Looking at Church Art: Jesus

As I traveled in Germany and Poland, I noticed that the images of Jesus that I saw were different ones from those in the United States.  Every crucifix was different of course, and always present in every church we visited, but it was the choices of the other images that was unusual to me.  Most churches had the icon of Divine Mercy, and many Pieta and Sacred Heart images, but there were a couple that I had never seen before.

This is what I am used to seeing, as far as devotional church art depicting Jesus:

Feb2018 church art Jesus blog

We were travelling during the end of the Easter season. Many, if not all of the German and Polish altars had a statue of Christ Risen and Victorious.  A red cloth hung over the empty cross on the other side of the altar.  The statue was often smaller, as if it was put up just for the Easter season.  Occasionally it was a permanent painting.  It was also a well-loved subject for wayside shrines.

180 trailside shrine

Alongside a hiking trail in Bavarian Alps

114 ChristVictorious Sandomiercz blog

small statue on altar, Sandomiercz, Poland

Even more widespread was an image called “The Pensive Christ”.  It was not one that I had ever seen before.  Roadside shrines, altars, statues, paintings, indoors, outdoors, folk art, cathedral art … it was immensely popular in both Germany and Poland.  We stopped and prayed with this image, saying rosaries for my dear mom who passed away earlier last year.

027 prayer corner w pensive Jesus image

Prayer corner in cathedral. Krakow, Poland

It depicted Jesus, seated, waiting patiently during a brief pause before the next assault on him. He had been physically tortured–whipped, scourged, slapped, a crown of thorns pressed onto his head.  He had been mocked, ridiculed, spat on.  As he sat there waiting for what would come next–what was He thinking of?  What did He pray for? Was it for forgiveness for His tormentors?  Was it for strength and courage for His followers?  Did He think of His mother, praying with sadness at her pain, asking that she be comforted and strengthened?

214 pensive Christ statue

20th century stone carving, Gdansk, Poland

About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
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5 Responses to Looking at Church Art: Jesus

  1. Catherine says:

    Do you know the reason for the small stones left at the base of the wayside shrine in your first photo? Thank you for the photos and descriptions.

    • reinkat says:

      Hi Catherine, thanks for the comment and question. I am guessing here–with the language barrier being what it is as far as asking while I was there–I would think that the small stones are a sign of a prayer said. Kind of saying “I was here and said a prayer”. I know this is a custom in cemeteries and churches in many cultures, and suppose it is the same thing here.

      • Catherine says:

        Thank you for responding; I was aware of the Jewish practice of leaving stones but I didn’t realize there were other cultures as well.

  2. Could you please contact me regarding the use of the image of one of your icons. It is Christ teaching the children. 2012. Thank you! ddonohue@cardinalnewmansociety.org

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