Tuesday, January 17, 2017

"I was studying Christian artistic renderings of the life of Jesus, and I saw an image I had never before seen, one so powerful that I came to a different understanding of what helps with suffering. The image was the German artist Matthias Grunewald's sixteenth-century painting The Crucifixion. This image was originally part of an altarpiece painted for the Monastery of St. Anthony in Isenheim, Alsace (now in France). The monks of the monastery cared for patients afflicted with what they called St. Anthony's fire, which we now know was an ergot poisoning that afflicted its sufferers with convulsive and gangrenous symptoms. At the center of the Isenheim altarpiece is an enormous, agonized Christ, the weight of his body bowing the crosspiece. The body on the cross is contorted in pain, the flesh stuck with thorns and oozing blood and pus. When patients at the monastery hospital were brought before the painting, they would have recognized themselves, for the figure before them displayed the very symptoms of their own disease. The patients would have known the one who hung on the cross as one of their own, 'a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity' (Isaiah 53:3). In Grunewald's Crucifixion there is no attempt to explain suffering. There is only solidarity with the sufferer."


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