Friday, June 17, 2016

Scriptural Stations of the Cross

I have previously blogged on the Stations of the Cross. I was in Salt Lake City recently and visited the Cathedral of the Madeleine and was confused as I examined the Stations of the Cross as they expressed themes I'd never seen before in this context. 

The Stations of the Cross were painted by Sam Wilson in 1992 and 1993. Wilson is a professor in the Art and Art History Department at the University of Utah. These stations follow a revised and more scriptural version of the stations introduced by Pope John Paul II in 1991 at the Coliseum in Rome on Good Friday. They are known as the Scriptural or Biblical Way of the Cross. The Scriptural Way omits stations that do not have biblical references such as the three falls of Jesus (Stations 3, 5 and 7), the encounter of Jesus with his mother (Station 4) and the encounter of Jesus with Veronica (Station 6). New stations include Jesus' agony in the Garden of Olives (Station 1), the betrayal of Jesus by Judas (Station 2), the condemnation of Jesus by the Sanhedrin (Station 3), the denial of Jesus by Peter (Station 4), the promise of paradise to the good thief (Station 11) and the presence of Mary and the John at the foot of the cross (Station 13). I really like this modification. But these modifications are made even better by Wilson's use of American Southwest colors, flowers, animals and symbols, along with traditional symbols, in a postmodern style, to makes these stations truly unique. They are, by far, my favorite Stations of the Cross anywhere.

The Scriptural Stations of the Cross are as follows:

(1) Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:36-41);
As with all of these stations, there is a large cross in the background. In this particular station, there are other smaller crosses. Peter, James and John sleep while Jesus prays and a snake, Satan, wraps around the cup that Jesus asks the Father to take away from him. Jesus is Hispanic or Indian. I enjoy it when Jesus is represented by local culture. 
The all-seeing eye of God is an eye surrounded by rays of light and usually enclosed by a triangle. It represents the eye of God watching over mankind. The eye is encased in a cross of billowy clouds. The red in the flowers may represent the blood that Jesus sweat as he prayed.
The stations are encased in beautiful wood framed plaques and the number of the station is indicated by two angels, one on each side, propping up the frame underneath. 
(2) Jesus is betrayed by Judas and arrested (Mark 14:43-46);
Judas grabs Jesus by the arm and is ready to kiss him. Satan is whispering in his ear. A scorpion is between them, which represents treachery, death and dying. Peter, with a white beard is to the bottom right and faces a pasty looking man whose ear is high-lighted by its normal, fleshy color. This is the ear that Peter will cut off with his sword. 
The raven represents grief caused by loneliness and separation. It represents evil and death. Ravens also hoard shiny objects, here representing the 30 pieces of silver that Judas will get for betraying Jesus. This is one of my favorite segments among the whole series. 
(3) Jesus is condemned by the Sanhedrin (Luke 22:66-71);
The thorn is an emblem of Christ's passion. At the bottom corners, thorns are superimposed over each other in the form of a cross. Jesus wears a purple robe, the only time in these stations he is shown with this color robe. Purple represents royal lineage, royal birth, the color worn by Roman emperors. It confirms Jesus's royal bloodline as the Son of God. The Greek "I" at the top left is "iota," the word perhaps an implication of Matt. 5:18 "until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." The rose, top center, is also associated with Christ's passion. So the row at the top almost appears to be an equation: Christ accomplishes the law by his passion and becomes the King, as represented by the crown. This seems to me to be a little out of place, perhaps just part of the confusion of the inconsistent passion narratives. John 19:2 says that it was Pilate who had the soldiers twist together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, then clothe him in a purple robe. 
I'm not completely sure what type of bird this is, but I think it may be some form of goldfinch. If so, it symbolizes the transition from the physical to the spiritual and understanding the power and importance of change. 
(4) Jesus is denied by St. Peter (Matt. 26:69-75);
Peter denied knowing Jesus three times and each time the cock, or rooster, crowed. Three roosters are in this scene. The keys of heaven entrusted to Peter later are at the top, superimposed over the cross. 
This appears to be some form of bass. Peter will later become a fisher of men. The rooster portrays him at his low point, the fish and the keys portray him at later, higher points. 
(5) Jesus is judged by Pontius Pilate (Mark 15:1-5, 15;
The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and omega, are top left and right. In Revelation 22:13, Jesus says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." This denotes he is the whole, that he is the true God.  The daisy, top center and bottom left and right, symbolizes innocence and purity. 
I love this coyote. In Native American myth, the coyote is "an indication of an ending. The sighting of the Coyote was said to bring natural shifts in balance, causing an end (which, of course, simply makes way for new beginnings, and so on). Essentially, the Coyote is like a 'way-maker' of new direction as it went about its symbolic role of representing the cycle of life/death in nature." The "Coyote brought with it seeds of life so as to sew new growth upon the new world. [The] legend depicts the Coyote as a bringer of life and a new birth symbol." 
(6) Jesus is scourged at the pillar and crowned with thorns (John 19:1-3);
John 19:1-3 indicates that Pilate had Jesus flogged, then the soldiers put a crown of thorns on his head and clothed him in a purple robe. There may be confusion on my part in how I have portrayed these. Here Jesus is clearly being flogged, but the crown of thorns and purple robe are shown in an earlier station. It appears to be Adam and Eve, to top left and right, and the serpent near Adam with a representation of Satan. This represents original sin and death as a result of Adam and Jesus taking upon himself those sins and bringing life (Romans 5:12-18). Cotton at the bottom right and left represents healing and protection. 
The bear symbolizes strength and confidence, standing against adversity. It also indicates a time for solitude and rest. 
(7) Jesus bears the cross (John 19:6, 15-17);
A turtle to the upper left symbolizes long life, ironic as he goes toward his death. At the middle top is a thistle, a symbol of Christ's passion. Top right is a wooden boat with a sail in the form of a cross. It is symbolic of the church and also represents a journey. The cactus, bottom left and right, symbolizes endurance. 
Jesus is the Lamb of God. The white banner with a red cross symbolizes Christ's victory over death. The symbol comes from Constantine's use of a cross on the Roman Standard. 
 (8) Jesus is helped by Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross (Mark 15:21);
The strawberries, upper right, symbolize good works, perhaps in reference to Simon helping Jesus carry the cross. To the left of Jesus is what looks like a young version of Mother Teresa, who certainly performed many good works and in an indirect way helped Jesus carry the cross, as when you do it unto the least of these, you do it unto me (Matt. 25:40).  
This might be a nod to Veronica and her veil which includes an image of the face of Jesus imprinted on it, one of the Stations of the Cross that was eliminated by the Scriptural Way of the Cross.   
I love this deer. It represents gentleness, the ability to move through life and obstacles with grace and the ability to regenerate. 
(9) Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem (Luke 23:27-31);
(10) Jesus is crucified (Luke 23:33-34);
The leaves of holly, upper left, symbolize the thorns in Christ's crown and the berries represent his blood. Upper right is St. Frances, showing the stigmata. 
The vulture represents birth and death. Barbed wire enhances separation, it includes and excludes. 
(11) Jesus promises his kingdom to the good thief (Luke 23:39-43);
Catholic tradition has the skull of Adam buried beneath the cross, bottom center. So the blood of Jesus literally drips down on top of Adam. The rat, upper right, is a symbol of shrewdness, opportunistic and resourcefulness, perhaps referring to the good thief. The dove, top center, is a symbol of the Holy Ghost and also represents the soul. The sparrow, upper left, represents higher thoughts and ideals. She seeks to have us keep our burdens light and to be creative in solving our problems. 
(12) Jesus speaks to his mother and the beloved disciple (John 19:25-27);
The apple, upper left, is a symbol of immortality, temptation and knowledge. Raspberries, upper right, are symbols of kindness and the red juice of blood running through the heart. Mary, bottom right, has a dagger through her heart. The Cathedral of the Madeleine is shown to the right of Jesus and above the head of Mary. Mary Magdalene was also near the cross at the time of Jesus's death, the patron of the Cathedral of the Madeleine. The representation of the cathedral symbolizes her presence. In Luke 22:42-43, Christ, in the Garden of Gethsemane, prayed that the cup might be taken from him, then an "angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him." This angel is traditionally identified as the Archangel Chamuel. Here Chamuel continues to support Christ on the cross. 
(13) Jesus dies on the cross (Luke 23:44-46); and
The sun stopped shining for three hours at the death of Christ, perhaps symbolized by the sun and moon, top left and right. The thistle, bottom left and right, has a purple flower, the color of royalty. The thistle has prickles on the stem and flat part of the leaves, associating them with thorns and Jesus. A snake wrapped around a staff or rod is associated with healing. The snake is also a symbol of rejuvenation and resurrection because it sheds it skin and receives a new one. And "Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." (John 3:14-15) To the left, Archangel Chamuel has tears in her eyes as she watches Christ die. The cup is no longer in her hand. 
In legend, the mother pelican fed her dying young with her blood to revive them from death, but lost her own life. This symbolizes Christ saving us through his blood. 
(14) Jesus is placed in the tomb (Matt. 27-57-60).
Top center, lilies in the shape of a cross, represent Christ's resurrection, as does the butterfly to the upper right of Christ.  
An ancient myth held that the phoenix, which lived in the Arabian desert, lived to be 500 years old and then set its nest on fire and was consumed in the flames. After three days, the phoenix rose again from the ashes, restored to youth, to live another 500 years. St. Clement related this story to symbolize the resurrection. 
Pope Francis has abandoned the Scriptural Way of the Cross, instituted by John Paul II, and reverted back to the traditional Way of the Cross.

By the way, in looking up the Scriptural Way of the Cross, I found an alternate Way of the Cross for Protestants that I like.  In this version, the Last Supper is the first station and the resurrection is the last station. 


  1. I also like this scripture-based series better than the traditional, although that may be because of my familiarity with each of these events. I love the brilliant colors and complex symbolism.

  2. A very different presentation of the stations. As Judy said, the colors and symbolism is very appealing.