Check out Dom’s photos (taken back when we were just dating and finally uploaded to Flickr) of the lovely illuminated stations of the cross from the chapel at St. Edmund’s Retreat Center on Ender’s Island at Mystic Connecticut.
I fell in love with these stations when we were on retreat there and looking at these pictures again, even as blurry as some of them are, got me all choked up again. I wish I could find a way to get nice prints of them.
I love the way they depict the passion in various locations on the island, as if you are making a via crucis around the island as you circumnavigate the chapel. In fact, I suppose the effect is that after studying these stations, your imagination is able to make the entire island into a via crucis as you wander through the lovely gardens: That stone pillar is where Jesus was scourged, those steps are where he stumbled, etc. So that, as long as you are on the island, the passion is never far from your thoughts if you have internalized the art.
Additionally, the borders are illuminated with various local flora and fauna, most (perhaps all) of which is highly symbolic and appropriate to the specific station, like the beach roses whose thorns drip with blood as Jesus is condemned to death; the robin who shield her nestling under her wing, staring down a row of vicious crows, as Jesus meets his mother; or the grapes with blood spatters and sand dollars (which traditionally symbolize the five wounds) surrounding the scene of Veronica wiping Jesus’ face (don’t miss the face of Christ in those spatters of blood).
Also, the stations follow the seasons, beginning in spring, going through summer and autumn and ending in winter with a crucifixion that takes place in front of a Nor’Easter’s stormy seas. I particularly love the imagery of the scene where Jesus is removed from the cross. Mary, seated holds him in her arms, a traditional pieta. Snow is falling and at Jesus’ side are the traditional images of the magi’s gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Meanwhile the border is evergreen branches covered in snow along with gold brooches depicting the sacred heart and the immaculate heart. The whole scene evokes the nativity, Christmas time strangely contrasted with Good Friday and reminds me of a meditation on the Nativity by St Teresa Benedicta as well as of T. S. Eliot’s poem, Journey of the Magi:
. . . were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had
seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different;
this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like
Death, our death.
There is so much more I’m sure I haven’t yet noticed, symbolism that still escapes me. (I wish I knew more about some of the plants and animals.) I can return to these stations again and again and never get tired. And isn’t that how good art is supposed to be?
And there are things I haven’t mentioned but must squeeze in: I love that the cross is made of driftwood, it just feels right. As do the thorns, wasps and bent nails that surround the crucifixion. I suspect a visual pun in the mussels surrounding the image of Simon of Cyrene lifting the cross. I could go on and on; but I need to stop.
Anyway, check out the photos and if you are ever near Mystic, Connecticut do take a little drive down to Ender’s Island.
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