Praying with Boston College: Stations of the Cross

by Ethan Starr

 

Adorning the walls of nearly every Catholic church in America are 14 representations of Jesus along the Way of the Cross. Varying in their proportions and modes of depiction, hidden behind pilasters or above a person’s eye level, they are easily forgotten during much of the liturgical year. The Stations of the Cross were originally designed as a method of retracing the last moments of Jesus before and during His crucifixion—this was done in place of actually travelling along Jerusalem’s Via Dolorosa. Today, praying the Stations endures as a popular practice during Lent. Boston College is home to a few different sets of Ways of the Cross around campus, and the Lenten season provides opportunities to pray with them in community.

St. Ignatius Church contains perhaps the most noticeable Stations, with their multi-toned wood panels providing a simple and straightforward narration of Jesus’ last earthly moments. While uniform crosses lining the walls of the basement Lannon Chapel may appear to resemble more minimalistic stations, they are not enumerated. Numbering only 12 in all, these likely serve a more decorative purpose. St. William’s Chapel, serving the School of Theology and Ministry, is adorned with similar crosses.

 

BC’s on-campus chapels are diverse in their representations of Jesus’ Way of Sorrows. In the basement of Gonzaga Hall on Upper campus, the Stations of the Cross in St. Joseph’s Chapel are just as dark in their rendering as the Chapel’s candlelit 10:00 p.m. Mass. First created by local artist Peter Rockwell (son of Norman Rockwell) in 1996, the intricate Via Crucis woodcuts dramatically convey each of Jesus’ falls, His nailing to the cross, and His grieving Mother. The expressive prints reproduce the many menacing facial expressions of the individuals taking part in Jesus’ crucifixion. The artist chooses to highlight Jesus’ figure and provides added contrast with radiating marks incised into the wood. The woodcut is executed in relief, meaning the inked surface consists of the portion of the plate not cut away. The woodcuts were installed in St. Joseph’s Chapel shortly after its renovation in the early 2000s. Peter Rockwell also designed the Tree of Life sculpture installed between Gasson Hall and O’Neill Library. 

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Perhaps the most peculiar Stations around campus can be found along the northern wall of the Gasson Library. Printed on simple poster board, 12 out of 14 Stations remain as relics of its use as a chapel during the renovation of St. Mary’s Hall (which lasted from 2013 to 2015). Placed well above the bookshelves and closely crowded with one another, few students are aware of their existence, and certainly fewer might have utilized them for prayer.

 

Finally, the stations of St. Mary’s provide a Passion narrative in a medium complimentary to their surroundings. Blending in to the Chapel’s grey marble, the Stations—rendered in high relief in plaster and framed with marble—seem almost to have been carved out of the wall. Each figure is depicted in flowing robes and medieval-styled headgear, with important figures appearing almost freestanding from the background, while lesser individuals and architectural details are molded in bas-relief. 

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Plentiful opportunities for praying the Way of the Cross exist on campus. Una Voce, Boston College’s Latin Mass Society, hosts prayer of the Stations in St. Joseph's Chapel every Friday at 7:30 p.m through April 12, and St. Ignatius Parish offers the prayers accompanied in Spanish every Friday during Lent at 6:00 p.m. In any case, praying Jesus’ Way of the Cross need not require a group—any individual at Boston College’s campus can contemplate this artwork and its meaning, especially during the Lenten season. 

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