The road wound uphill, away from the dam, and we entered the purpose-built village.

Our rep related how an elderly couple, objecting to the flooding of their valley, and ignoring all the remonstrances of the EDF and local authority negotiators, had refused steadfastly to leave their home. They had drowned as the waters rose to form the new reservoir. He told us to look to our right as we drove past the church, and to notice the crucifix in front of it. The arms of Jesus had originally been nailed to the crossbeam, he said, but over the years they had dropped down to their present position, as though Jesus himself were pleading on behalf of the drowned couple. There was no scientific explanation for this extraordinary phenomenon (great solemnity and wonderment in his voice at this point); not even in the natural warping properties of wood.

The image of this cross has remained with me through my adult life, and I have retold the story of it more than once, and with equal solemnity. But I recently discovered that it wasn’t true at all. At least, I have found no evidence that the elderly couple ever existed. The crucifix itself was crafted by Jean Touret for the new church, with the arms of Jesus extended downwards in an expression of grief for the loss of the old village. It was also to represent Jesus’s welcome of visitors. He named the work ” le Christ Accueillant ” – The Welcoming Christ.

I would rather our ski rep had told us the truth surrounding this remarkable crucifix. Perhaps he believed his story. Or perhaps venturing into the “religious” subject of Christ’s welcome made him feel uncomfortable. As in so many movies, here was an invented tale designed to make is feel indignant towards big-business callousness and government collusion. And our sense of moral outrage is validated by the direct involvement of God himself. No harm in that, surely?

Jean Touret had wanted to honour a community genuinely affected by trauma and loss. His purpose had not been to elicit indignation, but to recognise that Christ stands with the broken and dispossessed. And nobody is honoured by fabricated miracle stories, least of all Jesus. The Hollywood approach fundamentally misreads what is meant in the gospels by the Kingdom of God. It would direct our disdain towards world powers and social injustices over which we have very little control. It would have us “rage against the machine” much like the zealots in Jesus’s own day.

To the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” GK Chesterton’s famous answer was “I am”. The challenge of the gospel is to grasp our own need for a saviour, and in love (rather than self-righteous indignation), to consider the world’s need for a saviour too. “Le Christ Accueillant” does indeed signify a miracle: that Jesus welcomes us today into the presence of the Loving Father. Not from the cross, but as a resurrected, living Saviour, whose brutal crucifixion made our rescue and welcome possible.

Rupert Greville

   Thank you, Rupert, for another thought-provoking image and prayerful reflection. WT.

The story of the Church and Image 1:

Image 2:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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22 March. Before the Cross IX: Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive.

lego X

Bearing of the Cross

 

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ekjohnson1/25761762410/in/photostream/

My son is now 14, and thinks he’s much too grown-up for Lego. But I’ve really enjoyed these years of revisiting the world of long six-ers and square flat four-ers, finding myself far more creative now with the pieces than I ever was as a child.

This crucifixion scene is an image designed to appeal to the younger Bible student, of course, as much as to adults. The quotation from Peter’s first epistle connects the death of Jesus with our response in dying to sin and living for righteousness (covenant justice, that is, lest we lapse into moralism). It indicates that its production by EK Johnson was an act of faith and this is important to me, as it is with all Christian art.

But shouldn’t a subject as serious as this be treated with more gravitas than Lego can offer? My inner conservative complains that “Lego Jesus” just seems wrong, diminishing his lordship, maybe, or infantilising his mission.

My inner iconoclast replies that this Lego scene represents a gentle mocking of religious art – with all its trappings of patronage and power; pride; ill-gotten wealth and elitism – and not of the cross itself. Wasn’t the cross always meant to serve as a massive lance to the boil of religious pomposity?

I like this image because I believe that the gospel story should be communicated meaningfully by every possible means. Fresh, accessible and slightly subversive, a Lego representation of Jesus connects and engages with today’s culture in ways that renaissance art and stained glass simply cannot.

EK Johnson is clearly keen for us to grasp the solemnity and significance of the event he depicts. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross … by his wounds you have been healed” reads the text. The apostle Peter is alluding to Isaiah the prophet, making sense of Christ’s crucifixion through the lens of the Hebrew scriptures and the promised “suffering servant”. If we find the Lego distracting or overly provocative, this text should leave us in no doubt that this was the most profound, powerful and momentous event in all of human history. It was the day the God of Israel worked his salvation for the world; for our lives.

Lego might not give us everything we want in a crucifixion scene, but it communicates its historical truth simply and clearly. Every age in religious art has provided its own distortions and distractions, however well-intentioned the artist. We inherit notions of the “sublime” from the Romantics, for example, but it’s a misguided ideal, because it lacks humility. There is certainly humility in Lego. Simple blocks and simple figures remove much of the element of human sophistication. And with that gone, we can begin to grasp – and be overwhelmed by – the love of God demonstrated on a hill in West Asia, two thousand years ago.

Rupert Greville.

Photo credit.

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21 March. Before the Cross VIII: an old postcard.

poperinge.1

To my eyes there is little to commend the art of this postcard which is over a century old, but while it may not be good art it screams out in pain. Each person in the ugly scene is tortured: Christ himself, the blood still wet on his body; the other crucified men, Jesus’ mother Mary and the beloved John, gallantly supporting her, and the prostrate Mary Magdalene.

Why has this card been preserved over all these years?

It was among the possessions of Doris, my wife’s grandmother, when she died. It had been bought in Poperinge, one of the few Belgian towns not occupied by the German army during the Great War, and sent to  Doris in Manchester. The second postcard shows a street in Poperinge with ‘the shop where I procured this card’ marked with an X. (The censor had blacked out the word Poperinge on the front of the card, but the fading ink has rendered it legible.)

poperinge.2

Who was it that procured these cards? The boyfriend whom Doris was never to marry because he was killed in battle. There are a few of his Valentines and greetings cards preserved with them.

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The crucifixion card was printed in Munich, a German city, yet he could set that fact aside and still see something in the picture that spoke to his situation, surrounded by death, knowing his own death could strike at any moment. He might well have heard the echo of these Good Friday words as he looked at the card and sent it to Doris.

He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him.

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

Isaiah 53:2-5

Poperinge was well known for ‘Toc H’ or Talbot House, a club founded for troops on leave by the Anglican chaplain, Rev’d Philip ‘Tubby’ Clayton. It can still be visited to this day; a century ago it was a lifeline for battle weary men.

MMB

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20 March: Before the Cross VII. Saint Francis’s Prayer before the Crucifix.

 

Most high,

glorious God,

enlighten the darkness of my heart,

and give me true faith,

certain hope,

and perfect charity,

sense and knowledge,

Lord,

that I may carry out

your holy and true command.

AMEN.

We are told that Francis prayed with these words in the early days of his conversion as he sought to learn God’s will for him. He spent hours before this crucifix, the San Damiano Cross, which is reproduced in many Franciscan churches. We had one at the Franciscan International Study Centre in Canterbury. This one is in the chapel of the Franciscan Minoresses in Leicestershire. 

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Text in Francis of Assisi, the Saint, Early Documents vol I, Eds Armstrong, Hellman, & Short, NY, New City Press, 1999 p40; San Damiano Cross, Public Domain via Wikipedia; Minoresses’ Chapel, photo by CD.

 

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18 March. Before the Cross V: An Absent Presence.

'Still', a major work by Scottish artist Alison Watt, is installed in the Memorial Chapel

Psalm 46:10 ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

A mysterious and endearing quality of art and music is that they can open a door within us to a stillness in which we can inwardly sense the knowing of God. For ultimately this knowing is not a theory in our heads, but the kind of knowing that ripples through our being in a way in which we most probably don’t understand and yet we can say of it ‘I just know’.

‘Still’ is by the Scottish painter Alison Watt OBE (b. 1965), and is hung behind the altar in the Memorial chapel of Old St. Paul’s Episcopal church in Edinburgh. If ever you have a few moments free in the centre of Edinburgh, or arrive by train to the central Waverley Station it is conveniently just across the road from the back entrance to the station. The church is usually open for visitors, offering a respite from the vibrancy and noise of the city centre by the contrastingly silent and poignantly serene space which is this chapel – dedicated in memory of those fallen in World War 1. It is a dark space which holds both the sadness of the memory of those who gave their lives, and the light of hope through the risen Christ.

This unique work somehow expresses the sense of beauty and light and continuing movement of the spirit, through its enigmatic focus on folds of fabric. The work is a quadriptych (a work in four parts) 12 ft by 12 ft, and so naturally echoes the cross in its layout, a reminder of the ultimate sacrifice taken by Christ. The theme of the painting is hanging drapery. The implication is that the cloth is that of the shrouds of Jesus, though what hangs behind it is only alluded to. Certainly the subtle implication is of a body beneath, causing the shaping and the folds. Watt says of the work: ‘‘Although the body is not explicitly represented, it’s still echoed in the landscape of the cloth. The paintings are about an absent presence.’

An absent presence – something we can’t see or physically perceive and yet we know and sense is there. And so it was for those who experienced that first Easter morning – the confusion of a mysterious absent presence. It is that very quality which, without words or analysis, settles within me as I sit with this work of art.

When I first saw this painting I felt mesmerised by the beauty and the impact of the white simplicity of the hangings amidst the stark silence of the chapel. It stills me, and yet the stillness is not rigid but full of gentle movement and flow. The meaning is not obvious and yet in my unknowing it offers me opportunity to sit and just to absorb. It offers that doorway to ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

I often like to pop in when I am back in my home town; By stepping aside from all that energises the centre of town into the entrancing beauty and stillness of being in that place, I experience a way into the serenity of prayer which settles and recharges my inner resources through this beautiful work of art.

Janet McDonald

Alison Watt is the youngest artist to have had a solo exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (2000) and to serve as an Associate Artist at the National Gallery, London (2006-8). For Still, she won the ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry) award for a Commissioned Artwork in Ecclesiastical Space in 2005. See:

 

Janet McDonald is a member of the L’Arche Kent Community.

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