|Fra Angelico, Head of Christ|
Italian, c. 1430-1440
Livorno, Church of Santa Maria del Soccorso
On Deposit with Museo Civico Giovanni Fattori
"O Sacred Head surrounded By crown of piercing thorn!
O bleeding Head so wounded, Reviled and put to scorn!
Death’s pallid hue comes o’er Thee, The glow of life decays,
Yet angel hosts adore Thee, And tremble as they gaze.
I see Thy strength and vigor All fading in the strife,
And death with cruel rigor, Bereaving Thee of life:
O agony and dying! O love to sinners free!
Jesus, all grace supplying, O turn Thy face on me.
In this, Thy bitter passion, Good shepherd, think of me,
With Thy most sweet compassion, Unworthy though I be:
Beneath Thy cross abiding, Forever would I rest;
In Thy dear love confiding, And with Thy presence blest."
Passion Hymn attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (12th Century)
English translation by Henry W. Baker (1861)
For many years I have been struck by a variant of the Man of Sorrows theme that focuses just on the head of Jesus, wounded and wearing the crown of thorns. It reminded me forcefully of the hymn "O Sacred Head Surrounded" that has been a favorite since I learned it as a child during my pre-Vatican II parochial school's mandatory rehearsal every Wednesday morning for the Children's Mass which we were all expected to attend on the coming Sunday. And we sang! While many of the hymns we learned in those groggy morning sessions have faded from use, this one has not. It remains a staple of just about every Christian church's Lenten experience.
Italian or Spanish, 15th Century
Paris, Musée du Louvre
For many months I have collected images and background information on the various images of the Sacred Head and a fascinating image it is. However, both in 2019 and 2020 my good intentions for an essay have gone out the window. In 2019 we witnessed the disastrous fire at Notre-Dame de Paris and in 2020 the terrible ordeal of the COVID-19 pandemic, which stiffled my ability to think at the same time as it has confined me to my apartment. This current year of 2021 has been little better due to bouts of arthritic pain occasioned by lockdown induced inactivity.
It is, however, appropriate that I share at least some of the images with you this week. For, one of the great treasures of Notre-Dame is the relic of the Crown of Thorns itself.
Doubtless many readers will scoff and say "Crown of Thorns, really! Is she really serious about that?" And, once upon a time I shared in that skepticism. It seemed wildly fanciful to suppose that such a thing could possibly have been real. However, on more mature consideration I think that it is not completely improbable that certain items associated with the death of Jesus were reverently preserved at the time and specially valued after the Resurrection.
Is it so difficult to believe that someone picked up the crown of thorns when it was removed from his head and kept it? We know from the Gospels that there were people there at the cross who loved him, starting with his mother. Might someone have kept it for her? It seems a very human thing to do.
|Sebald Beham, Head of Christ|
London, British Museum
There was once a belief that the description of his being nailed to the cross was an invention, until evidence was found in the skeleton of another crucified individual of the nails used to fix his feet to the cross on which he died. Consequently, might not the nails drawn from Jesus' hands and feet have been preserved by his family?
|Ankle bones of man crucified in 70AD|
Jerusalem, Israel Museum
On Good Friday 2020 (April 10, 2020) the relic was displayed for an hour of veneration in the ruins of Notre-Dame. Due to restrictions on public gatherings due to the pandemic, veneration had to be televised. The event was recorded and may still be available on the KTO-TV YouTube channel.
|The Crown of Thorns in its reliquary|
Paris, Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris
|Correggio (Antonio Allegri), Head of Christ|
Italian, c. 1525-1530
Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum
|Guido Reni, Head of Christ|
Italian, Early 1630s
Detroit, Institute of Arts
|Wenceslaus Hollar, Ecce Homo|
London, British Museum
|Head of Christ|
Italian, Early 18th Century
St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum
|Ivory Head of Christ|
French, 19th Century
The full essay I was planning will have to wait a bit.
© M. Duffy, 2019, updated 2020 and 2021.