Last summer I went to the most amazing outside performance of the life of Christ. With a cast of hundreds, the story of Jesus is re-enacted in a number of scenes in the grounds of an estate, and the effect is mesmerising. If you get the chance to go, do. It’s wonderful.
Afterwards I was put in touch with James, who played Jesus and is a professional actor. He is directing a passion play in Havant in the summer and invited me to see a rehearsal in action. So a few weekends ago I went to Havant and observed the process of putting together the passion play with the volunteer cast. Rather than giving them a script, they create a character, and act out how the character would react in different scenes. Whilst I was there some of my poetry for Easter week was read as the action paused, it was amazing to hear it in context.
At school for the last two terms I have joined a History of Art evening class, because although I can’t create art I do appreciate looking at it. Towards the end of last term we looked at the northern renaissance and I was introduced to Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross (below). A passion play in a picture.
In an email to James prior to my visit to Havant I mentioned the painting, which James had a copy of and brought to the rehearsal. Imagine my surprise and delight when he gave me his copy to keep.
For my English Language A-level I had to write a monologue, and I chose to base mine on the structure of Robert Browning’s, My Last Duchess, but to use my newly acquired picture as the inspiration. The result is below.
The Descent from the Cross
That’s the Descent from the Cross on my wall,
Protruding into our lives. Sorrow’s call
From the past to us now; crafted with hands
As a symphony of grief, here it stands.
You say you don’t like it, but stay a while;
Let’s explore it together, a tactile
Expression of life in all the fullness
Of despair. Their faces etched with sadness
As tears, that we almost taste, track their way
To us. Jesus’ stark limp body displayed,
Held by humanity he created,
Almost touching his mother, fainted –
We feel her crumpled fall, her colour gone.
You can’t go now, though it hurts to stay on,
For you will need this picture more one day
Than now. Look, Mary’s contorted hands pray
At feet pierced for all our sin. Her gaze met
By Nicodemus, whose religion let
This happen. Are we not complicit too?
But then follow Joseph’s eyes, cutting through
The anguish, even in his deep distress
He points to the skull and death’s full redress;
For, as you know, in Adam all will die,
But so in Christ will all be made alive.
Why do I want you, sister, to keep it
In my room? Sometime soon it will permit
A real grief when all the answers are known,
And you come to see this picture alone.