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‘The Cross: Meditations And Images’ by Serena Fass

The Cross 001Reflections on the Cross through Images

Foreword by Abbot Timothy Wright OSB

“The Cross, however designed, represents the most horrific way any human being could die. It symbolises the worst that humans do to each other. It shows the most degrading way of treating the human body and is the most cruel method of extinguishing a human life. It allows no comfort to those who stand and watch their loved ones die. Crucifixion degrades judge, executioner, victim and observer. It still continues.

Beyond this degradation, Christians have been empowered to see something greater, and new, emerging from the crucified corpse of the God who became Man, in Jesus Christ. Like so many millions of others, before and since, he was a victim. Nothing in his behaviour was criminal enough to deserve such a capital sentence. The authorities of his time thought differently. To them he was a threat to their power, for Jesus healed people, he did not exploit them. Even on holy days when ‘work’ was not permitted, he brought healing, repairing broken bodies, giving life to the dead, even controlling nature – disempowering wind, expanding a few loaves to feed multitudes, walking on water to save his struggling friends.

Such work can only be a threat to those who hunger for the power to exploit.

That power is destructive, of the victim and the agent, of community and humanity.

Power used for selfish ends always destroys someone else. The power that Jesus brought to the world was a power to affirm, to heal, to expand. Nowhere was this power more convincingly shown than in the manner of his death. He alone held the key to unlock the door, closed tight till then for the whole of human history…the empty tomb, followed by Jesus’ real appearance to Mary Magdalene, changed it all. No wonder the disciples who met the Risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus were so astonished. It is precisely that astonishment we recall when we look at the Cross. Death no longer has any power, not just for a few, but for anyone who sees the Cross as the gift of life, a gift to be shared with the ‘other’, not possessed for myself. That is what makes the Cross unique and precious. Without  it the future is increased pain, suffering and despair. With it we look forward with hope and trust to eternal joy in the presence of God.

No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him. This is the message of the Cross…”


Lay Anglicana Review

I must begin by declaring an interest, in the sense that Serena and I have known each other for more years than I can remember, mostly through our shared love of India. Our lives seem intertwined, rather like ‘A Dance To The Music of Time‘ and we recently met again serendipitously at morning service in our Hampshire church.

Serena is a brilliant photographer, and the illustrations alone make a wonderful collection of images of the Cross. Perhaps a quarter of the pictures are of crucifixes, indisputably Christ on the cross. They are from every age and every tradition: ‘from Jerusalem, first through the Middle East and Turkey, then to the Orthodox world [including] the Greeks and the Russians, the Copts and the early independent churches of the Armenians and the Georgians’.  Then…the Catholic Mediterranean, [northern Europe] and the empires of the Portuguese, the Spanish and the British.’

You will find it hard not to look first at the images. But you will miss much if you don’t go on to explore the accompanying meditations, which are also a delight: what could be a better accompaniment to Lent and the road to Calvary?

Depending on which tradition you come from, you may find the crucifix a compelling image or hard to ‘gaze and gaze upon‘.  I admit that I find it hard to ponder the meaning of the Crucifixion when confronted with the horror of the death itself. And the artist’s interpretation I also find intrusive. For me, it is more helpful to have a plain cross to contemplate as it provides a focus as well as allowing the imagination free rein. Serena is ahead of me on this, in that perhaps half of the images are of simple crosses, although in contexts which are again in  incontrovertible reference to the Crucifixion as a summary of our faith.

The remainder are occurrences of the cross as a simple geometric shape. The originator may or may not have intended any Christian reference. They are embroidered, or painted, or sculpted, or the calyx of a passion flower, or, most wondrously, in the markings of a donkey’s coat. Interspersed with the other images throughout the book, they are like the madeleines of Proust,  evoking involuntary memories and:

A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
         Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
         Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
         Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
         The land of spices; something understood.

Reviews and Publisher’s Comments

Serena Fass has compiled a collection of many important and beautiful representations of the Cross. Spanning different strands of the Christian faith from the earliest Christians in Pompeii to the present day, and criss-crossing the globe from Norway to Zimbabwe and Peru to Australia. Works are illustrated in a variety of media including architecture, painting, sculpture, ivories, textiles, metalwork, jewellery, as well as examples of the cross manifest in nature. Serena has tried to convey the wide variety of cultural representations that illustrate Jesus’s great commission to “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”  (Mark 16:15)
“These images, gathered in one place, are an unique experience for the believer and nonbeliever alike. They are extraordinary artistic representations of great beauty from all over the world. Serena Fass’s passion to follow her path is palpable as you turn the pages.”
– David Verey, Chairman of the Art Fund

“…a beautiful book.”
           Mark Amory, The Spectator

Serena Fass has compiled what can only be described as a breath-taking archive… A beautifully designed and well thought out book.”
          Margaret Daniels, The Methodist Recorder

“…a handsome book.”
           Brendon Walsh, The Tablet
416pp • 195x292mm

Picture List price: £25.00

A donation from the proceeds of this book is being made to the Welsh Guards Afghanistan Appeal
Serena Fass is well-served by her publisher, Gilgamesh, specialists on the world of the Middle East from which sprang Christianity and the Cross. If you order directly from them, quoting this review, they will sell it at a £5 discount.

2 comments on this post:

John Wright said...

This book underlines the fact that, as God humbled himself to become a man, so we have to humble ourselves and die with Him on the Cross to meet Him and inherit eternal life.
John Wright

Lay Anglicana said...

Indeed, John – thank-you for commenting 🙂

21 February 2015 13:20
21 February 2015 12:30

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