Every Lenten season for the last few years I have been turning to the Stations of the Cross and writing meditation after meditation. The Stations of the Cross, also called The Way of the Cross, the Way of Sorrows or simply the Way. They tell the story of the Passion and Death of Jesus. Each Station represents an event which occurred during Jesus’ passion and death on Calvary.
Pilgrims first visited the Holy land and would make a pilgrimage to the different places it was purported that Jesus lived and died. During the Middle Ages when the Turkish invasion of the Holy Land prevented Christians from visiting the sacred sites in the Holy land, replicas of the sites began to crop up all over Europe. Christians would come to these sites to pray and meditate. The Franciscans were given custody of the sacred places in the Holy Land in the 1300's. In the medieval versions the number of the Stations varied from eleven to thirty-seven. By the 14th century the practice of meditation on the visual representations of Jesus’ journey became a regular part of Christian devotion in monasteries and parish churches. But the end of the 16th century the number of Stations were reduced to 14.
If you travel to almost any Catholic church in the world you will find some form of these fourteen stations. Protestants, deeply suspicious of imagery and artistic representations of the Gospel story refused to follow this practice for many years. But they finally came to see that sometimes the visual interpretations of Christ’s story deepened their faith and understanding of the story.
Today many Christians follow these 14 stations especially during the Lenten season. And so, like those other pilgrims, I ask you to join me as we stand beside these stops to the Cross and ponder their mystery. Hopefully through these meditations we will be drawn closer to the Lord and to our faith.
There are a multitude of artistic renderings of the Stations. I discovered the particular tributes to the Stations from an African artist. My masthead for the Lenten season portrays his first station. Bruce Onobrakpeya was born in Nigeria in 1932. Hs first exposure to art came from his father who was a competent sculptor and carved many wooden figures of traditional religious deities. Early in elementary school his son, Bruce developed an interest in engraving. As his interest grew he traveled north in 1957 to Zaire where he studied at the Nigerian College of Technology.
The artist was first introduced to the technique of intaglio at a printmaking workshop led by an artist from Holland. So Bruce turned from oils and drawing and lino cuts to etching. The surroundings and experiences of Onobrakpeya’s childhood made a lasting impression on his future work. The dense vegetation and fertile soil of his hometown is repeated in his prints. The prints we will follow are rich in vivid colors and magical imagery which combines Bruce’s Christian faith with his Urhobo culture.
His work can be found in many countries. He is primarily responsible for the renaissance of contemporary art in Nigeria. He became a pioneer in printmaking and elevated this technique to a level of a major art form.
I first saw prints of these powerful Stations at the First Baptist Church, Aiken, South Carolina. They were given to the church by George A. Naifeh who was formerly a U.S. diplomat in the Foreign Service. My thanks to the Pastor, Fred Andrea and his associate and my good friend James Bennett for providing these prints for our use.
The artist is now 80 years old. His thirty-year career has taken him to many countries in the Middle East especially. And his work can be seen in art galleries and museums all over the world. My hope is that as you ponder these interpretations you will come closer to the power and wonder of the Way of the Cross—the Via Dolorosa.
Let us begin the Journey which will finally lead to the Cross.