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The Statues - An Overview

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This page explains  the collection of statues and statuary groups used in the various processions around the Maltese Islands.  It should prove especially helpful to those who are not accustomed to this annual  tradition and to the Passion of Jesus Christ in the Gospels.

The Passion  is recounted by the statues  through the following episodes, some of which form part of the Traditional Way of the Cross :

  • The Last Supper
  • The Agony in the Garden
  • Judas Betrays Jesus with a Kiss
  • The Denial of St Peter
  • The Scourging at the Pillar
  • Jesus Crowned with Thorns ('Ecce Homo')
  • Jesus Falls under the Cross, locally known as the Redeemer (3rd, 7th & 9th Stations)
  • Jesus meets His Mother Mary on His Way up the Calvary (4th Station)
  • Jesus is helped to carry the Cross by Simon from Cyrene (5th Station)
  • Veronica (6th Station of the Cross)
  • Jesus is undressed before his Crucifixion (10th Station)
  • The Crucifixion (12th Station)
  •  Jesus is lowered from the Cross (13th Station)
  • The dead Jesus is given to his Mother Mary (Pieta')
  • Jesus's Burial, locally known as The Monument (14th Station)

                                                              The Last Supper

Our journey along with the Passion of Jesus Christ starts with the ‘Last Supper’.  This statuary group is a recent addition to the processional sets of statues and is only present in two localities. It was first introduced in Qormi in 1961 and then in Zebbug Gozo in 1968. Although it is known by the name “The Last Supper” the importance of the event is the establishment of the Eucharist, Christ's gift of himself to all humanity.  

 

Luke: 14:20 “And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. And he said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves.  For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes." And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying,  "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”

 

One can imagine the sheer weight of this statuary group given that it is composed of thirteen figures including a wooden table and all the necessary accessories.

                                                     The Agony in the Garden

Following his last supper Jesus went to the Getshemane or Mount of Olives as he often did, accompanied by a few apostles to pray. Being the Son of God, he could forsee the torture and pain that the following hours in his life would bring and therefore begged to God his father to spare Him this fate.

 

 

This episode marks the first in the traditional group of statues around the island and is present in all the processions. It is composed of the figure of Jesus, kneeling under an olive tree and an angel, close beside him holding a cross and a chalice.  The cross and chalice held by the angel are symbols of the suffering that Jesus would endure in the last hours of his life.

 

 

 

Luke (39:44) And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him.  And when he came to the place, he said to them, "Pray that you may not enter into temptation." And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying,  "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground." 

 

 

 

There are three examples of this episode that feature an additional angel, ie Cospicua, Qormi and The Cathedral in Victoria Gozo, but as you see above the scriptures tell of only of one angel.

 

                     Judas Betrays Jesus
 

This statuary group again is a relatively recent addition to the traditional set of statues and was first introduced to the Qormi procession in 1908 and then was added to a good number of sets over the years to the present date.  It portrays the crucial moment in the Garden of Olives, when Judas identifies Jesus to his captors by kissing him on the cheek and thus giving birth to the hour of darkness.  Representations of this in the statuary groups around the island,  feature the figures of Jesus and Judas, with an olive tree in the background, although some others also include the figure of St Peter about to unsheathe his sword to ward off Jesus’ assailants.  Mosta’s statuary group includes one of the high priest’s servants wielding a torch on Jesus’ left. 

Matthew 47:50 “ While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; seize him." And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" And he kissed him. Jesus said to him,) "Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.”

John 18 (10:11) Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) So Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?"

                                    Peter's Denial

Towards the end of his last supper Jesus had said to his apostles:

  Mark  14  - 27And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away, for it is  written,  'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'   28But  after  I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." 29 Peter  said  to  him, "Even though they all fall away, I will not." 30And Jesus   said  to  him,  "Truly,  I tell you, this very night, before the rooster   crows twice, you will deny me three times."

 This  is  yet  another  quite recent and unique addition to the statuary   groups.  It was introduced to the Nadur procession in 1988.

In  this  group  we see St Peter just as he has realised that what Jesus   had  foretold  about  his  weakness has come true. He is seen shocked as Jesus is led away by a Jewish soldier to be cross-examined by Pontius Pilate.

Luke 22 - 54 Then they seized him and led him away, bringing him into   the high priest’s house, and Peter was following at a distance. 55 And  when they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down  together, Peter sat down among them. 56Then a servant girl, seeing him  as he sat in the light and looking closely at him, said, "This man also   was with him." 57But he denied it, saying, "Woman, I do not know him."   58And a little later someone else saw him and said, "You also are one of   them." But Peter said, "Man, I am not." 59And after an interval of about   an hour still another  insisted, saying, "Certainly this man also was   with him, for he too is a Galilean." 60But Peter said, "Man, I do not  know what you are talking about." And immediately, while he was still  speaking, the rooster crowed. 61And the Lord turned and  looked at   Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to   him,  "Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times."  62And he went out and wept bitterly. "

                      The Flagellation

 This next statue forms part of the traditional set in the processions and is present in all the sets in Malta and Gozo. Traditionally Jesus is seen standing, hands tied to a short marble column to his left or to his right. The marks of the first lashings appear on his body and the pain can be easily seen on his face. This setup was retained for centuries. Representations of this episode in the passion, introduced by Qormi in 1981 and Paola in 2005, present a somewhat more realistic and historically faithful picture . In Qormi Jesus is pictured as he is being released from his shackles from a tall column right after his scourging has finished, while in Paola Jesus is tied to a similar column this time being mercilessly tortured by one of Pontius Pilate’s floggers. 

 

John (19:1) "Then Pilate took Jesus and  flogged him."

Mark (15:15)  "So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. "

Matthew (27:26) ''Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified." 

 

 

 

                                                                                         Jesus Crowned With Thorns

Immediately following the end of the flagellation, the Roman soldiers present in the Praetorium, having heard that Jesus had proclaimed himself the King of the Jews, started to mock him. They made a crown out of thorns and placed it on his head and dressed him in a red cape while they also gave him a reed to hold instead of a sceptre.

This is also a figure present in all sets of processional statues. In its earlier versions Jesus is seen sitting down on a marble column, but later versions show Jesus standing alone. More recent depictions feature the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate by Jesus’ side as he is showing him to the crowd of Jews. Pilate is traditionally thought to have proclaimed ‘Ecce Homo’ in Latin (meaning ‘Behold the Man’) as he saw Jesus in that state. In fact this statue is commonly referred to by that name.

(John 19) (2) And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. (3)They came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands.
(Mark 15):2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3They came up to him, saying, "Hail, King of the Jews!" and struck him with their hands."

 

                                                     Jesus Falls Under the Cross

This episode which is found in every procession in Malta and Gozo represents the third, seventh and ninth stations of the Way of the Cross. Here Jesus falls beneath the unbearable weight of this large wooden cross on his way up to the Golgotha towards his Crucifixion.  Although this episode is a traditional one and is not mentioned anywhere in the four Canonical Gospels,  it attracts a lot of devotion from Catholics all over the islands.  Some of these effigies are also considered to be miraculous as is the one seen here, which is part of the Isla set of statues.

                                 Jesus Meets His Mother on His Way to Calvary
 

This is the fourth Station  of the Way of the Cross where Jesus meets His Mother Mary whilst carrying the Cross up the Calvary. This is also an episode born out of religious tradition and not recorded in the four Gospels.  This statuary group is uncommon and only found in three processions around the islands. The one seen here is from the Paola set.

                                                                               Jesus is helped by Simon from Cyrene

 

 

Here is another uncommon statuary group which depicts the moment when Jesus is relieved from carrying the Cross by Simon from Cyrene. This is the fifth  station from the Way of the Cross and is recorded in the Gospels of Luke, Mark and Matthew.

 

Mark 15: 

"And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross."

 

                         Veronica

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Veronica , is a legendary figure that  according to the "Acta Sanctorum' was a pious woman of Jerusalem who, moved with pity as Jesus carried his cross to Golgotha, gave him her veil that he might wipe his forehead. Jesus accepted the offering and after using it handed it back to her, with the image of his face miraculously impressed upon it.  Although this episode is not recorded in any of the four gospels, this statue is present in all processions, with the  exception of the Gozo Catheral.

                                              Jesus is Undressed to be Crucified
 

This statuary group portrays the 10th Station of the Way of the Cross. Here Jesus is undressed by Roman soldier in preparation for His crucifixion. This representation is unique and only present in Rabat in Malta.

"When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, "Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be."This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

 "They divided my garments among them,

   and for my clothing they cast lots."

                                                                                                  The Crucifixion

Undoubtedly the highlight of the procession is this group representing Jesus Christ nailed to the cross while his mother  Mary , his beloved apostle John and Mary Magdalene watch by his side .  This episode is obviously  present in all the processions on the islands. It features the same four figures as mentioned above in all the processions with the exception of the ones in Gozo's Cittadella and Nadur (picture right) which also features Longinus the Roman Centurion. He is  traditionally considered to have pierced Jesus' side with a lance and later converted to Christianity. 

 
John 19
So they took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Many of the Jews read this inscription, for  the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek."

25 but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother,  "Woman, behold, your son!" 27Then he said to the disciple, "Behold, your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home."

                                     Jesus Is Removed and Lowered from the Cross
 

 

 

 

This is another unique statuary group which we find in Qala in Gozo. It is the thirteenth station from the Way of the Cross.  It is recounted in the Gospels and according to Mark Chapter 15:

 

"And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud..."

                           The Dead Body of Jesus is Given to His Mother Mary (Pieta')

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are only two occurencies of this episode in Malta,  found in Zejtun and in Qormi (pictured above).  It can also be described as representing the 13th station of the Way of the Cross.  Here we see the figure of the Holy Mary holding the dead body of her Son in her arms. This episode is not mention in the Canonical Gospels but is assumed to have happened as the Gospels describe Mary as being present during the crucifixion.

                                         Monument to the Dead Christ / The Burial
 

 

The representation of the burial of Jesus is present in all procesions, albeit in different forms.  The most common is, as seen in the picture above left, a monumental gilded wooden structure embellished with the finest materials.  The picture to the right  is the one seen at the Gozo Cathedral which represents the figures of Nikodemus, Joseph of Arimathea and St John as they carry Jesus to his tomb. A similar statuary group is found in Paola in Malta.

Matthew 27

"When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. 58He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud 60and(CH) laid it in his own new tomb,(CI) which he had cut in the rock. "

               Our Lady of Sorrows

 

 

This statue, present in all the processions around the island, marks the end of our pilgramage along the passion of Christ . The evangelist John,  in his gospel tells us that Jesus's mother Mary was present beneath the cross at the crucifixion. 

This statue portrays the griefing Mother of God , sitting beneath the cross in great sorrow , moments after the body of Christ has been taken away for burial. This episode although assumed and not specifically  recorded in the gospels, draws a great deal of reverance from the local Catholic faithful.

Earlier examples of this episode featured Mary sitting down on a rock to the left  with an angel on the opposite side holding the nails and crown of thorns in his hands. Later versions replaced the angel with the Apostle John.  In Gozo, on the other hand, most processions have chosen the solitary figure of Our Lady to end the procession of the Passion of Our Lord.