Topic: Biagio d'Antonio

Br. Michael James Rivera, O.P.'s picture

Meditations on the Sixth Station

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He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:3-5)

Hanging on a wall in the Louvre Museum, you will find Christ Carrying the Cross, a painting by the Florentine artist Biagio d’Antonio. Dressed in red and adorned with a crown of thorns, Jesus is at the heart of the image. He is part of a large procession, making its way up a hillside. Walking behind him, we find Simon of Cyrene, pressed into service by the Roman guards and helping Christ to carry his heavy burden. To Simon’s left, we see a woman clad in brown, her hands clasped together in prayer -- the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose gaze is fixed intently upon her son. He stares back at her, a man of sorrows, his face bruised and beaten, as if to say, “Woman, behold your son.” Around them officials and infantry ride on horseback, directing the crowd, which includes: Mary Magdalene, John the Beloved Disciple, and the women of Jerusalem who weep for Jesus. Finally, almost out of frame, one notices a woman kneeling, holding in her hands a veil with the likeness of Christ’ face upon it. This is Veronica, whose merciful act we reflect on while praying the Sixth Station of the Cross.

The story of Veronica wiping the face of Jesus does not appear in the Gospels, but tradition tells us of a compassionate woman who came forward to wipe the blood and sweat from Christ’s face as he made his way to Golgotha, and how the piece of fabric she used came away with an image of the Lord’s face. Although we are not sure of the woman’s name, she came to be known as Veronica, since the cloth contained a true likeness (vera eikon) of Christ, and the word from which Veronica is derived, berenice, means “bearer of victory.” 

In Biagio’s painting, this bearer of victory is a counterpoint to the figure of Simon of Cyrene. He has been forced to carry the cross, so he looks up and away from Jesus, hiding his face, unwilling to esteem the man who will die for his sake. Veronica, on the other hand, kneels in humility, looking at Christ in the fashion of his mother, blessed to perform a small act of charity in hope of easing the Lord’s suffering. Her example is a reminder that we are to serve God in whatever way we can.

As we make our way this through Lenten season, may we be inspired by Veronica’s kindness, so that we might serve our neighbors in need, and in doing so, serve the Lord himself.