Stations of the Cross

You might like to listen to some music while you follow this.  Nicola has sent some suggestions to listen to on YouTube.

King’s College Cambridge 2011 Easter 10  
When I Survey the Wonderous Cross, Rockingham

King’s College Cambridge 2011 Easter 3
O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, J.S. Bach.

We follow the journey to the crucifixion in words and deeds, there are 14 stations that lead from Jesus’s condemnation to his burial in the tomb. Many of you who have been to the Good Friday services at Barrow over the last decade, will know that there is a plant for each station to evoke and symbolise the journey and its witnesses. Normally we would walk from station to station gathering our bouquet of thorns, sweet and pungent scents, sharing the plants, hearing readings and singing hymns. This year I have chosen ones that may well grow in your garden or that you can see in the countryside beyond or might have in your store cupboards. I have not included three of the most symbolic – mandrake, vines and wormwood, Artemesia, but do look around you, thorns can be found on many plants, yellow flowers can symbolise the sun, its warmth and healing properties – the journey is yours and can be singular in all senses.

Now the hour has come
Now my soul is troubled.
What shall I say:
‘Father, save me from this hour?
But it is for this very reason that I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify your name                                           John 12:23, 27

I. Jesus is condemned                                             PERIWINKLE
The Son of man is going to be delivered into the
power of men; they will put him to death, and on
the third day be raised up again Matthew 17:22-23

Periwinkle, Vinca spp, has many names and represents sincere and unalterable friendship, as with all blue flowers and its old name of Virgin flower, it symbolises Mary, the mother of Jesus. The old Italian name is Death’s Flower as it was used as a wreath for dead infants, the theme of death concludes with convicts being made to wear periwinkle crowns on the way to the gallows. In simple terms it garlands the earth with flowers and leaves.

II. Jesus takes up His Cross                                               HAWTHORN
He had no form or charm to attract us,
No beauty to win our hearts;
He was despised, the lowest of men,
A man of sorrows, familiar with suffering, …
Yet ours were the sufferings he was bearing,
Ours the sorrows he was carrying                                         Isaiah 53:2-4

The hardest of woods our native hawthorn, Cratageus spp, its branches burnt hot enough to melt iron and were hard enough to form dagger hafts. Its small white blossoms symbolise purity and innocence as in the Christ child, in turn its red berries as with so many other plants, evoke his passion and death. Its sharp thorns remind us of the Crown of Thorns and the agonising journey ahead.

III. Jesus falls for the first time                                          PRIMROSE
In his anguish he prayed even more earnestly, and
his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood          Luke: 22: 44

The wet winter and early spring have created carpets of primroses, the cool nights allowing them to flower for many weeks, Cicely Mary Barker referred to them as being dear to folk through the land … neither proud nor grand. And yet they symbolise taking the easiest way through life – choosing the primrose path, Virgil, the Roman contemporary of Christ wrote: Easy the descent to hell but to find your way back up to the air, that is the hardest task. A reminder that Jesus chose the hardest task for our sake.

IV. Jesus meets His mother                                                               IRIS
Simeon said to Mary, ‘Look, he is destined for the fall
and for the rise of many in Israel, destined to be a sign
that is opposed – and a sword will pierce your soul too’   Luke 2:34-35

The flowers and leaves of iris carry separate symbols, the flowers are formed of three falls and three standards so are associated with the Holy Trinity, their traditional blue represents Mary. An old name was closer to another popular garden flower, gladioli, in that their leaves are shaped like swords, gladiator comes from the same root. Every step watching her son in such agony would have been like a sword piercing Mary’s heart and soul. In this context it is the leaves that are important, you could use any strap or sword shaped leaves in the garden.

VSimon of Cyrene carries the cross                                              BOX
A man had two sons. He went and said to the first
‘My boy, go and work in the vineyard today’. He answered,
‘I will not go’, but afterwards thought better of it and went.
The man then went and said the same thing to the second
who answered, ‘Certainly, sir’ but did not go.
Which of the two did the father’s will?                        Matthew 21:28-31

The evergreen Box, Buxus spp, can be a tree, shrub or hedge, here it is a reminder of the happiness and simplicity of Jesus’s childhood and early manhood in his father’s carpenter’s shop. We still refer to a boxwood rule because they were made from its wood. It is a very fine grained wood which over the centuries has been intricately carved to depict religious scenes. The actual wood of the true cross is open to debate ranging from olive to dogwood, or cedar, pine and cypress, individually or in combination. You might choose anyone of these.

VI.  Veronica wipes the face of Jesus                                  LAVENDER
In truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of
the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me       Matthew 25:40

The root of the word lavender, Lavandula,comes from lavare,to wash, it symbolises silence – how quiet were the crowd or were they jeering? Was it just Jesus’s nearest and dearest who watched in stunned silence. The name Veronica means vera icon, true icon, because the legend is that Jesus left an imprint of his face on the cloth. A true icon of kindness and bravery to risk drawing attention to herself in this simple timeless charity. Smell the lavender’s refreshingly clean scent and remember.

VII.  Jesus falls for the second time                                                  RUE
Save me, God, for the waters
Have closed in on my very being.
I am sinking in the deepest swamp
And there is no firm ground …
I am exhausted with calling out, my throat is hoarse,
My eyes are worn out with searching for my God               Psalm 69:1-3

The bitter smell of rue, Ruta spp, and its very name encompass to rue and to regret, imagine the heat, the agony, the exhaustion. What a contrast with the lavender above. Rue is a strong medicinal plant as well causing blistering to the skin, it is an abortifacient, laxative and diuretic, Ophelia in Hamlet refers to rue as the herb of grace because it was used in times of plague to purify the air, especially in churches, and was carried in posies to press to the nose when walking amongst crowds.

  The women of Jerusalem weep                                      WILLOW
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kill the prophets and stone
those who are sent to you! How often have I longed to gather
your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under
her wings and you refused! Look! Your house will be deserted.            Matthew 23:37-38

‘By the rivers of Babylon I sat down and wept’ is a well-known verse from Psalm 137, in the eighteenth century when the weeping willow was introduced into Europe it was named Salix babylonica. The weeping branches have become a lachrymose symbol of mourning, Jesus did not want the women to cry for him but for the plight of their children and all innocents. The flexible utility of willow means that it can be woven into baskets and coffins.  

IX. Jesus falls for the third time                                                HOLLY
Simon, Simon! Look, Satan has got his wish to sift you all
like wheat; but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith
may not fail, and once you have recovered, you in in your turn
must strengthen your brothers.                                           Luke 22:31-32

Holly, Ilex spp, is known for its prickly leaves which evolved to stop grazing animals from killing young plants, it carries the symbols of white flowers albeit insignificant, and red berries. In medieval tapestries the holly is often depicted growing alongside the oak together representing Jesus Christ and the Almighty, night and day. It is associated with Christmas celebrations and Jesus’s birth so a juxtaposition of celebration and mourning. As the tree matures the top leaves lose their needles as they have outgrown the danger of grazing.

X. Jesus is stripped of His clothes                                                     IVY
We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing
out of it; but as long as we have food and clothing,
we shall be content with that.                                               Timothy 6:7-8

Ivy clothes buildings and trees, sometimes to their detriment, its tenacious habit has made it a symbol of steadfastness – one used by the WRVS, Women’s Royal Voluntary Service. Within its tendrils birds can nest and find shelter. Its flowers provide food very late in the year for bees whilst the later berries and leaves are twinned with holly in Christmas celebrations. To be stripped of your clothes would be yet another humiliation, exposing complete vulnerability to the cruelty of others.

XI. Jesus is nailed to the Cross                                                  CLOVES
Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me?
As often as seven times?’ Jesus answered,
‘Not seven, I tell you, but seventy-seven times’   Matthew 18:21-22

Cloves are the flowerbuds of a tree in the myrtle family, Syzygium aromaticum, their common name comes from the Latin for nail, clavus or clavo. Their nail-like appearance lead to the use of any plant with a clove-scent being used to symbolise the crucifixion – look at the borders of medieval illuminated manuscripts. Many nativity scenes are decorated with Dianthus as a warning of what the future held. If you have pinks or carnations or indeed sweet myrtle, Myrtus spp, in the garden these can be used.

XII.  Jesus dies on the Cross                                   ROSEMARY
We are preaching a crucified Christ: to the Jews an obstacle they
cannot get over, to the gentiles’ foolishness, but to those who have
been called, a Christ who is both the power of God
and the wisdom of God.                                                          1 Cor. 1:23-24
The legend of Rosemary is associated with the Flight into Egypt when the Holy Family rested under a rosemary bush, Mary threw her cloak over it to provide additional shelter. The white flowers were transformed into blue, and it is said that rosemary will never grow above the height of Jesus. One of the French common names is incense capturing its resinous, sweet scent. Rosemary is a powerfully good herb much used in traditional medicines. It is also a symbol of remembrance that we can share when one we loved dies.

XIII. Jesus is taken down from the Cross                WALNUT
Unless a wheat grain falls into the earth and dies, it remains only
a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.     John 12:24

The walnut tree, Juglans, is magnificent at this time of year its catkins are just forming – the promise of fruit to come. The actual walnut carries the full symbolism of the stations of the cross: the nut forms within a shell and a bitter outer coat. Once fully formed the bitter outer casing opens to allow the nut to fall away. In turn the woody inner casing representing the wood of the cross, opens to reveal the sweet kernel of new life from which a young walnut tree will form.

XIV.  Jesus is laid in the tomb                                                       OAK
When we were baptised into Christ Jesus, we were buried into
his death. So by our baptism into his death we were buried with
him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father’s
glorious power, we too should begin living a new life.    Romans 6: 3-4

The mighty oak, Quercus spp, is one of our landscape’s most iconic trees, its roots spread into the earth to ensure it is well-anchored as its canopy spreads offering shelter to fauna, insects and lichen, and shade to those below. Its leaves fall in autumn so that the blasts of gales pass around and through its silhouette enabling it to survive to produce new leaves in the spring. The insignificance of Its fruit, the acorn is a symbol of how greatness can spring from the tiniest kernel.

Caroline Holmes







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