Stations of the Cross

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Stations of the Cross

Recently Fr Shammi and I hefted a depiction of Jesus down from the wall. With a wet and windy blast the Sacred Heart Church (New Town) roof had leaked, causing small rivulets of water to run down the walls. Some dripped on to the small wooden cross at the top of the thirteenth Station of the Cross. This, unfortunately, then seeped through cracks in the wooden frame, some water running across the face of the painting and smearing the image of Jesus being taken down from the cross.

As it so happens, this unfortunate event occurred within a couple of weeks of the 130th anniversary of their original installation in August 1885. The ceremony of installation was attended by many people, there having been special buses from Elizabeth St and even Glenorchy. Fortunately a newspaper correspondent was also there, so it was recorded in some detail. One of the most striking features was the presence of a number of men who ‘marched in procession, wearing their handsome regalia,’ and were seated in a ‘place of honor.’ These were the Hibernians, and the set of the stations was a gift from them to Sacred Heart Church because its priest, Fr Hennebrey, was chaplain to the Hibernian Society, a Catholic Irishmen’s organisation.

Bishop Murphy (he was raised to Archbishop about three years later) gave the sermon. Its substance was not recorded in detail, but it was apparently ‘very instructive and impressive.’ Afterwards he, ‘attended by the clergy and acolytes, went round the stations, singing the solemn prayer appropriate to each station.’ A collection towards the costs of furnishing the church was taken up, hymns were sung, and Benediction concluded the hour and a half ceremony.

Prayerful reflection upon or re-enactment of Christ’s Passion has a long history, gaining popularity during the Middle Ages in connection with pilgrimages to Jerusalem. However the modern form of the ‘church-fixture’ fourteen stations is mainly a mid-nineteenth-century phenomenon, partly a product of papal approval for their erection at the discretion of local bishops around the 1860s. While it is hard to imagine an old Australian church without them, it would be hard to find them in most really old churches overseas, at least it would be a bit hard to find pre-nineteenth-century station images in most parish churches.

Yet at 130 years of age our Sacred Heart Church Stations of the Cross are nonetheless a long-serving part of our devotional heritage. And while there is a sort of symmetry in the removal of the thirteenth station reducing our complement of stations to thirteen, hopefully this will only be a temporary state of affairs. If repairs can be made, then there may yet be another 130 years of Jesus being perpetually taken down from the cross, but at least secure and dry on the wall.

By Dr Nick Brodie, Historian