Around about the year 1572, Pope Gregory XIII recognised the foundation of a new religious order called the Oratorians. This order was founded by St Philip Neri and was later to include the likes of Cardinal John Henry Newman amongst its number. Their main Church of the newly founded order, built at that time in Rome, was called the Chiesa Nova, or the church of Sancta Maria in Valicella. Around this new Church building were altars dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary and the mysteries of her life.
Some 30 years after the Church was built, a small chapel inside the building was dedicated to the entombment of Jesus, recalled today on Palm Sunday in the reading from St Mark, St Joseph of Arimathea attends to the moment in which Jesus was taken down from the cross and pout in the tomb.
A fiery painter was chosen to paint the scene over the altar, his name was Caravaggio. He was an artist with a fiery temper and prone to violent outbursts, wounding others and perhaps even killing a man. Consequently he often seemed to have more enemies than friends.
One of his greatest paintings was the one he painted for this new chapel in the Chiesa Nova, the entombment of Christ.
His paintings very often highlight light and darkness. In this painting there is complete and absolute darkness and it’s as if a bright beam of light has been switched on and shone on figures carrying the body of Jesus for burial. The body of Jesus, partially clothed and lifeless and is carried by Nicodemus and St John. The broken body Jesus is being lowered into the tomb, and we can see the thick, solid and heavy stone which will cover the entrance of the tomb. The figures seem to cascade over the body of Jesus. First Mary of Clopas raises her arms and eyes to the sky in uncontrollable grief. The Blessed Virgin is restrained in her grief and she seems to weep quietly. Then St John is also weeping and he look uncomprehendingly on the body of Jesus, as if they can’t believe what his eyes are seeing. Both St John and Nicodemus hold the body of Jesus tightly; St John’s left hand covers the wound on Jesus’ side, he holds his upper body and Nicodmes is seen carrying his lower half, mainly his legs..
But it is Nicodemus who proves the most interesting figure. Instead of the other caught in grief he turns his head away from the others and the bood of jesus and looks out from the painting, he stares directly at the onlooker who is looking at the painting. His gaze meets our eyes, his eye meets our eye. And its almost as if he is saying to us. Here, look, this is the body of Jesus, broken that we are putting in the tomb. It’s almost as if in his gaze he fixes on us and he connects us with these events. It’s almost as if it says you too are part of this scene. Come, see, look on the broken one. Look where we are putting him in this tomb with this solid rock to cover the entrance. Weep with us, mourn with us, cry tears with us.
In this week that is to come we are asked to follow Jesus in the last days and hours of his life. We are invited to come to the tomb and weep for the scourged one, the one crowned with thorns, the one who carries the cross and dies for us. We are invited come and mourn for him.