Art in St. Andrew’s: an explanation
Robert Dunlap of Bar Harbor, Maine executed the sculpture and his wife, Susan Dunlap did the enamels and mosaic. They attempted to catch the most significant matter in the events of our Lord’s passion, resurrection and commissioning of his disciples.
The figures for the Stations of the Cross on the walls of the Nave depict and interpret the nine events leading to Jesus’ death and being placed in the tomb. The mosaic is on the front of the choir loft and is not seen until the worshipper returns from communion or leaves the church.
Stations of the Cross
The First Station Jesus is condemned to death.
Jesus does not appear in this figure. The essential person to whom your eye is drawn is Pilate. The artist depicted the essence of this part of the Passion as a representation of “Compromise.” The figure is of a man acting weakly when he might have acted with strength. Pilate is not pictured as attractive, but rather as a weak-kneed, fish-bellied, hollow-faced man. Pilate washes his hands of the matter–refusing to take responsibility–compromising what is right; it happens all the time around us–and it leads to crucifixion. The two other individuals represent the crowd, picking up staves and reeds and the crown of thorns. The faces of the two are without features: a faceless crowd.
The Second Station The cross is laid on Jesus
The centurians appear first in this figure. Look at their faces. One cannot help wincing as Jesus anticipates the next blow of the whip. If the wooden beam represents the sin of humanity, contrast the effort it takes for the soldier to carry the weight in this figure with Figure 3, where Jesus carries it effortlessly. Only he is sufficient to bear it for us.
The Third Station Simon of Cyrene is compelled to carry the cross.
Simon does not appear anywhere in this figure. The soldiers look straight out at the viewer. “You come and take this cross. You come and walk with this man.” The viewer can no longer be just a spectator. At this point the artist insists that you merge with the procession. But it goes beyond this. It says that you cannot be with Christ unless you yourself step into the procession of the suffering and take their burden on your own shoulders.
The Fourth Station Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem.
This figure is full of beauty in the gracefulness of its lines. One of the women falls prostrate with anguish. Hands reach out to span an infinite distance. One of the women is very pregnant. “Do not weep for me,” says Jesus, “no weep for yourselves and for your children.” For if these things happen now when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?
The Fifth Station Jesus is stripped of His garments
Look carefully at the face of the soldier on the left. This is really playing to the crowd–real mocking. One can almost hear him saying like a teasing child, ” Poor Jesus. Big man! Messiah! Ha!” The figure of Christ is very docile here. The artist raised sheep and said that he always marveled at how the animals will let their coats be shorn without so much a a motion to escape. This is the image that appears in Isaiah 57:3, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to slaughter and like a sheep which before its shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” Notice that the artist has worked the trefoil, a very old symbol of the Trinity, into the figure of Christ.
The Sixth Station Jesus is nailed to the cross
In this figure the viewer is part of the watching crowd. Only one word is really necessary to point out its essential message-“Apathy”. All around you are people who couldn’t care less. They don’t want to get involved. Would you? A High Priest of the Church and a Roman Official watch as the hammer begins its travel for the first blow. Crucifixions are happening all the time because nobody is willing to get involved. Will You? Oh well, it will be over in a minute and then the crowd will walk away. Can You?
The Seventh Station Jesus dies on the cross
This life-sized figure is meant to be looked at from all sides. You are invited to walk up to it. The donor of this crucifix looked at it on the eve of its dedication and said quietly, “The Young Prince of Glory.” Jesus is still alive and is at the moment of his death. With his last breath he cries out, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.” It catches the agony of dying. This is the death that comes when the love of God encounters the hate of man. The contrast and tension between the rigid cross–the instrument of man’s hate–and the arch of agony in the body of God’s Son–the agent of his love–marks this collision. But the love of God, which finally must have the victory, is contained in the general quality of strength and virility of the figure.
The Eighth Station Jesus is taken down from the Cross
Mary holds the very dead body of her son. One phrase says it all-what you see here is the consequence of loving. A parent can understand this best, perhaps. But anyone who has seen someone else they love die-either in fact or in the ‘little deaths’ of life they will know that it would have been easier not to love at all. One can expect love to be costly.
The Ninth Station Jesus is laid in the tomb
It is over. The centurions stand their watch. One is bored. The other troubled. Perhaps this has been a terrible mistake! Perhaps it has.