Friday, April 3, 2015

Photo Essay: The Way of Sorrows

I don't consider myself a religious person now, but I grew up surrounded by Catholic imagery and iconography – at school, in church, and even at home. Plaster statues of saints and the Virgin Mary would stare out at me from inside dark rooms, occasionally illuminated by the flicker of a votive candle.

In retrospect, it was creepy. But I like to be creeped out now and then.



Exploring religion – particularly Christianity – in California is unique because it seems to be so closely tied to nature, the earth, and great weather. Padres and missionaries were also farmers and winemakers, and churches doubled as ranches, with both livestock and wildlife.



Despite its proximity to the 210 freeway near the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, the Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center – on a hillside once known as "Monte Olivette" – is a world away, and a quiet escape.



Since 1924, the Passionists (a group of Roman Catholics I'd never encountered before) have sponsored retreats and prayer sessions here. They built the Mater Dolorosa Monastery in 1932 for use as a men's retreat, but had to demolish it after it was destroyed beyond repair by an earthquake in 1991.



The crosses that once graced the top of the original Monastery chapel and tower were saved, and are now displayed at the amphitheater.



The main structure that's there now actually had been part of an expansion, an additional building uphill from the original monastery site. It's now where (both male and female) retreatants and staff stay.



But even if you don't stay overnight, or go inside the main building, there's plenty to do and see – including an outdoor Stations of the Cross.



Whether you have studied the New Testament...



...or believe the story of Jesus on the day of his crucifixion...



...the depictions are beautiful to behold...



...and are sacred to many people.



Not entirely three-dimensional but more than just reliefs...



...each station is like its own altar...



...devoted to so much suffering and so many sorrows...



...each frozen in time.



Mater Dolorosa roughly translates as "Mother of Sorrows" or, more commonly, "Our Lady of Sorrows"...



...and the path that Jesus took while lugging that giant cross around is known as the Via Dolorosa, or "The Way of Sorrows"...



...or, simply, "The Way."



During my Catholic childhood, I'd seen church processions around a number of stained glass windows that represented the Stations of the Cross...



...but I'd just sit there in my pew, passively watching the show.



At Mater Dolorosa Retreat Center, you must walk along winding paths, up and down slopes and through a grove of trees, to follow the story...



...which gets more agonizing...



...and more violent with every stop...



...culminating with the twelfth station...



...where Jesus dies on the cross...



...witnessed by his parents...



...at the foot of the cross.



The Stations of the Cross have evolved over time, and, depending on where you go, you may encounter different versions of them, some with 14 stations, some with 15.



Many versions of the Stations also show Jesus being laid in the tomb...



...as well as rising from the dead.



Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.



You don't necessarily have to be religious to enjoy the view here...



...or the cool mountain breezes...



...or the gardens.



You just have to be quiet...



...and respectful of others.



Regardless of what you believe, it's a great place to meditate...



...unplug...



...and be silent for a while.



You don't have to pray...



...if there's nothing to say.



Sometimes you can just be...



...and accept things the way that they are...



...even if that way is one of sorrows.



The grounds also have a small cemetery, the Plaza of the Sacred Heart...



...a memorial garden on the former site of the monastery, the Garden of Seven Sorrows (four of which are part of the Stations of the Cross).



Can our pain be actually measured in units? Is each sorrow an isolated event? And can we hope that there's some limit to our suffering, that our sorrows might be capped at seven?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Blessings for the Poor in Spirit
Photo Essay: Unwanted Christ in a Desert Park
Photo Essay: Faces at California's First Mission
Photo Essay: The Faces of Inglewood Park Cemetery
Photo Essay: The Faces at Hollywood Forever Cemetery