Path to the Cross: old and new

St. James Episcopal owns two sets of Good Friday ritual aid

At noon on Good Friday, parishioners of St. James Episcopal Church will symbolically follow Christ’s final journey before his death as they meditate and pray at Stations of the Cross recently acquired by the church.

During Lent and especially on Good Friday, Roman Catholic and many Protestant churches commemorate Christ’s journey to the Crucifixion at Stations, or artistic representations of scenes, where people can stop, contemplate and pray.

“The Stations are meant to retrace the steps that Jesus took from his arrest in Jerusalem to his Crucifixion,” said the Rev. Mark Holland, rector of St. James.

Holland will lead a procession on Good Friday through 14 Stations that will be moved from their location in the St. James Chapel of the Twelve Apostles to the main church.

“We set the stations around the wall of the church and process. There are prayers and meditations for each one,” he said.

These antique Stations of the Cross, dedicated on Maundy Thursday 2010, were given to St. James by Dr. Chet Coles and his wife, Janie Languirand Coles, in honor of their grandchildren, Timothy Adam Coles, Lillian Coles Magruder, Eleonora Jade Magruder, Duncan Daniel Magruder and Ethan Alexander Coles.

This summer, the church acquired a second set of Stations of the Cross. These contemporary bas-relief sculptures, installed on the exterior wall of the Parish Hall facing the church’s mediation garden, were given by sisters deSha Norwood, of Houston, and Brent Norwood Caldwell in memory of their parents, Flo and Abby Norwood.

“What we did,” Caldwell said, “is we had memorial donations for Mama given to the church, and we asked Mark that these be used for some special purpose, something active, not passive.”

With the donations to the church from friends and family members as well as their own donations and with the approval of the rector and the vestry, Caldwell and Norwood selected local artist Deborah Luke for the project. Caldwell loved the work Luke had done in a memorial garden at the Kappa Kappa Gamma House on the LSU campus and at a friend’s meditation garden.

The contemporary Stations are now permanently installed around the St. James Columbarium, where the cremated ashes of parishioners and their immediate families can be placed and cared for in perpetuity.

Abby Norwood’s remains were the first to be placed in the columbarium, a project he and Flo Norwood long promoted.

“This location was meant to be,” Caldwell said. “Between the windows and the doors was the perfect place for all 14. We didn’t have to squeeze anything in to make it work.”

Chet and Janie Coles discovered the Stations they donated in an antiques shop in Mobile, Ala., while they were on their way home from a trip to North Carolina. “When we walked in and saw them, my heart started thumping,” Chet Coles said.

He knew the church had been looking for a set of Stations for the chapel. The antique Stations were done by Benziger Brothers, a Roman Catholic publishing house founded in Switzerland in 1792.

“We think they were made about 1900,” Chet Coles said. “They are mission-style polychrome lithographs.”

They are in their original frames and are printed in English.

“They were probably done for the Anglican market, probably for the American Episcopal church,” Coles said. “The company had a New York office. If they had been done for the Catholic market at that time, they would have been in Latin.”

According to tradition, the idea of re-creating sites from the Holy Land in other places began quite early as a way to localize religious pilgrimages. However, the actual concept of the Stations of the Cross seems to have originated in the 15th century.

Although early sets of Stations of the Cross contained only seven scenes, most standard sets now contain 14 artistic renderings beginning with Jesus’ condemnation to death and ending with his body placed in the tomb. Most sets also include Jesus’ meeting his mother, his three falls, the Crucifixion and his removal from the cross.

“They do the Stations of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa (Way of Sorrows), every Friday in Jerusalem,” Holland said. “The Stations are marked in the city. They lead up to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.”

Holland said the Stations have been commemorated for hundreds of years. “It’s fascinating to see the Stations in the style of different cultures and different races,” he said. “An American Station looks different from one in Africa or in Mexico.”