We got the idea while shopping. There is no shortage of gift shops in the Holy Land, full of beautiful items handcrafted by local artisans. Our group of pilgrims certainly did their part to support the local economy in places like Bethlehem, Jericho, Nazareth, and Jerusalem!
As we selected our various souvenirs and gifts to take home and share with friends and family, the thought occurred to us. Perhaps our group could also find something special to bring home for St. Alban’s!
After considering several options, we decided to purchase a set of Stations of the Cross to be displayed in the nave. One of the last things we did together on our pilgrimage was to walk the Via Dolorosa, retracing the traditional path of Jesus as he journeyed to his death on the cross. The experience of walking the Stations of the Cross through the Old City of Jerusalem was one of the most profound and meaningful moments of the trip, so it seemed fitting to bring home a gift for St. Alban’s connected to this experience.
The Stations of the Cross is a prayerful devotion that recalls the series of events leading up to the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. In the early centuries of the Christian faith, pilgrims to Jerusalem often visited the places connected to the final hours of our Lord’s earthly life. Over time, Christians unable to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem developed the practice of recalling those events using images and “stations” to journey with Jesus on his walk toward the cross. There are fourteen traditional stations. Eight stations correspond to events found in the Bible, and the remaining six stations are either based on inferences from the Bible or on pious tradition.
An indoor set of Stations of the Cross will not only provide more visual interest for our beautiful but somewhat stark nave, but it will also provide a connection to the outdoor Stations of the Cross prayer trail that was constructed last year by Eagle Scout Cole Fossett. Now, we will have a complementary set of Stations that can be used in inclement weather, and will be more accessible for those with limited mobility.
The set of Stations we selected came from a ceramic artisans’ shop in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. We visited the Armenian Quarter several times and even attended vespers at an Armenian Church. The artists are Garo and Sonia Sandrouni and they paint colorful ceramic tiles and other pottery items by hand, finishing them with a clear glaze for a striking result. You can read more about this process here.
It just so happened that these same artists also made the set of Stations that hang inside St. George’s Cathedral, where we worshipped many times during our pilgrimage. St. George’s is the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and is right next to the guesthouse where we stayed.
At the beginning of our pilgrimage, we were each given a little book called “A Walk In Jerusalem” about the Stations of the Cross. Then, it just so happened that the book’s author, a fellow North Carolinian named John Peterson, was visiting St. George’s at the same time we were! John is a humble man, and in speaking with him, you would never guess he was a former Secretary General of the Anglican Communion and Canon for Global Justice and Reconciliation at Washington National Cathedral. He graciously signed our books and personalized them in a truly remarkable way. We have procured some additional copies of this book to keep at St. Alban’s, for use by anyone who wants to reflect on the Stations. You will be hearing more about John Peterson’s book as we approach Lent next year.
This coming Sunday, September 24 will be your first opportunity to see the new Stations of the Cross in the nave. Come at 9:10 a.m. to hear a presentation about the pilgrimage from some of those who went. Stay for coffee hour following the 10:30 a.m. service to enjoy some Middle Eastern refreshments courtesy of the pilgrims. And save the date for Sunday, October 15, when the Bishop comes to St. Alban’s, and we will officially dedicate these beautiful new additions to our church home!
Yours in Christ,