Stations of Cross: Non-Catholic Creates Lenten Meditation At Brooklyn Oratory Church

by Antonina Zielinska

To honor the passion of Christ, the Oratory Church of St. Boniface, Downtown Brooklyn, continues its “Art in Lent” season by displaying a modern rendition of the Stations of the Cross painted by a local artist.

Parishioners of the Oratory Church of St. Boniface walk the Stations of the Cross next to a modern rendition of the Stations of the Cross created by Audrey Anastasi.
Parishioners of the Oratory Church of St. Boniface walk the Stations of the Cross next to a modern rendition of the Stations of the Cross created by Audrey Anastasi.

Audrey Frank Anastasi created the stations on 12-inch square gold leafed canvases with flat black gesso paint. The artist, who is not a Catholic, used her left, non-dominant, hand to create harsh images without incredible detail.

Romana Candy, a parishioner and an artist said the stations inspired her to see the familiar scenes in a new light.

“It’s not a literal interpretation,” she said. “It’s a suggestion and you  are encouraged to think about what you see.  They cause you to think upon a moment in your life and call on God for help.”

She said that although she has seen the station “Jesus Meets His Mother” many times in different renditions, this particular instance struck her deeply and made her think about her mother who died two years ago. She said the paintings made her feel a sense of hope. The gold reflects the light of the church and creates a strong juxtaposition.

“The roughness of her hand in applying the paint and this beautiful light that comes through, in it there is a promise of salvation,” she said.

The materials and method used in this rendition of the Stations of the Cross are not the only aspects that make this piece of art unusual. Anastasi said she felt compelled to create them, even though she is not of the Christian faith.

She walked the stations with her husband who is a practicing Catholic. “There is a beauty and solemnity in the act, feeling the sacrifice and the humility,” she said. “I just felt like I had to paint them.”

Her husband, Joseph Anastasi said he was surprised she wanted to undertake this project.

“When she presented them to me she said the work almost made itself,” he said. “It came from her hand, but she was driven to do it.”

The artist said she wanted to present the story in such a way that was respectful of the viewer’s beliefs; whether or not the viewer believes Jesus to be the Messiah.

“I wasn’t trying to reinvent the story,” she said. “I just wanted to present it from an emotional stance. It’s such a deep story of sacrifice and humility.”

Father Mark Lane, c.o., pastor of St. Boniface, said that artwork created by a non-believer can help Catholics grow in faith.

“Sometimes the outsider’s view helps the insiders see more clearly where they are,” he said.

Father Lane said modern art in general when used in conjunction with traditional art could be a great tool of deepening the faith, quoting Jesus in Mark 13:25 to support his stance: “Then every scribe who has been instructed in the kingdom of heaven is like the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.”

St. Boniface has many juxtapositions of traditional and modern art. Alfonse Bonysewicz, parishioner, said he spends many hours creating artwork to donate to his parish because it is an important part of spiritual growth.

“Every generation contributes to the art of the church,” he said. “Contemporary art has to be appreciated in sacred space. Someday someone may look at what I’m doing and say it’s traditional.”

Laura James is another Brooklyn local who creates modern Christian art but is not of the Christian faith and has established herself as a leader in the field. She was commissioned by the Liturgical Training Publications in Chicago to create artwork used in a version of the Book of the Gospels. However, many of her paying customers are non-Catholic people.

“Lots of people have some kind of relationship with religions and the bible,” she said.  “A lot of people know the stories.”

James works with many different faiths and said she did not always find accpetance of her work in churches, Catholic or otherwise. However, she said Catholics have a special relationship with art.

“Catholics have more of an appreciation for the arts,” she said. “Catholics have a lot more art in the church.”

Father Frank Tumino, chair of the Arts and Architecture Committee for the Diocese of Brooklyn said art can have a powerful affect and should be integrated into churches with caution.

He said the church has a responsibility “to protect the treasures we have, to add beauty to our churches – not detract. (This) requires conversation, education and the very best we have to offer.  All involved must remember that what we do does set a precedent.”