Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ecce Homo at the old Ennis Friary

The old Franciscan Friary, Ennis, Ireland
During my last trip home to Ireland I visited the old Franciscan friary in my hometown of Ennis with my mother. The friary was established in the 13th century by the poweful O'Brien clan. It was a center for ecclesiastical study in its day with several hundred students studying theology in its schools. The town of Ennis later grew up around it. The old friary is mentioned in a 14th century Irish history - the Caithréim Thoirdhealbhaigh - which describes it as,

A new roof over the nave
"...diversely beautiful, delectable: washed by a fish-giving stream; having lofty arches, walls limewhited; with its order of chastity and their golden books, its sweet religious bells; its well-kept graves, homes of the noble dead; with furniture of both crucifix and illuminated tomes, both friar's cowl and broidered vestment; with windows glazed, with chalice of rare workmanship; a blessed and enduring monument which for all time shall stand a legacy and memorial of the prince that raised it.

The old friary was disestablished by Henry VIII during the English Reformation and later passed into Church of Ireland ownership. It fell into much disrepair in the following centuries, though it was still in use as a Protestant church as late as the 19th century. It is undergoing repair and preservation at the moment.

In the nave there is an interesting sculpted panel depicting Christ being presented by Pilate to the crowds. The famous Ecce Homo (behold the man!) scene of John 19:5. The panel depicts Christ stripped and bound. Around him the panel is filled with the instruments of His passion. Most of the symbols are obvious (the nails, the pillar, the dice, the seamless garment etc.). Some are less obvious. The top right panel depicts a hand holding a clump of hair (cf. Isaiah 50.6). 

The Ecce Homo panel at the old Ennis friary was intended to help the faithful reflect on the passion of Christ. It's an emotive scene replicated countless times in Christian art. D. A. Carson, in his commentary on John's Gospel gave the following reflection on Christ standing before his accusers,

The Ecce Homo panel at Ennis Friary

"Once more Pilate steps out of the praetorium to address the Jews. He delivers his verdict, and then dramatically presents Jesus—a sorry sight, swollen, bruised, bleeding from those cruel and ridiculous thorns. Aware as he is that it is the people who must choose the man who will receive the governor’s amnesty, he presents Jesus as a beaten, harmless and rather pathetic figure to make their choice of him as easy as possible. In his dramatic utterance Here is the man! (in Latin, Ecce homo!), Pilate is speaking with dripping irony: here is the man you find so dangerous and threatening: can you not see he is harmless and somewhat ridiculous? If the governor is thereby mocking Jesus, he is ridiculing the Jewish authorities with no less venom. But the Evangelist records the event with still deeper irony: here indeed is the Man, the Word made flesh. All the witnesses were too blind to see it at the time, but this Man was displaying his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, in the very disgrace, pain, weakness and brutalization that Pilate advanced as suitable evidence that he was a judicial irrelevance."