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Religious Art for Holy Week During the Pandemic Lockdown

By Richard Shullaw

Normally at this time of year, we would be preparing for Holy Week, leading to the celebration of Easter. We would anticipate being together to remember the sacrifice of Christ and the joy of His resurrection. That will not take place this year. For the most part, we will be remembering and celebrating in very small groups face to face, or in larger groups through FaceTime and Zoom.

With time on my hands, I went through pictures I took during travels with my wife Margaret to Europe over the past few years, finding those that involved the events of Holy Week. I take comfort in reliving the story they tell. While at this moment we are often alone, God is with us, suffering along with us and always present to comfort us in this challenging time.


I included a number of frescoes from the Scrovegni Chapel in Padua, Italy, painted by Giotto in 1305. The frescoes cover the walls, ceiling and the area behind the altar, telling the biblical story from the birth of Mary through the Last Judgment. Seeing all of the events together was an incredible experience. The colors and clarity remain brilliant after more than 700 years. Above, Christ washes the feet of Peter as the other apostles look on.


We saw this painting of the Last Supper by Jacopo Tintoretto at the National

Gallery special exhibit late in 2019. It was painted in the late 16th century, and gives a different emotional view of the Last Supper.

Christ has just told the Apostles that one of those at the table will betray him. The Apostles react with varying degrees of shock and amazement, with Judas, closest to us with his back turned, clutching the money bag with the 30 pieces of silver he has received for his betrayal.


Another of the Giotto frescoes, showing the betrayal of Christ by Judas Iscariot. At the far left, Peter is striking Malchus, the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.


We saw this astounding set of life-size figures in the Church of San Sepolcro in Milan. They are relatively modern, and display several scenes. The seated figure at the left is Caiaphas, tearing his clothes after Christ’s proclamation of his divinity in Mark 14. In the middle, Ecce Homo, and on the right, the denial of Christ by Peter to the servant girl.


Two more Giotto frescoes of the Crucifixion and Christ’s burial, along with an early 15th century painting of Mary holding Jesus after the deposition from the cross.


Having recently finished rereading John’s Gospel, this is one of my favorite scenes from the Giotto frescoes. In Latin, the words of Jesus to Mary Magdalene are “Noli me tangere” (do not hold on to me).


We saw this Caravaggio painting of the Supper at Emmaus (done in 1606) at the Brera Gallery in Milan. Of interest is that the artist picked up the theme from Mark’s gospel, in which Christ appeared to the disciples “in a different form,” hence He is shown beardless. The disciples show their sudden realization that they are in the presence of Christ, whom they had thought had been put to death.

May your Holy Week and Easter be blessed. We are never alone.


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