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Such authentic friends

· The women of the Way of the Cross of Cerveno ·

The Way of the Cross of Cerveno, in the centre of the Camonica Valley (Brescia), emerges like an enclosed Sacred Mountain, which has to be covered stopping in front of fourteen chapels set out along a Scala Santa. Within the frescoed setting of the chapels the episodes of the Passion unfold, featuring nearly two hundred life-size  wooden statues as well as figures in relief and paintings. The sculptures, made between 1752 and 1783 (except XIV made in 1869), are the work of Benjamin Simoni (with the exception of stations VIII-X by Francesco Donato and Grazioso Fantoni). Within the chapels, Simoni has organised scenes of great expressive synthesis, giving the characters and typologies gestures inspired by the local rustic faithful. The inhabitants of Cerveno, every ten years, give the carved Way of the Cross new life: a living Passion that winds through the streets of the town. The latest production was in May, 2012.

The women of the Way of the Cross of Cerveno are depicted as beautiful: the beauty of goodness. The men on the other hand are vulgar and stocky, with coarse, obtuse features: poor bastards up against a Christ who is intensely beautiful and mild. Only He and John are in fact exempt from the ugliness and brutality of men.
It was on just this contrast between the concrete life of the executioners and the alleged “uncertainty and sculptural non-existence” of Christ, that Giovanni Testori based his critical interpretation (1976), also noting “next to the non-existence of Christ, the absence of women, and indeed more horribly, woman.”
In the almost two hundred life-size wooden statues that populate the chapels of the eighteenth century Way of the Cross, to which must be added the characters that appear in stucco or are painted on the walls, woman not only exists, but provides and proposes an alternative.

While the women are  genuinely afflicted, the men have hard and stiff gestures, whose violence seems all the more unnecessary when compared with the gentleness and patience of the one who suffers. It is violence that the crowd of men enjoy with a curiosity which is morbose and indifferent; only one or two, caught in a (rare) moment of  doubt or reflection, seem to dissent but passively accept. The women have freely-given gestures of welcome: the men, gestures which are functional and mechanical, or else detached. Women talk, subdued and sad, with mouths barely opened; the men have sneers or lips which are tightly shut.

The women are aware of all the nuances of pain: John, the only man who suffers with Christ is closed in within himself. The men insult even with their eyes, the women have compassionate eyes, and it is only to them that Christ returns his gaze.

In the Gospel account of the ascent to Calvary, Christ breaks his silence only to invite them not to cry. In the eighth station they are so animated as to have suspended their tears in order to react, with stunned incomprehension if not opposition, to the harsh words that follow: "Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never begot and the breasts that never nursed" (Luke 23, 29) . The most concerned seems in fact to be a mother with her child in her arms. The women who, along with Mary,  “had followed Jesus from Galilee, serving him” (Matthew 27, 55) and who accompany Veronica are very tender and stricken. What is striking, however, is not their sincere participation in the suffering of Jesus, to which tradition and iconography have accustomed us, but rather their solidarity and concern for one another that does not seem to be part of the male make-up. The men are alone and physically autonomous; women pass looks and gestures one to another, expressing not only compassion (the participation in the Passion) towards Jesus, but their compassion for the compassion of others. They repeatedly rest their hands on the shoulders of their companions, in order to encourage them, and, when Mary seems to pass out, the woman next to her not only holds her up, but tenderly embraces her. But the most moving gesture is linked to the hands of two of the women who assist the Deposition: one gently holds the hand of her companion who nervously twists her wrist.

Only a preliminary stance could deny the intense humanity that the sculptor Simoni has given them. Creating solid and indispensable figures, beautiful and never affected, expressive and never excessive: close to Christ the man and to man. And, vice versa, to His women friends.


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