If you haven’t already seen it, take a look at this, the website for the Cambridge Stations. And better still, if you can, go along in person to any or all of the installations and artworks that have been specially commissioned as part of this pop-up reflective project for Lent. The tradition of following the stations of the cross derives from the still earlier tradition of pilgrimage, especially pilgrimage to the Holy Land, in which pilgrims would seek literally to walk in the footsteps of Christ. For those unable to make what was a long and arduous journey, the Stations provided a way to make a ‘virtual pilgrimage’.
The pattern of the Stations familiar to many of us contains not only events in the passion of Christ taken directly from scripture, but also some from tradition, such as Jesus’ encounter with Veronica, who wipes his face with a cloth on which he leaves the imprint of his face, a ‘vero icon’ – a true image – of Jesus. The Stations used for this project are those found in the gospels themselves, and on the Cambridge Stations website each short passage of scripture is provided for your own reflections. Some of the artists have also provided further thoughts that can be read alongside seeing the artwork itself in situ.
My own church is too far off the beaten track to be part of the Stations route, so I was allocated St Botolph’s Church, right in the centre of town as a venue, and Station 13: Jesus dies, as my title. Here’s what I did (right).
As soon as I started looking at this crucial part of the story of Jesus’ passion I was drawn to the image of the temple curtain being torn in two, coupled with the earthquake that split the rocks (in Luke and Matthew’s account). I decided I wanted to experiment with ripping the actual canvas on which I was painting.
The second thing that occurred to me was how, in icon writing, the gold leaf is applied first, and is allowed to shine through the halo of the depicted saint – it is a glimpse of the always-present reality of the kingdom of God, breaking through into the material world. I decided to honour this by using gold leaf to line the tear in the canvas, and on a board behind the tear. At the moment of Christ’s death – the moment of darkness and desolation – the kingdom of heaven was near. How else could the Centurion proclaim that, ‘Surely, this man was the Son of God’?
Finally, having decided on gold leaf, I came across the Japanese tradition of ‘Kintsugi’ – mending broken pottery with gold, so that the wounds in the pottery become shining scars, and the mended vessel becomes more beautiful than when it was first made. It struck me that the gold leaf lining the tear in the canvas, in the temple curtain, in the very fabric of reality, is a way of affirming the wholeness and healing that was possible through the suffering and death of Christ. The risen Jesus still bears the scars from his passion, but they are signs of hope and wholeness – following the iconographic pattern of this painting, the broken skin would be healed with gold. And just as Thomas did when he met the risen Christ, you can actually place your finger into the tear in the canvas and feel the rough edges.
Please excuse the quality of the photograph – it is rather blurred, while the actual painting is rather more crisp and vibrant! If you can, pop along to St Botolphs and see it for yourself, and why not go and visit all 14 stations?