Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Stations of the Cross

I've heard this term *Stations of the Cross* now and again, that it was something Catholics did, and I'd wonder what it meant. Well, tonight while reading about St Francis of Assisi (the Franciscans made popular the Stations of the Cross) I finally found out what it means:
"Pilgrims in Jerusalem had long followed Christ's final journey from Pilate's house to Calvary, pausing to pray at the site, or Station, of each incident of the Passion. The Franciscans devised a devotion based on pictures or carvings of the incidents, which, arranged on the walls of churches, enabled congregations to reflect and pray at each Station. This has been followed during Lent and Passiontide from medieval times, although the final choice of fourteen Stations was not made until the nineteenth century. They are: Christ's condemnation to death; his weighing down with the cross; his first fall; his meeting with his mother; the bearing of the cross by Simon of Cyrene; the mopping of Christ's face by Veronica; his second fall; his meeting with the women of Jerusalem; his third fall; the stripping of his garments; the nailing to the cross; his death on the cross; the taking down of his body from the cross; and the laying of his body in the tomb."
- from *The Faith: A History of Christianity* by Brian Moynahan

Natural Born Inquisitor
That was interesting to me, but this chapter is even more fascinating because it illustrates both the compassion and cruelty that can exist in *people of faith*.
St Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzman both created an order of friars in the early 1200s (the Franciscans and the Dominicans). They both believed in absolute poverty. Their friars walked in the world begging for alms rather than remain cloistered in the contemplative tranquility of a monastery. "Neither man spared himself; they died within five years of each other, and both were swiftly canonised". However these two men were polar opposites; Francis was compassionate and devoted his life to helping lepers (who at that time were utterly shunned and outcast); Dominic was the cruel hunter and torturer of heretics; a "natural born inquisitor".