VIA CRUCIS/VIA LUCIS
THE XV STATIONS OF THE CROSS
I. The Stations, of Exodus, of Rome, of Jerusalem
he Exodus of the Hebrew Peoples from Egypt was commemorated in two ways, one, by making the pilgrimage of the in the Sinai Wilderness, the other by journeying three times a year on pilgrimage to the Temple, at Passover, Pentecost and Succoth. The 42 Stations of the Exodus were also traversed by Christian pilgrims. They shape the 42 Chapters of Dante's Vita Nuova.
Rome, in imitation of the Jewish Stations, first established Saint John Lateran in Rome as the Pope's Basilica, modeled on the Temple in Jerusalem, even to containing the Treasures of the Ark given it by the Emperor Constantine, the manna, the tables of stone, Aaron's rod. Irish pilgrims were used to the idea of pilgrimage stations (St Patrick's Purgatory on Station Island, Glendalough and its Seven Churches) and the Church came to establish the Seven Churches in Rome as shrines pilgrims should visit. Even the concept of Purgatory came into the Roman Church from Irish pilgrimage practices.
Last of all, the Franciscans encouraged the use of the Via Crucis in Jerusalem by pilgrims. I have walked the Via Dolorosa, prayed at its stations, carrying a cross, to the blare of Arab radios.
II. Santa Brigida and Sant' Andrea
Tuscany in Italy was Christianized late, and mostly by Irish pilgrims. St Frediano from Ireland was a major Evangelist in these parts, particularly venerated in Lucca. St Donato from Ireland was passing through Fiesole as a pilgrim when the people chose to elect him as their bishop. A brother and sister from Ireland settled outside Fiesole, St Brigida in a cave, a town growning up named after her, her brother St Andrew in another cave on the mountain above, at a place called 'Sasso', 'Rock'. Eventually St Andrew, whom St Donato made the Archdeacon of his Diocese, died in A.D. 876 at St Martin at Ponte a Mensola, where Bernard Berenson's Villa I Tatti now is. Italians consider these saints to be from Scotland because the Latin documents call them 'Scoti', but that was how the medieval Irish, who also settled Scotland, called themselves. Hermits continued to live in St Andrew's Hermitage at Sasso.
III. The Madonna delle Grazie al Sasso
Already the Madonna had appeared in the thirteenth century on the next mountain to the Seven Saints who founded the Servi di Santa Maria in 1233. They built sanctuaries to her on Monte Senario beyond Fiesole and at the Santissima Annunziata in Florence.
On 2 July 1484 the Madonna appeared on the rock at Sasso to two shepherdesses from the Ricoveri family. They had gone to pray at the Hermitage for their dying father's return to health. The Madonna cured their father and told the children
IV. The Via Crucis
At first it was thought that Sasso could celebrate the Jubilee with a library for scholars and pilgrims on the Bible, on pilgrimage and on the Madonna. But the Renaissance room overlooking the valley was needed by lunching pilgrims.
Then it was decided to set up a Via Crucis for the pilgrimage of prayer from Santa Brigida to Sasso made every year. A local artist, in Poggibonsi, who had previously only done abstract works, had designed a Via Crucis in bronze. His figures in dark bronze are showing against abstract golden designs. He incorporates portraits of persons of this time in those timeless scenes, making Golgotha of A.D. 33 also be A.D. 2000. In the Deposition from the Cross at Jesus' left hand is John Paul II, a new Joseph of Arimathea.
Thirteenth Station - Jesus is Taken Down from the Cross
Tredicesimo stazione - Gesu` e` deposto dalla croce
While in the Laying of the Body in the Tomb, the figure at Jesus' right is Mother Teresa of Calcutta.
Fourteenth Station - Jesus is Entombed
Quattordicesima stazione - Gesu` e` sepolto
V. The Artist, Giuseppe Calonaci, of Poggibonsi, Italy
One senses here, in these XV Stations of the Cross, not the humanity/divinity of Florentine medieval/Renaissance art, filled with women and children as well as men, but the self-centering lostness, the overwhelming of humanity by the mechanization of our modern world; not the world of a Jewish Mother and her Child, of Irish pilgrims, a brother and a sister, and the Bible, of two Tuscan shepherdesses and the Gospel, but that of the car and the Guernica horrors of war, a world made by men and their machines, of betrayal, in which women and children are but pawns caught up in infernal artifices of self-glorying. Indeed, much church art today seems to recall less the Word become flesh and blood, dwelling in our midst, than it does wrecked cars, to be no longer of our mortal clay but of metallic machines, not of immortality, but death. Indeed, Calonaci uses his theme of the 'Machine of the Sun' towering over and behind each of the XV scenes, that mechanical gold seemingly more beautiful than the darkness of humanity. Interestingly, the Stations of the Cross are by the roadside for cars [which, four years later, from their pollution, have now darkened the bright bronze], not along the pilgrim path one can only make as a pedestrian, coming up through the trees from Santa Brigida.
Perhaps it will be best to make this pilgrimage on foot, in simplicity, as would have the Irish pilgrims who came here over a thousand years ago, as would have the Tuscan shepherdesses seeking their father's recovery from mortal illness. And to go singing St Patrick's Lorica, St Francis' Canticle. And to pause, amidst the trees of this mountain to read in the Gospel not just of the Crucifixion in Jerusalem but also of the Annunciation in Nazareth, 2000 years ago, and of this moment in time, in our midst.
Return to the Via Crucis
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