What afflicts Christ from the shrine

Shrines and roadside crosses have become a permanent feature of the Polish landscape. One of the most frequently taken up folk themes by sculptors and most frequently encountered figures was — and still remains — the Pensive Christ. The attitude of the suffering Christ — who is lost in reverie — was close to the faithful, recognizing the enormity of human affairs and miseries in his concerned face. The vitality and frequency of this image is an example of attachment to a certain representational tradition. In Christian terms, it was symbolic and carried deep passion, but now is no longer fully readable.
Ichnographically, this type of image was identified with the presentations occurring in German literature as: Christus im Elend, Christus in der Rast. It distinguished itself from a scene of Resting before Crucifixion (Preparation before Crucifixion, Anticipation), which was a phase on the Way of the Cross (situated between the Stations X and XI), which is not regarded as being an element of Station of Cross nowadays. The medieval writings considered it to be the most painful of all the Stations of Cross, when an exhausted Christ sat on the “stone of rest” and was deep in melancholic thoughts. In the 17th century, after the station of Christ’s Passion was ultimately arranged, the scene was deleted.
In literature and fine arts, this arrangement of characters has a relatively long representational tradition. In ancient art, for example, Hercules was shown in this way, resting after carrying out all his works; in the early Christian tradition, Adam, Job, and Saint Joseph — and thereafter also Elias — were all presented in such a fashion. Each of these figures is depicted while resting after enormous effort — beyond their power — during which they succumbed to deep quandary, the feeling of sadness, and everlasting regret. This manner of depiction was common in the iconography of many cultures.

Albrecht Dürer, title page of Little Passion, woodcut, 1511, source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Researchers assume that one of the sources of the popularity of this image was, among others, Albrecht Dürer’s drawing from the cover of “Little Passion” (a collection of 37 drawings created at the beginning of the 16th century), which was a source of inspiration, and an iconographic pattern for many artists.
The attributes of the Pensive Christ are elements associated with the passion and the consequence of situations prior to this scene: i.e. the mocking of Christ or the way to Golgotha. That is why Christ has a crown of thorns on his head and a coat on his shoulders, and sometimes he also holds a sceptre, a cane, or a palm in his hand. Such an interpretation of the image may indicate the merging of two types of presentations: Pensive Christ and Ecce Homo (from Latin: Here is Man). Often, a skull appeared at Christ’s feet, which was the skull of Adam. After reaching Golgotha — while Christ waited for the sentence to be executed — soldiers dug the hole to put the cross in. During this action, they came across bones, because — according to legend — the grave of Adam’s forefather was to be found there (hence the frequent depictions of the skull and crossed tibias on the underside of the crucifix beam). This way, the history of salvation ran full circle.
Frasunek in old Polish means worry, sadness, or grief. The presentation of the Pensive Christ is an extremely intense character study. All the formal elements of this image — from the body posture to the facial expression — reflect his psychological state. This depiction is very suggestive, because Christ becomes “human” in his concern and very close to a single individual. Therefore, it can be interpreted in many ways. Religion very often uses general, timeless symbols, adapted by iconography, which are legible both on an intellectual and intuitive level.
Knowing the genesis of the iconography, we see that certain threads persist in cultural consciousness in an unchanging formal and semantic form, but may be interpreted in many ways. Pensive Christ — as any other work — can be understood and perceived individually (without reference to the wider context), although placing this representation against the background of the whole passion allows its full image to be obtained, enabling us to learn its proper sense and deep meaning.

The only museum collection of figures of Pensive Christ in Poland is located in Jeżowe.

Elaborated by Editorial team of Malopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

Agnieszka Ławicka, Religijność ludowa — Chrystus Frasobliwy [access: 09.2019].