Students and faculty at Brigham Young University have produced two videos that will educate Latter-day Saints about a rich Christian tradition and foster greater understanding about the death of Jesus Christ among all faiths and religions.
“A Reflection of the Stations of the Cross,” a 35-minute YouTube video, along with a 7-minute video providing a brief history of the Stations of the Cross, features hundreds of Catholic images and artwork depicting Christ’s journey to the cross, sacred music and interviews with faith leaders and scholars.
The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of Sorrows, refers to a series of images depicting Jesus Christ and events on the day of his crucifixion.
The videos were sponsored by BYU’s Council for Religious Outreach and released during Holy Week (March 28-April 3), according to Elliott Wise, an assistant professor of Art History and Curatorial Studies at BYU, who oversaw the video project.
“I have alway loved the Stations of the Cross, and making the videos only deepened that love,” Wise said.
The Very Rev. Martin Diaz, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, was among those interviewed in the videos. The faith leader said the stations offer “powerful symbolism that brings us closer to the reality” of Christ’s suffering. He believes the videos will help people of all Christian faiths to better understand the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
“I do hope that they are drawn closer to Jesus, that they will enter into his suffering and understand that,” the Rev. Diaz said.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may not practice this religious tradition, but watching the videos is another way to make Easter celebrations more meaningful, said BYU professor John Hilton III, author of “Considering the Cross: How Calvary Connects Us with Christ.”
“For me, Stations of the Cross is a perfect example of this type of tradition, providing us with an opportunity to pause for a few minutes and ponder — in a different way than we normally do — the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ,” Hilton said.
What are the Stations of the Cross?
The Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on earth as a man and are often depicted in Catholic churches, as well as some Protestant churches. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of the Savior’s last day and are commonly used as a minipilgrimage as an individual moves from one station to the next, praying, reading scripture or meditating, according to Catholic.org.
Wise said the stations are “stopping points” — some biblical, some legendary — along Jesus’s “Via Dolorosa” (“sorrowful way”) from Pilate’s Judgment Hall to Calvary and to the tomb.
“Centuries of pilgrims to the Holy Land have walked the ‘Via Dolorosa’ and meditated on these traditional stations. Eventually the practice was exported to churches around the world, where you can walk them in your own parish,” Wise said.
Eric Huntsman, a BYU professor of Ancient Scripture and New Testament specialist who has lived and studied in the Holy Land, explained more about the Via Dolorosa and the history of the Stations of the Cross in the documentary.
“The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a lot of doctrinal and ritual differences from other Christians, but when it comes to the idea of the incarnation and the birth of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice and his resurrection, those are two points of contact where we share so much with the wider Christian world,” Huntsman said. “I love to help our people celebrate those holidays and, in the process, resonate with Christians from both the Catholic and the Protestant traditions.”
A virtual experience
The task from BYU’s Council of Religious Outreach was to put together something to help BYU students commemorate Holy Week.
Typically, the Stations of the Cross is an in-person experience where believers, often with a group of people, walk the stations along the walls of a church, praying, meditating and singing together.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wise came up with the idea of a “virtual Stations of the Cross” video to enable an at-home experience.
“As with many things during COVID, we sometimes find that for all the disadvantages of virtual substitute, there are occasional perks,” he said.
BYU assistant professor Elliott Wise volunteered to oversee the virtual “Stations of the Cross” project. As a member of BYU’s Art History faculty, he teaches courses in Catholic art and devotion and has a deep appreciation for classic art depicting Christ’s death.
Those involved in the project thought the Stations of the Cross would make an ideal forum for inviting students and faculty to experience and learn from some of the riches of Christian Holy Week commemoration, Wise said, outlining their goals:
- First, to provide a resource for those in the campus community looking for meaningful ways to commemorate Holy Week.
- Second, to foster religious understanding between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Catholic Church.
- Third, to share these religious views with a broader interfaith audience, including Latter-day Saints, other faiths and “anyone looking to learn about religion,” Wise said.
The Stations of the Cross videos
A 35-minute video tells about each station using classic artwork, readings by BYU students and faculty and music. Because of copyright issues, the video has an unsearchable YouTube link. Anyone interested in seeing the video can request the link by emailing Wise at email@example.com.
A shorter, 7-minute documentary was also produced to explain the history of the Stations of the Cross.
“We wanted the meditation to be a strictly spiritual, contemplative experience, without any explanations,” Wise said. “At the same time, though, we realized that many on our campus would be unfamiliar with the Stations of the Cross, particularly since several of the stations are not, strictly speaking, scriptural. ... So the documentary served an explanatory purpose for any who wished to watch it in addition to the meditations.”
BYU’s Mauro Properzi, chairman of the Council for Religious Outreach and a professor of Church History and Doctrine, participated in the project. Students Jordan Miles, Hayley Perry Sanchez and Bryce Harris also played key roles in producing the videos.
The response to the videos has been positive.
“It’s been very heartwarming,” Wise said. “It seems to have made a powerful impression on some. People have expressed lovely sentiments at how it contributed to their religious observance.”