The Nightmare of the Crucifixion

Oh! what to say about the Crucifixion and death of Our Lord? The whole events that lead up to this moment are nightmarish and scary, but they are nothing compared to the actual Crucifixion.

Reading John’s account of the gospel — after all, He was the only disciple who saw the Crucifixion up close — it reads like a hodgepodge of nightmarish details. He doesn’t describe the Crucifixion at length — indeed, he only mentions that it happened. But he writes about other things at length.

The argument with Pontius Pilate and the chief priests about what the title on Jesus’s cross is.

The argument about His cloak.

The women at the foot of the cross.

Just look at the gospel account:

NABRE

John 19

17 and carrying the cross himself he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” 20Now many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. 21So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that he said, ‘I am the King of the Jews.’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four shares, a share for each soldier. They also took his tunic, but the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top down. 24So they said to one another, “Let’s not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it will be,” in order that the passage of scripture might be fulfilled [that says]:“They divided my garments among them,and for my vesture they cast lots.”This is what the soldiers did. 25 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.28 After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” 29There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. 30 When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

It is almost as if the whole event was so nightmarish that these details stuck out painfully. After all, who were the only disciples who stuck near Jesus? The women and St. John. Everybody else had run away. What did the soldiers focus on? Not on Christ, but on His clothes. What did the chief priests object to? Not the horrific crucifixion of an innocent man that was happening right in front of them, but rather the words right above Christ.

And, all throughout, the crucified Jesus is front and center of this scene.

Many artists that depicted this crucifixion scene tried to include all of these little details into the art. And so, many Crucifixion pictures are chock full of little art details. Just take a look at this artwork:

Crucifixion, by Peter Gertner, c. 1537. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, United States. Via IllustratedPrayer.com
Crucifixion, by Peter Gertner, c. 1537. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland, United States.

And so you’ll see the women at the foot of the cross, Mary Magdalene embracing the Cross as she is often depicted as doing. St. John comforts the Virgin Mary, who is dressed in black and veiled in a white cloth, while the other Mary wipes tears from her face.

But there are also other details. An official in a yellow turban and riding on a horse is pointing out Jesus, looking back at another man, probably Pontius Pilate, and complaining about the sign on the Cross, whereas Pontius Pilate just gazes at the scene and declares it to be right.

Then, amidst all the soldiers, four soldiers crouch down, oblivious to the horror of the scene, casting lots for Jesus’s tunic.

It is a busy scene, a chaotic scene in which so much seems to be happening that is hard to pick out every art detail.

And yet, in the middle of this chaos, there is Jesus, crucified. And while everybody else seems to be in the middle of doing something, He is still, inviting us to stop from the chaos and focus on Christ. To meditate on Him.

To come to Him.

As we contemplate the Crucifixion, let us focus on Jesus and love Him all the more for what He has done for us.

And may we never be afraid to follow Him.

This blog is part of a blog series about meditations of the Rosary, in honor for October, which is the month dedicated to the Rosary! This artwork, as well as many others, are available in my book, The Sorrowful Mysteries, which allows you to pray the Rosary prayer by prayer, with each prayer illustrated with gorgeous religious art. If you would like to learn more about the books, click here

Karina Tabone

Karina Tabone is a wife, mother of three, author, blogger, and lover of Christian artwork. She's the author of the Illustrated Rosary series, which pairs every prayer of the Rosary with beautiful religious artwork. She likes also milkshakes, sunshine, and mystery novels. Follow her on Twitter at @illustr_prayer

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