THE Passion of Christ will be retold this Lent in religious art at landmarks across central London.
An exhibition, “Stations of the Cross”, includes 14 ancient and modern artworks, which will be free to view from Ash Wednesday.
It includes both commissioned and existing pieces, such as the video Martyrs (Earth, Air, Fire, Water), 2014 by Bill Viola and Kira Perov, currently in St Paul’s Cathedral, and The Way to Calvary, c.1544-45 by Jacopo Bassano, in the Chapel Royal at the Tower of London.
The project is the initiative of a theologian at King’s College, London, Dr Aaron Rosen, who is also the co-curator. He was struck by the idea of an “artistic and spiritual pilgrimage” while writing his first book, Art and Religion in the 21st Century, last year.
“There is a stereotype of contemporary artists’ being godless blasphemers who are only interested in offending religious viewers,” he said last Friday. “I wanted to accentuate how artists today are doing really interesting things with religious imagery.”
Dr Rosen teamed up with the artist Terry Duffy to create a “New Jerusalem” in London, mapping the steps of Christ on the Via Dolorosa. “We wanted to find the political context and social relevance of the Stations of the Cross for today,” he said. “When the refugee crisis happened, it seemed to be a very telling example of that commonality.”
The idea, he said, was that people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds would view the suffering of Jesus in the context of suffering today, particularly those in the midst of, and those fleeing, the conflict in Syria.
At the eighth Station, at Notre Dame de France, in Leicester Square, pilgrims and visitors would be able to donate to the church’s refugee centre. “Visual art and religion can come together to inspire ethical action,” Dr Rosen said.
The first Station is the work of the co-curator, Mr Duffy. It is a cruciform painting, Victim, No Resurrection, which he created in 1981 in response to rioting in the UK. Today, it is hanging above the altar in the chapel at King’s College, London, on the Strand.
Other Stations include the statue of Mahatma Gandhi, in Parliament Square, by Philip Jackson. Like Gandhi, Dr Rosen said, Jesus was another good example of a “recognised source of inspiration and commonality”.
The ninth Station, Stations, 2016 (model of work in progress), by G. Roland Biermann, represents the third time that Jesus falls on the road to Golgotha.
It is being installed between the Barbican Centre and St Giles-without-Cripplegate this week, and will feature a simple cross supported by oil drums, which have been painted red to “signify the blood of Christ”.
The final Station is located in Temple Church, which is modelled on the circular Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where Jesus was buried. The artist behind the installation Preparatory Sketch for Crude Ashes: Three faces for death, burial, and resurrection, 2016, is Leni Diner Dothan, a former resident of Jerusalem. This work, she says, questions her “descent” from the holy city and the “ascent” of Jesus after his resurrection from the tomb.
Other locations are the National Gallery, the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster Cathedral, the Wallace Collection, Cavendish Square, and the City church St Stephen Walbrook.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Richard Chartres, and other church leaders have welcomed the project. “The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ was a very public event,” the Bishop said. “It is entirely appropriate these events be commemorated in a public way.”
The Bishop of Stepney, the Rt Revd Adrian Newman, said that the Stations “navigate a journey” that was still relevant to “dispossessed communities, fleeing refugees, displaced identities, and all who suffer injustice and oppression”.
The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said that the “impressive works of art” offered a “powerful encouragement” when thinking about both the suffering of Jesus through Lent, and that of “innocent people”.
The exhibition will run until Easter Monday. It is supported by King’s College, London, the Cambridge Inter-faith Programme, Coexist House, and Art and Sacred Places. Visitors can take the tour by downloading maps, podcasts, and the app from the Coexist website: www.coexisthouse.org.uk/stations2016.
Dr Rosen said that he would like the idea to be “productively plagiarised” in the UK, to spread the “tremendous relevance” of the Passion.
In Manchester, a similar project, the PassionArt Trail, is returning for a third run, with works of art on the themes of “stillness, temptation, prayer, mindfulness, compassion, solitude, and grief” on display in art galleries throughout the city from Shrove Tuesday (News, 7 March 2014).