On this blog, I talk a lot about the more joyous mysteries and events of the faith. I am enamoured of the Virgin Mary and the magic which followed her through her birth, life, motherhood, dormition and assumption. Naturally I tend to shy away from the less pleasant aspects of the faith, physically. On Tuesdays and Fridays we pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary. These comprise the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, the scourging at the pillar, the crowning of thorns, the carrying of the cross and the crucifixion. Meditating on these helps us to come closer to Christ’s suffering and enable us to recognise what he has truly suffered for our sake. This deeply affecting piece of art by da Messina considers the second sorrowful mystery – the scourging at the pillar or the flagellation of Christ. Christ is portrayed here in the middle of pain, his suffering at the hands of his captors had just begun. The expression on his face is deeply human.

I am continually amazed by the quality of Christian art produced in the Middle Ages. This painting was rendered in 1476-78. Da Messina has payed extraordinary attention to the details in the painting. He has captured the skin tone, rope twine and shadow, sweaty hair, prickling thorns, and the first drops of blood from Christ’s head. He has even added in crystal clear tears. Christ’s eyes are turned upwards, presumably meant to echo his upcoming final words “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” found in both Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. The pain and suffering in this moment is almost unbearable. The sorrowful mysteries help us to reflect on what Christ undertook, knowingly, for the defeat of death and salvation of the world.

What shall I render the Lord for all his bounty to me?” Psalm 116

God did not send his only son to this Earth to do away with suffering, but to do away with death. In Le Heurtoir, Paul Claudel wrote: “God did not come to do away with suffering; He did not even come to explain it. He came to fill it with His presence.”. God joins Jesus in his suffering. The mystery of Christ’s suffering, which is engraved onto his body, is one which should fill us with wonder. The weight of this suffering is never clearer than when physically represented in works such as this one.