The Stations or Way of the Cross is one of the most traditional and identifiable devotional practices in Catholicism. The devotional prayer can be traced back to early Christian pilgrims who would visit the various historical sites in Jerusalem associated with Jesus Christ's suffering and death. Known as the "Via Dolorosa", each station represented a significant place where Christ had walked on his way to crucifixion.
When the Franciscans became custodians of the historical sites in Jerusalem and the Holy Land in 1342, they began to popularise the devotion, and it was not long before the practice spread to other parts of western Europe. Through the centuries the number of stations varied, with some versions numbering up to 40 stations. From around the sixteenth century, there have been fourteen stations, many of which can be identified in parish churches today.
In 1975, the Congregation for Sacred Rites in Rome produced a revised list of the Stations of the Cross, with each station linking closely with the gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. This version begins with the Last Supper and concludes with Jesus' Resurrection. This revised version was used by St John Paul II, who reinforced their role in contemplating the life and death of Jesus Christ:
'What does it mean to have a part in the Cross of Christ? It means to experience, in the Holy Spirit, the love hidden within the Cross of Christ. It means to recognize, in the light of this love, our own cross. It means to take up that cross once more and, strengthened by this love, to continue our journey... To journey through life, in imitation of the one who “endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).
—Pope John Paul II, Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum, Good Friday 2000
As one of the oldest forms of prayer, the stations also serve to connect us with members of the early church. And while the stations recall the events of Jesus' passion, the aim is not to re-enact past events but to be inspired by the Lord's witness of self-giving love.
Melbourne is home to some beautiful versions of the stations, from stained glass windows to sculptures, wood carvings and paintings by local and international artists. With churches now reopened to the public, perhaps this season of Lent is an opportune time to visit and pray the Stations of the Cross at your local parish or one of the parishes below.
Leopoldine (Poldi) Mimovich was commissioned in the 1970s by the then parish priest of Our Lady of Good Counsel Church to create a new set of stations for the parish. Carved from Queensland Beech timber, the 14 stations follow a closer account of the events surrounding Jesus' death and resurrection in the Gospel of Mark. Born in 1920, Poldi studied sculpting in Vienna but later spent the war years in a German munitions factory. After the war, Poldi finished her studies in religious sculpture at the School of Wood Sculpture in Hallstatt before migrating to Australia with her husband, Leo Mimovich. The couple eventually settled in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, where Poldi set up a studio and undertook commissions for numerous churches and public buildings around Australia. Poldi remained a parishioner at Deepdene until her death in 2019.
Pray the Way of the Cross using this multimedia resource which incorporates images of Poldi's stations, Scripture, music, reflection and prayer. It can be viewed online or downloaded for use in an online prayer forum (such as Zoom).
These traditional Stations of the Cross were personally chosen by none other than Melbourne’s first archbishop, Dr James Alipius Goold, during a visit to Europe. They are rumoured to have been initially chosen for installation at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne. The fourteen traditional stations are three-dimensional and made of plaster. They were shipped from a workshop in Munich, Germany, to Australia in the late 1860s, making them the first of their kind to make it to the southern hemisphere. The stations were erected under the direction of Signor Andrea Stombucco, who was also responsible for the construction of the church building.
Having previously designed the parish logo, Cheltenham parishioner Suzie Byrne was approached in 2011 by (then) parish priest Fr Peter Matheson to see if she was interested in producing a series of Stations of the Cross for the parish. Suzie accepted the challenge at once and was given free rein of art medium and design. The first station to be hung in the church was “The Resurrection”, which went up in July 2013, and the last scene to be mounted was “Veronica wiping the face of Jesus”, completed in August 2015. Fr Peter Matheson shared that Suzie grappled with the passion of Christ in more ways than one, as she suffered from fragile health throughout the project. The end result captivated parishioners, with everyone ‘utterly delighted’ with her vibrant yet traditional version of the Stations of the Cross.
The modern yet traditional stained glass Stations of the Cross at Mary Help of Christians Church in Altona was created by painter, printmaker, teacher and stained glass designer Alan Sumner (1911-1994). Alan was the most prolific of postwar stained-glass artists and before setting up his own studio, worked at E.L. Yencken & Co, one of Melbourne’s leading stained-glass studios. Sumner is believed to have completed approximately 100 commissions for windows across Melbourne and around the world, including the windows of St Oliver Plunkett's in Pascoe Vale, St Mary's in Malvern East and the Xavier College Kostka Hall Memorial Chapel (also depicting the Stations of the Cross).
A unique collaborative effort between a loyal church member, the Slovenian Catholic Parish and the church choir Zorkačernjak, the Stations of the Cross at Sts Cyril and Methodius in Kew provide a unique depiction of Christ’s journey to the cross using Melbourne’s most iconic spots as the backdrop, including Flinders Street Station and the MCG. The Stations of the Cross were blessed on Palm Sunday in 2013 by the Provincial Minister of the Australian Franciscan Province, Fr Paul Smith OFM.
In 2009, Our Lady’s Parish of Craigieburn was gifted with a beautifully carved wooden Stations of the Cross from an anonymous woodworker. The Vietnamese are well known for their woodworks and the gift was given as a thank you for the 33 houses the parish built in the Vietnamese parish of Lois Ha.
St Mary’s Church was designed by William Wardell, the same architect of St Patrick’s Cathedral, and follows the early English style of Gothic architecture. The church’s first Parish Priest Rev. Dr James Corbett (later the first Bishop of the Diocese of Sale) commissioned the 14 Stations of the Cross from the Bavarian firm of Mayer & Company and they were eventually installed at St Mary's in 1880. Around the walls of the church are 12 candles emanating from brass crosses, signifying the building’s consecration to God.
We'd like to feature more Stations of the Cross artworks from parishes around Melbourne. Please send us photos and some background information about your parish's stations – we'd love to hear from you!
Melbourne Catholic25 March 2021