Stations of the Cross

The Stations of the Cross are both the tableaux representing certain scenes in the Passion of Christ, each corresponding to a particular incident, and the special form of devotion connected with such representations.

Stations of the Cross are usually ranged at intervals around the walls of a church, though sometimes they are to be found in the open air, especially on roads leading to a church or shrine. In monasteries they are often placed in the cloisters. The erection and use of the Stations of the Cross did not become at all general before the end of the seventeenth century, but they are now to be found in almost every Catholic Church.

The object of the Stations of the Cross is to help people to make, in spirit, a pilgrimage to the chief scenes of Christ’s sufferings and death, and this has become one of the most popular of Catholic devotions. It is carried out by passing from Station to Station, with certain prayers at each and meditation on the various incidents in turn.

The Stations of the Cross in Saint Edmund’s Church were sculpted in welded phosphor-bronze by Seán Crampton and installed in the church at intervals, one Station at time, from 1983 to 1986. They were paid for entirely by individual parishioners or parish groups. The Royal Society of British Sculptors awarded them the “Otto Beit Medal” for ‘The sculpture of outstanding merit of the year 1986 exhibited outside London’. The award is on display in the church porch.

“The Stations of the Cross in Saint Edmund’s Church, Oxford Road, Calne, Wiltshire, are a major contribution to modern church art in these islands. Thanks to Father John Blacker, parish priest, the stations are in place, fashioned in welded phosphor-bronze by sculptor, Seán Crampton.”
The Catholic Herald. 3rd October 1986.

“Seán Crampton, who has died aged 81, was the award-winning sculptor and war veteran responsible for the construction of the Fourteen Stations of the Cross for the church of Saint Edmund’s in his home town of Calne, Wiltshire. Made in his preferred media of welded phosphor-bronze, these Stations were small in scale compared to some of Crampton’s other works of a monumental nature, but they were large in their importance to the artist creating them.”
The Guardian. 9th August 1999.

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Video of Stations of the Cross
Seán Crampton's writing on the Stations

After the completion of the Stations of the Cross Seán Crampton wrote of them as follows:

A pilgrim is described as one who goes on a devotional journey to find a sacred place and a pilgrimage is sometimes used allegorically as one’s journey through life as a stranger.

The whole body of an artist’s work is like a particular pilgrimage: the paintings, poems, music or sculptures, the individual works of art, are like milestones on the way. They trace the crossroads, culs-de-sac, resting places and diversions where incidents, impressions, chance meetings, guides and companions met with on the route are recorded and made manifest to an observer. Like a diary.

A single work of art is also like a pilgrimage, as the artist goes on a devotional journey within his own psyche, searching for the mysterious source of his own creativity; for the sacred centre within his being from which his art springs. The making of the Stations of the Cross for St Edmund’s Church, Calne, was to me an example of both these pilgrimages.

I am often asked, of a piece of work, “How long did it take?”, an impossible question really, because the only answer is “A lifetime”. In the case of the Stations, my first awareness of them was at my small convent prep-school where they were a kind of strip cartoon round the chapel walls. They made me feel uneasy and rather frightened, as indeed did nearly all the “religious” figures I encountered in those days. I remember I was particularly scared by a life-size, brightly painted figure of the Sacred Heart which towered over me in the narthex of the chapel.

My first experience of the Stations as works of art came when I was studying sculpture at Art School and saw the photographs of Eric Gill’s magnificent interpretations in Westminster Cathedral. Not long afterwards, as an apprentice, I assisted in the carving of a set in stone. These were in fact deplorable, although I only partly realised it at the time. They were, like the figures in my prep-school chapel, typical of so much pseudo-art which clutters up our churches throughout Europe and which Jacques Maritain savagely dismissed as “belchings from the commercial cellars of Saint-Sulpice.”

Shortly after this I found myself with the Army in the Middle East, from where, on leave from my unit, I visited Jerusalem and the Holy Land. Jerusalem in those days was a haven of peace after the WesternDesert. Under the protection of the Palestine Police Force, Jewish and Arab policemen patrolled the streets in pairs, dressed in the uniform of a British Bobby, only their head-dresses distinguishing their religion.

I spent hours talking and sitting with the Franciscans in the Church of All Nations on the Mount of Olives, visited the Holy Places, Nazareth, Bethlehem, the Holy Sepulchre, and walked the via Dolorosa, following the steps of Our Lord, from the Temple to Golgotha; down the steep donkey-steps, under the arched gate, across the valley; tasting the same air, treading the same dust, smelling the smells of apostolic times, all the more vividly because I was about to join my regiment for the invasion of Sicily.

After the war, setting up a studio again, teaching and mounting one-man exhibitions, I nevertheless became increasingly involved in making sculptures of religious subjects and occasionally in producing “Church” sculpture for liturgical use, which is not at all the same thing.

At this time, the early 1950s, I made two Stations of the Cross, the First and the Third. These were exhibited at the Ashley Gallery, opposite Westminster Cathedral. The sculptures were wildly expressionist and, though totally unsuitable for church use, they helped to clarify my ideas and marked a turning-point in my vision of religious sculpture. But I did not tackle the subject of the Stations again until 1983, although I had by this time completed quite a large body of liturgical works, mostly sculptures of the Crucifix and various figures of Our Lady and Our Lady and Child.

In our own parish church I had redesigned the Sanctuary and the altar when quite suddenly the parish priest decided that the existing Stations of the Cross must be removed. He was quite right, as they were old, abysmally framed, flyblown photographs of tinted illustrations. He acquired in their stead a single, cast-bronze Station from a current catalogue of Church furniture, in order to see how it looked and if the parish liked it. It was certainly better than the old ones, if rather dull, but it pricked me into making a single Station, the First, as an experiment, which was put up in the church for a weekend. The reaction was mixed, but it did have the immediate effect of postponing the “catalogue” Stations.

I went out of action for a year through illness and during that time the Parish Priest retired to Ireland. When I returned, his successor had been installed and had formed a new Parish Council, which discussed the Church decoration. Someone remembered my one Station, which by then was gathering dust in my studio (though it had briefly been exhibited in the crypt of Westminster Cathedral by the Society of Catholic Artists). I was asked to put it up again and to my astonishment, when the Parish Priest held a referendum, the parish voted for me to make all fourteen, the funds to be raised by private subscription.

So the challenge was issued and I was committed. Since the parish’s decision was based on the First Station, this had to become the prototype for them all, which I had not really foreseen when I made it!

The church, it can be admitted, is no architectural marvel. Built in the sixties, enthusiastically but not expensively (we are a small parish), it has ill-proportioned, over-large windows and could almost have been intended as a swimming pool or a school hall. There were, however, positions, cramped but possible, where the stations would fit, with some small variations in size. The work was to be in wrought bronze and was to be basically figurative, as I believe most liturgical work should be.

The First Station, then, the one conceived in isolation, shows the rage of the Accuser, the indifference to truth of Pilate, the acceptance of the inevitable by the passive, bound figure of Christ. The loose binding of Our Lord’s hands was added as an afterthought in order to stress this acceptance and this afterthought became a leitmotif, recurring throughout the series; the pavement, the arch and the formal decoration represent the order of Imperial Rome.

The Second Station is still dominated by Rome in the arch and the pavement; the rope becomes a tool of the soldier and his lash reflects the Flagellation. It had been my earlier intention to have three figures in each group, but this rigidity broke down with the Third Station, where I found a figure of hatred, one visualised while listening to the “Messiah”. The mockers who “laughed him to scorn they shoot out their lips saying He trusted to God. Let Him deliver him.” And it was clear that one figure was quite enough to express this hatred.

The Fourth Station likewise has only two figures for the intimate moment between Our Lord and His Mother, and whereas in the Third Station the Roman pavements give way to rougher donkey-steps, here in the Fourth the ground itself becomes insubstantial. This quality of the ground is another theme which plays a symbolic role through the series.

The Fifth Station also has only two figures. Here again I had originally designed for three, but — should the third be a mourner, a centurion or a scoffer? When it came to the making no third figure would materialise; instead only a strange, bitter, hydra-like bush would appear. This was characteristic of the way the work proceeded. There was always something hovering in the misty, creative part of the mind, waiting to intrude and demand expression.

Philosophers of art have said in different ways that at times the artist is simply a vehicle, a channel through which ideas flow and are given form and that the main difficulty for the artist is to get his own ego out of the way. This I am sure is true.

The next four Stations are on the end wall of the church, where there is a little more room. The unexpected elements are here also, the rope still plays its part, a modern soldier appears, with rifle and gas-cape, standing amongst barbed wire. The arches of Rome recur in the Eighth Station and an extra figure steals into the Ninth. In the Eleventh Station the figure of a child arrived, playing with the end of the rope, quite oblivious of the horror of the Nailing which is taking place behind her.

In the Crucifixion, only Our Lady and Christ are represented, the rope has dropped from the body and behind the Cross there is a great climacteric mushroom cloud.

The Thirteenth Station is a pietà, in which the final Entombment produces another unexpected figure, holding back the stone of the sepulchre. Is he a guardian, a workman, the Risen Lord whom Mary Magdalen took for the gardener?

The Stations were completed in 1986 and although I made them, they seem to contain mysteries which I only vaguely comprehend and I am sure that my own interpretation is limited. It was a rare experience and a privilege to have taken part in their production.

As a postscript, I was both astonished and gratified that the Royal Society of British Sculptors awarded them the Otto Beit medal for ‘A sculpture of outstanding merit of the year 1986 exhibited outside London’. ”

Further information about Seán Crampton
Further information about Seán Crampton can be found here.

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