Wednesday in Holy Week: pieta and readings

The pieta

Christ crucified

This pieta is very unusual. (And probably hard to make out very well.) It's the centerpiece on a cross that stands alone in the middle of the courtyard at the Se Cathedral in Porto, Portugal. Because it's been outside for hundreds of years (the cloister was added to the Cathedral in the 14th/15th centuries), it is very worn. But on one side is the crucified Christ, and on the other side is the pieta.

I've never seen one like it before. The large outdoor crosses in Ireland, for instance, sometimes feature the crucified Christ, or perhaps the risen Christ, or maybe a lamb. While this one may not be unique in all the world, it certainly is most unusual. Some histories of the area suggest that there was a strong Marian devotion centered here which might explain the presence of Mary on the cloister cross. In fact, there is a smaller depiction of Mary (not sure what she as doing as her arms are broken off) on the "pole" of this cross as well, standing underneath Jesus.

The cloister courtyard with the cross standing in the middle
Of course, it's impossible to see any facial expressions on these representations (in fact, Jesus's face is broken off on the pieta), but I love this all the same. The pathos of the scene is so powerful and it comes through even now. Jesus's body is so large and yet Mary does her best to cradle him in her lap.

This scene is not, however, part of the Biblical text. In none of the Gospels is Jesus's body given to Mary but rather is given to Joseph of Arimathea in each. The pieta as an art form comes from Germany in the 13th/14th century and became popular throughout Northern Europe in the following centuries.

Here are the readings for Wednesday in Holy Week. "And it was night," John says as Judas leaves the gathering to "go out and do quickly what [he was] going to do." Night in John has special meaning. Thursday of Holy Week begins the time of night, the time when darkness and sin come to the fore and conspire to destroy love and goodness, the time when people are walking in darkness, living in a condemned state of unbelieving. The night will cover everything now, until Sunday morning - at dawn, when the sun has risen, and the light will shine to show that the Glory of God can never be destroyed.