Roundup: Historiated crosses, English ballad carol of the Crucifixion, and more

Holy Week begins Sunday. I will be publishing short daily devotional posts during that time and through the first eight days of Easter. Also: don’t forget about the Art & Theology Holy Week Playlist and Eastertide Playlist! I’ve made some new song additions since last year, mixed in to preserve the narrative flow.

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ART VIDEO: “The Crucifixion, c. 1200 (from Christus triumphans to Christus patiens)”: When I was a student in Florence for a semester, my first paper for my Italian history, art, and culture class traced the evolution of the painted wood-panel crucifix in late medieval Italy, from the Christus Triumphans (Triumphant Christ) type to Christus Patiens (Suffering Christ). I lived less than a five-minute walk from the Uffizi, which has in its collection a beautiful example of each—explored by Drs. Steven Zucker and Beth Harris in this short Smarthistory video. Longtime readers of the blog may recognize the latter, which I posted back in 2018.

Painted cross, Pisa (detail)
Painted cross (detail), Pisa, ca. 1180–1200. Tempera and gold leaf on wood, 277 × 231 cm. Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Inv. 432. [object record]

Zucker provides wonderful photos of both in high resolution on his Flickr page (start here and scroll right)—the full crosses and details of each apron scene—available for free noncommercial use under a Creative Commons license. And there are many other art historical images there as well!

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ONLINE EXPERIENCE: “Anamnesis: Journey through the Stations of the Cross”: This year visual artist Daniel Callis and the music and liturgy collective The Many collaborated on a self-guided set of online Stations of the Cross. There are fifteen total, which are being released one at a time every morning and evening from March 30 through April 5. Each station consists of an artwork, a prayer, a song, and a written meditation that help us enter into lament.

Callis, Dan_Grief Station 1
Daniel Callis (American, 1955–), Grief Station #1, Prognosis, 2022. Ink, oil, palm ash, fiber, clay, ash, fabric, 60 × 24 × 24 in. (total work). Photo courtesy of the artist.

The artworks are by Callis, and they’re from his Stations: Resurgam series, a body of work that was just exhibited this month at Green Art Gallery at Biola University in La Mirada, California. He began the series in January 2021 in response to the death of his son, Jeremy David Callis (1980–2020). It consists of fifteen mixed-media works on paper (his process involves printing, “wounding,” stitching, etc.) and fifteen raku-fired offering bowls that incorporate, from the cooling process, copies of letters, hospital documents, and drawings from Jeremy. “They are about pain and the absurd insistent pursuit of hope,” Callis says of the series. Resurgam is Latin for “I shall rise again.”

The songs are by The Many.

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BOOK EXCERPT from The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey by Brian Zahnd: In this post from his blog, Pastor Brian Zahnd excerpts a passage from his book The Unvarnished Jesus (2019). “To interpret the meaning of the cross is more than a life’s work—in fact, it has and will remain the work of the church for millennia,” he writes. “The cross is the ever-unfolding revelation of who God is, and it cannot be summed up in a simple formula. This is the bane of tidy atonement theories that seek to reduce the cross to a single meaning. The cross is many things: It’s the pinnacle of God’s self-disclosure. It’s divine solidarity with all human suffering. It’s the shaming of the principalities and powers. It’s the point from which the satan is driven out of the world. It’s the death by which Christ conquers Death. It’s the abolition of war and violence. It’s the supreme demonstration of the love of God. It’s the re-founding of the world around an axis of love. It’s the enduring model of co-suffering love we are to follow. It’s the eternal moment in which the sin of the world is forgiven . . .” Read more.

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SONGS:

>> “The Leaves of Life”: “The Leaves of Life,” alternatively titled “The Seven Virgins,” is a traditional English ballad carol of Christ’s passion, first set down in the nineteenth century. It is narrated by (the apostle?) Thomas, who on a fateful Friday runs into the Virgin Mary and six of her companions, who are looking for Jesus. He directs them to the hill where Jesus is being crucified (“And sit in the gallery” may be a corruption of “The city of Calvary”). The women tearfully fly to the site, and Jesus tries to console his mother from the cross before breathing his last. The song ends with Thomas imbibing a strong scent of rose and fennel as he meditates on Christ’s love. [HT: Global Christian Worship]

Here the song is performed in the chapter house of Wells Cathedral in Somerset by William Parsons, founder of the British Pilgrimage Trust and author of Singing for Our Supper: Walking an English Songline from Kent to Cornwall, a book about the seven months he spent as a wandering minstrel. Parsons refers to it as a gypsy carol because Ralph Vaughan Williams collected one version of it from the Roma singer Esther Smith during his 1908–13 collecting trips that resulted in the publication, with Ella May Leather, of Twelve Traditional Carols from Herefordshire (1920).

>> “Were You There”: This African American spiritual is performed here by Pegasis, a vocal trio of sisters—Marvelis, Rissel, and Yaina Peguero Almonte—originally from the Dominican Republic but now living in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It’s as if they’re the three Marys singing their testimony! The song is on their 2016 album Peace Through Praise, which they released under the name The Peguero Sisters. Their harmonies are gorgeous.

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PODCAST EPISODE: “Malcolm Guite: Poems on the Passion”: In this special passion- and resurrection-themed Nomad devotional episode from 2018, Malcolm Guite reads and reflects on three of his poems, and David Benjamin Blower performs an original three-part song that he wrote in response and that has not been released elsewhere (see 4:30, 16:04, and 27:18).

Guite’s “Jesus dies on the cross,” part of his Stations of the Cross sonnet cycle, was inspired by a line from George Herbert’s poem “Prayer”: “God’s breath in man returning to his birth.” And his “Easter Dawn” [previously] is based in part on a sermon by the seventeenth-century Anglican bishop Lancelot Andrewes. Paraphrasing Andrewes, Malcolm says, “Jesus is the gardener of Mary [Magdalene]’s heart—her heart is all rent and brown and wintery, and with one word, he makes all green again.” Beautiful! For more on the theme of Jesus as gardener, see my 2016 blog post “She mistook him for the gardener.”

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