Christmas & Brueghel’s “Procession to Calvary”

The year was 1564, and Danish painter, Pieter Brueghel, is completing a perplexing work.  It will come to be known as “The Procession to Calvary”.

But there’s something most intriguing about this painting.  Like the “Where’s Waldo?” pictures (begun by Martin Handford in 1987), the observer has to diligently search Brueghel’s painting to even find Jesus carrying his cross to Calvary.  (The painting is printed below.  To save you some time, Jesus is in the very middle.)

Unlike most depictions of Christ’s procession to his crucifixion, Brueghel portrays the event as an almost non-event.   This historical event that would serve as the single most significant moment in human history is not even noticed by most of the figures in Brueghel’s painting.  In other words, for them it’s simply “another day at the office.”

There is most likely a great deal of historical accuracy regarding Brueghel’s painting.  Many watched as Christ was making his way to Calvary, but, no doubt, many more simply carried on with their day.  After all, Roman crucifixion was a common form of execution at the time.

So, what does this have to do with Christmas?

Brueghel reminds us of how easily Jesus simply goes unnoticed.

Lists, recipes, shopping, family, deadlines, travel – you name it – dominate our time, crowding out intimate, individual focus on Christ during this busy time of year.

Historian, Terry Glaspey, writes, “In The Procession to Calvary, one must look closely or miss the main point.  The unfolding of God’s plan is taking place amid all the hustle and bustle of ordinary life.  And isn’t that how the spiritual world usually interacts with our own?  Brueghel reminds us that we must pay attention if we are to see the divine story of redemption hidden in the midst of our own story.”

This Christmas, may we strive ever so diligently to slow down and notice, meditate upon – “pay attention” to – the manger, and the hope it represents.

Merry Christmas, St. Nick

Procession to Calvary - Brueghel