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Fourteen look at the Passion

13 March 2012

by Katy Hounsell-Robert

The women of Jerusalem (above) and Simon the Cyrenian (below): the Stations by Caroline Hands and Dan MacCarthy

The women of Jerusalem (above) and Simon the Cyrenian (below): the Stations by Caroline Hands and Dan MacCarthy

ST MICHAEL’s, Discoed, a small medieval church sheltered by a 6000-year-old yew tree, is hosting a special Stations of the Cross.

The chairman of the Friends of St Michael’s, David Hiam, and the artist Charles MacCarthy gathered together 14 of MacCarthy’s friends, local professional artists who had never worked in churches but were in­terested in portraying one Station. The 14 drew lots for the titles, but could swap if they wished. No one did. The works are for sale. One third of the selling price is to go to the charity Freedom from Torture.

MacCarthy told me: “We gave the artists the freedom to choose the size and medium that suited them best. Most of the work is oil on canvas or board. We also needed to give the exhibition visual coherence, and so we stipulated that the work had to be vertical [portrait] or square, and fit on to 3 ft x 4 ft grey boards. After a lot of experimenting, we lit each Station individually to enhance its particular character.”

They used the sequence of Stations devised by Pope John Paul II in 1991 and approved by the present Pope in 2007. So the First Station, by John Clarke, is Christ’s Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.

At the top of the picture, Christ is in prayer, while, far below, sleeping figures are crowded together, perhaps implying that we are sleeping, too. The rock that Christ leans on re­sembles a large scaled fish, and, indeed, the whole garden suggests be­ing under the sea. This reflects the medieval concept of water as repres­enting spirituality and land mortality.

Clarke spoke for many of the 14 when he told me: “The opportunity to reflect and explore the text and the subject, also in relation to one’s own life experience, has affected me deeply.”

In the Second Station, Jesus is Betrayed by Judas, MacCarthy shows Christ in traditional robes, standing alone but in calm resolve. In the forefront, inspired by the Giotto fresco, is a hooded, evil-looking Judas, who, with his back to us, points out Christ to the guards and elders.

In Jesus is Condemned by the Sanhedrin, Susannah Fiennes moves into the present day. Christ wears a jeans suit, and is taking up the cross with the Sanhedrin figures watching in the background. The artist was mainly concerned with conveying the incredible weight of the cross on Christ’s shoulder and back.

There are no people to be seen in Carolyn Blake’s Jesus is Denied by Peter. She evokes dawn in the Middle East, the early sunlight filtering through spaces in the solid-indigo walls. She says: “The aspect I focused on was the suffering that filled Peter’s consciousness after denying Christ, the awakening of such, and then living with the consequences.”

Simon Dorrell continues the theme of the modern man in Jesus is Judged by Pilate, with a close-up of Christ’s hands bound together over his bare stomach and belted jeans. He feels that portraying Jesus shirtless adds to his vulnerability.

In Jesus is Scourged and Crowned with Thorns, Anthea Stilwell, after considerable soul-searching, has re­turned to the more stylised medieval tradition. Her Christ stands quietly in his purple gown, mouth slightly turned down, eyes lowered, giving a feeling of his patiently enduring the mocking.

In Jesus Bears the Cross, Alison Neal completely breaks away from the accepted pattern. Her Christ-figure is a cross between the Fool in Tarot cards and a shop-window manne­quin with detachable joints. The “fool” walks purposefully on with a knapsack on his back, but with a number of the limbs falling off. Rather than implying that Christ is taking our burdens on himself, her message is that we should all lighten our own load.

For Jesus is Helped by Simon the Cyrenian to Carry the Cross, Dan MacCarthy was inspired by a news photo of a boy in the United States who had been on the run for two years and, when finally caught, was led away barefoot and shackled. This helped him to visualise Christ’s humiliation and suffering. Simon is portrayed as a small, kindly, deformed man. The artist feels that those who offer to help are often themselves the most vulnerable.

Caroline Hands expresses emo­tions flowing freely in Women of Jerusalem. The women are elongated shapes on a huge blue and brown wave of empathy streaming towards a golden Christ. His message for them, “Do not weep for me; weep instead for your­selves and for your children,” reflects pity rather than recrimina­tion.

Jesus is Crucified is a simple small figure hanging in space in a deep red background bordered in blue. This is the only piece in stained glass, and is lit behind for full effect. The artist Nicola Hopwood says that “making the piece became a meditation on the true nature of forgiveness; not as a one-off act, but as a sustained and ongoing practice.”

In Jesus Promises His Kingdom to the Good Thief, Julienne Braham brings us back to Christ as a real man. The head of the thief is in close profile, expressing real sorrow, while Christ, despite being in agony, is leaning towards the thief and half-smiling as he struggles to reassure him. To the artist, the penitent thief represents us with all our failings.

Jesus Speaks to his Mother and the Disciple is a gentle, impressionistic painting of Christ, his mother, the disciple, and angels covering their faces in a mist of turquoise and terra- cotta. “It is touching that here at the end of his life’s journey his thoughts are of home for those he loved,” the artist, Andrea McLean, says.

In making Jesus Dies on the Cross, Richard Bavin was struck by the darkness brought on by the eclipse, which is a key element in his visualising of the scene. He has just enough light for us to make out the body hanging limply and taking up the whole frame.

For Jesus is Placed in the Tomb, Lois Hopwood used no figures. She wanted to express the sadness and stillness of the white cloth covering a broken body in the darkness of the stone tomb. Her inspiration began with a memory of a stone tomb in Hereford Cathedral.

The organisers had aimed at as wide and diverse interpretation as possible, and have brought every­thing together, like instruments in an orchestra playing the same theme of suffering and love.

The organisers had aimed at as wide and diverse interpretation as possible, and have brought every­thing together, like instruments in an orchestra playing the same theme of suffering and love.

At St Michael’s, Discoed, near Presteigne, Powys LD8 2NW, until 9 April. Haydn’s String Quartet Op. 51, The Seven Last Words of Christ, will be performed in the church on Saturday 7 April at 7.30 p.m. For more in­formation, and to buy a Station or the catalogue, email David Hiam at davidhiam@aol.com. discoed.org

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