I attended a very very ancient church service yesterday evening in Castiglione di Garfagnana, Tuscany as part of the start of the traditional Roman Catholic Easter celebrations. The church was packed with standing room only. A sense of support, love and togetherness from the families gathered, most three generation strong, to share the sense of suffering, humbled. Good people with similar values, stood in solemn silence to witness the staging of the Last Supper. The Priest proclaimed as dignified messenger of Christ his mandate (on Maundy Thursday) “this is my body, given for you… do this in remembrance of me” as he cleansed the feet of his disciples, his position of humility now transcending hierarchy.
Bandone Giotto 1303, Cappella Scrovegni a Padova
What followed was harrowing.
Castiglione in Garfagnana procession, 1920
‘Christ’ an anonymous ‘penitent’ garbed in robes of white, his mysterious identity shrouded and known only to the fraternity wears the crown of thorns. His bare feet drags the weight of metal chains ahead of the procession of villagers who carry naked torches; the eerie noise of jingling and clatter limps out of time. Officials, dignitaries, Roman Centurions, and his Disciples, are all led by the sovereign power; the Church. The drum beat sounds the funeral dirge of time and ricochets off the narrow streets while Christ now stumbles with the burden of his heavy wooden crucifix. It’s impossible not to experience the sense of his suffering as an onlooking participant. Shared responsibility of punishment and suffering is genuinely felt amongst spectators. His pain and suffering is visceral; ‘dolore’ (pain) the priest repeatedly calls out, sorrowfully. This is raw performance of collective responsibility drama displayed in this village every year for the last 400 years.
Garbed in white, Christ in bare feet limps under his burden to the funeral dirge of time
So, what has this account to do with my work?
The figure of Christ arrested of ‘by the arm of authority’ Roman Centurians under order of Pontius Pilate
It has everything. Society operating in ways of docile bodies; the suffering of the inflicted, life today, love of one another, punishment as dictated by hierarchy and law. The relevance of a system that punctuates our moral behaviour through the example of fear/death of another public punishment. The Easter Story is, as Foucault would say, juridicial power in action. In this case Pontius Pilate, the governor of Judea, disseminated the responsibility of the sentence to the populus, who replied ‘Crucify him!’.Today we have normative power, we have a conscience to know this former system to be barbaric. The alternative hidden, subversive ‘dark’ place called prison does not reform as Jeremy Bentham dreamt in his single cell solitary confinement system. It just allows for out-of-sight (as opposed to public) punishment. Do prisoners never re-offend? Not a chance under juridicial power.
Paul Ruben, Entombment 1500 Courtauld
My CRP discusses systems of authority and sovereign power through the ideas of Michel Foucault whose upbringing as alter boy knew the Catholic Church’s Easter story. Self-reflection and self-monitoring bears the weight of sins through obedience to the oppressive nature of the Church. Is the drama as reminder still relevant in this theatre of justice and obedience? The impact is no different to the juridical power as demonstrated in the opening of Foucault’s Crime and Punish.
Annabel Ludovici Gray