Christ is crucified on waste ground, where only weeds and brambles grow. It seems to be on high ground, beyond which stand Roman soldiers. With them we look up towards Christ on the cross. Their spears are like a fence, set against the evening sky. A red cloth is strewn directly before our eyes. It must surely be Christ’s seamless garment, now strewn carelessly among the weeds, just where it might become soaked with his blood. Above it, a red Roman flag is held up by a soldier. By this simple juxtaposition, the spilling of Christ’s blood on the cross is set against Rome’s military might. To the left, his mother Mary has collapsed. The beloved disciple is with her. In fact, Tintoretto also painted Christ’s Resurrection for this chancel and it is to the Risen Christ that the beloved disciple points. Even in this dark scene, the one who “first saw and believed” points us to faith in the resurrection. Unusually, it is the ladder and not the cross that is at the centre of the composition. But our eyes are drawn to the parchment bearing Pilate’s inscription which one of the men holds at the centre of the whole composition so we do not miss it. “I.N.R.I.” are the four Latin capitals of the title “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”. You raise your eyes further to the face of Christ as he looks at what they are doing. In this work two kinds of power and authority are juxtaposed. The inscription, the wall of spears and the red standard are signs of the power and authority of Rome. Set against this, we have the gentle face of Christ, who humbled himself and to accept “even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). St Paul goes on to say, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name” (Phil 2:9). Two arms are raised. One bears Pilate’s statement of who Jesus is. The other points us to faith in who Jesus truly is. We celebrate the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on Tuesday.
The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.
The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.