604. The Way of the Cross from the Praetorium to Calvary.
26th March 1945.
Some time goes by so, not more than half an hour, perhaps even less. Then Longinus, who is entrusted with the task of superintending the execution, gives his orders. But before Jesus is taken outside, into the street, to receive the cross and set out, Longinus, who has looked at Him twice or three times, with a curiosity that is already tinged with compassion and with the expert eye of one who is accustomed to certain situations, approaches Jesus with a soldier and offers Him a refreshment: a cup of wine, I think. In fact he pours a light blond rosy liquid out of a real military canteen. "It will do You good. You must be thirsty. And the sun is shining outside. And the way is a long one." And Jesus replies to him: "May God reward you for your compassion. But do not deprive yourself of it."
"I am healthy and strong... You... I am not depriving myself... And even if I were... I would do it willingly, to give You some solace... A draught... to show me that You do not hate heathens."
Jesus no longer refuses and takes a draught of the drink. As His hands are already untied and He no longer has the cane or the chlamys, He can do it by Himself. But He refuses to take more, although the good cool drink should be a great relief to His fever, which is already showing itself in the red streaks that inflame His pale cheeks and His dry lips.
"Take some, take it. It is water and honey. It will give You strength and quench Your thirst... I feel pity for You... yes... pity... It was not You Who was to be killed among the Jews... Who knows!... I do not hate You... and I will try to make You suffer only what is necessary."
But Jesus does not drink any more... He is really thirsty... The dreadful thirst of those who have lost much blood and are feverish... He knows that it is not a drink with narcotics, and He would drink it willingly. But He does not want to suffer less. But I realise, as I understand what I am saying through an internal light, that the compassion of the Roman is of greater solace to Him than the water sweetened with honey.
"May God reward you with His blessings for this solace" He then says. And He smiles again... a heart-rending smile with His swollen wounded lips, which move with difficulty, also because the severe contusion between His nose and His right cheekbone, caused by the blow with a cudgel He received in the court-yard after the flagellation, is swelling consider ably.
The two robbers arrive, each surrounded by a decury of soldiers. It is time to go. Longinus gives the last instructions.
A century is set out in two lines, at about three meters from each other, and moves thus into the square, where another century has formed a square barrier to drive the crowd back, so that it may not obstruct the procession. In the little square there are already some mounted soldiers: a cavalry decury with a young non-commissioned officer who commands it and has the ensign. A foot-soldier is holding the bridle of the centurion's black horse. Longinus mounts and goes to his place, about two metres in front of the eleven mounted soldiers.
The crosses are brought. Those of the two robbers are shorter. Jesus' is much longer. I say that the vertical stake is not less than four metres long.
I see that it is already assembled when they bring it. With regard to this matter, I read, when I used to read... that is, years ago, that the cross was assembled on the top of Golgotha and that along the way the condemned men carried only the two poles bundled together on their shoulders. Everything is possible. But I see a true cross, well formed, solid, perfectly mortised at the crossing of the two arms and well reinforced with nails and screw bolts at the junction. And in fact, if one considers that it was destined to support a substantial weight, such as the body of a grown-up person, and had to sustain it also in its last convulsions, one understands that it could not be assembled there and then on the narrow uncomfortable top of Calvary.
Before giving the cross to Jesus, they tie the board with the inscription "Jesus Nazarene King of the Jews" round His neck. And the rope that holds it, gets entangled with the crown, which is moved and scratches where it is not already scratched, and pierces new parts, causing fresh pain and making fresh blood spout. The people laugh with sadistic joy, they abuse and curse.
They are now ready. And Longinus gives the order of march. "First the Nazarene, behind Him the two robbers; a decury around each of them, the other seven decuries positioned on the flank as reinforcements, and the soldier who allows the condemned men to be wounded mortally will be held responsible."
Jesus comes down the three steps that from the lobby take one into the square. And it is immediately clear that Jesus is in an extremely weak condition. He straggers coming down the three steps, hampered by the cross weighing on His shoulder all covered with sores, by the board of the inscription that sways in front of Him cutting into His neck, by the oscillations caused to the body by the long stake of the cross, which bounces on the steps and on the uneven ground.
The Jews laugh seeing Him stagger along like a drunk man and they shout to the soldiers: "Push Him. Make Him fall. In the dust the blasphemer!" But the soldiers do only what they have to do, that is, they order the Condemned One to stay in the middle of the road and walk.
Longinus spurs his horse and the procession begins to move slowly. And Longinus would also like to make haste, taking the shortest route to Golgotha, because he is not sure of the resistance of the Condemned One. But the unrestrained mob – and it is even an honour to call it so – does not want that. Those who are more cunning have already run ahead, to the crossroads where the road forks, going towards the walls along one way, and towards the town along the other and they riot, shouting, when they see Longinus try to take the way towards the walls. "You must not do that! You must not! It is not legal! The Law prescribes that condemned men are to be seen in the town where they sinned!" The Jews at the rear of the procession realise that at the front they are trying to defraud them of a right, and they join their shouts to those of their colleagues.
For peace sake Longinus turns along the way that takes towards the town and goes a short distance along it. But he beckons to a decurion to approach him (I say decurion because he is the noncommissioned officer, but perhaps he is what we would call an orderly officer) and he says something to him in a low voice. This man trots back, and as he meets each decury commander, he conveys the order. He then goes back to Longinus to inform him that it has been done. And finally he goes to the place where he was previously, in the line behind Longinus.
Jesus proceeds panting. Each hole in the ground is a trap for His staggering feet, a torture for His shoulders covered with wounds, and for His head crowned with thorns, also because the sun, which is exceedingly warm, although now and again it hides behind a leaden awning of clouds, shines perpendicular on it. So even it is concealed, it still burns. Jesus is congested with fatigue, fever and heat. I think that also the light and the howling must be a torture for Him. And if He cannot stop His ears in order not to hear so much coarse shouting, He half closes His eyes not to see the road dazzling in the sunshine... But He must also reopen them, because He stumbles over stones and holes, and each stumble is painful, as it jerks the cross, which knocks against the crown, which rubs against the wounded shoulder, widening the sores and increasing the pain. The Jews cannot hit Him directly any longer. But odd stones and blows with cudgels still strike Him. The former, particularly in the little squares crowded with people. The latter, instead, at bends, along the narrow streets with frequent steps going up or down, at times one, at times three, at times more, because of the continuous variations of the ground. The procession is compelled to slow down at such places, and there is always some volunteer (!) who challenges the Roman lances if only to add a finishing touch to the masterpiece of torture that Jesus is by now.
The soldiers defend Him as best they can. But they strike Him as well, while trying to defend Him, because the long lances waved about in such narrow spaces, knock against Him and make Him stumble. But upon arriving at a certain spot, the soldiers make a perfect manoeuvre and, notwithstanding shouts and threats, the procession deviates abruptly along a street that goes directly towards the walls, downhill, a good short cut to the place of the execution.
Jesus is panting more and more. Perspiration is streaming down His face, together with the blood that trickles from the wounds of the crown of thorns. And dust sticks to His wet face leaving queer stains on it. Because also the wind is blowing now. Continual gusts at long intervals, during which the dust falls after being raised in whirlwinds by each gust, and is blown into eyes and throats.
Many people have already assembled at the Judicial Gate, that is, those who providently and in good time have chosen a good place to see. But shortly before arriving there Jesus almost falls. Only the quick intervention of a soldier, on whom He almost falls, prevents Him from falling on the ground. The rabble laugh and shout: "Leave Him! He used to says to everybody: “Rise”. Let Him rise now..."
Beyond the Gate there is a stream and a little bridge. Walking on the uneven boards is a new fatigue for Jesus, as the long stake of the cross bounces on them even more violently. And there is a new mine of projectiles for the Jews. The stones of the stream fly and hit the poor Martyr...
Jesus Falls for the First Time
The ascent to Calvary begins. A barren road, without the least shade, paved with uneven stones, that goes straight up the hill. Here again, when I used to read, I read that Calvary was a few metres high. It may be so. It is certainly not a mountain. But it is a hill, not certainly lower than the mount of the Crosses is, with respect to the Lungarni, where the Basilica of Saint Miniato is in Florence. Someone may say: "Oh! not much!" Yes, for one who is healthy and strong it is not much. But it is enough to have a weak heart to feel whether it is much or little!... I know that after I began to suffer from heart trouble, even if only in a mild form, I could no longer go up that hill without suffering a great deal and I was compelled to stop now and again, and I had no load on my shoulders. And I think that Jesus' heart must have been in a very bad state after the flagellation and sweating blood... and I take only these two things into consideration. So Jesus suffers tremendously in climbing, also because of the weight of the cross which, being so long, must be very heavy. He finds a protruding stone and as He is exhausted, He can lift His feet only a little, so He stumbles and falls on His right knee, but He can hold Himself up with His left hand. The crowd howls with joy...
Jesus Falls for the Second Time
He gets up again. He proceeds, bending and panting more and more, congested, feverish... The board that swings in front of Him obstructs His sight; His long tunic, the front part of which trails on the ground, as He now walks bending, hampers His steps. He stumbles again and falls on both knees, hurting Himself where He is already wounded; and the cross, which slips out of His hands and falls, after striking His back violently, compels Him to bend to pick it up and to toil painfully to put it back on His shoulder. While He does so, one can clearly see on His right shoulder the wound made by the rubbing of the cross, which has opened the many sores of the scourges, making them all into one, from which serum and blood transude, so that spot of His white tunic is all stained. The people even applaud for the joy of seeing Him fall so badly... Longinus urges to make haste and the soldiers, striking with the flat of their daggers, press poor Jesus to proceed. He sets out again more and more slowly, despite all solicitations. Jesus seems completely intoxicated, as He sways so much, knocking against one or the other lines of soldiers, wandering all over the road. And the people notice it and shout: "His doctrine has gone to His head. Look, look, how He staggers!" And others, and they are not of the people, but priests and scribes, say with a grin: "No. It is still the fumes of the banquets in Lazarus' house. Were they good? Take our food now..." And other sentences of the kind.
Longinus, who turns round now and again, feels sorry for Him and orders a few minutes' stop. And the rabble insults him so much that the centurion orders the soldiers to charge them. And the faint-hearted crowds at the sight of the shining threatening lances, run away shouting and hurling themselves here and there down the mountain. It is here that, among the few people who have remained, I again see the small group of the shepherds appear from behind some ruins, probably of a collapsed low wall. They are desolate, upset, dusty, in rags, and with the power of their glances they attract the Master's attention. He turns His head round, He sees them... He looks at them fixedly as if they were the faces of angels, He seems to quench His thirst and fortify Himself with their tears, and He smiles... The order to resume the march is given and Jesus passes just in front of them and He hears their anguished weeping. With difficulty He turns His head round from under the yoke of the cross and He smiles once again... His solace... Ten faces... a rest in the burning sun...
Jesus Falls for the Third Time
And immediately afterwards, the pain of the third fall, a complete one. And this time He does not stumble. He falls because of a sudden lack of strength, due to a syncope. He falls headlong, knocking His face on the uneven stones, and He remains in the dust under the cross that falls on Him. The soldiers try to raise Him. But as He seems to be dead, they go and inform the centurion.
While they go and come back, Jesus comes to Himself, and slowly, with the help of two soldiers, one of whom lifts the cross and the other helps the Condemned One to stand up, He puts Himself in His place again. But He is really exhausted.
"Make sure that He dies only on the cross!" shout the crowd.
"If you let Him die beforehand, you will answer to the Proconsul, bear that in your minds. The culprit must arrive alive at the execution place" say the chief scribes to the soldiers. The latter cast withering glances at them, but discipline prevents them from speaking.
But Longinus is just as afraid as the Jews that the Christ may die on the road, and he does not want to have troubles. Without needing to be reminded, he knows what is his duty as officer responsible for the execution and he takes action.
He takes action disconcerting the Jews who have already ran ahead along the road that they have reached from all over the mountain, sweating, scratching themselves to pass among the few thorny bushes of the bare burnt mountain, falling on the rubble encumbering it as if it were a dump for Jerusalem, without feeling any pain except that of missing the panting of the Martyr, one of His sorrowful glances, a gesture, even an involuntary one, of suffering, and with no other fear but that of not being successful in having a good place. So Longinus gives the order to take the longer road that winds up the mountain and is therefore not so steep.
This road seems a path that by dint of being used by many people has changed into a rather comfortable road. This crossroad is situated about half-way up the mountain. But I see that farther up, the straight road is crossed four times by this one, which climbs with a slighter slope and to compensate for this is much longer. And many people are going up this road, but they do not participate in this shameful uproar of people possessed, who follow Jesus to take delight in His tortures. They are mostly women, weeping and veiled, and some small groups of men, very small ones indeed, who are much ahead of the women and are about to pass from sight, when going on their way, the road turns round the mountain.
Calvary here looks somehow pointed in its odd structure, which is snout-shaped on one side, whilst on the other side it drops sheer. The men disappear behind the stony point and I lose sight of them.
The people following Jesus are shouting with rage. It was more pleasant for them to see Him fall. While hurling obscene imprecations at the Condemned One and at those leading Him, some follow the judicial procession, and some go on almost running up the steep road, to make up for the disappointment received, by having a very good position on the top.
Jesus Meets the Women of Jerusalem
The women, who are proceeding weeping, turn round upon hearing the shouts, and see the procession turn towards them. Then they stop, leaning against the mountain, lest they should be pushed down the slope by the violent Jews. They lower their veils on their faces even more, and there is one completely covered with her veil, like a Muslim, leaving only her very dark eyes free. They are sumptuously dressed and they have a strong old man to defend them, but all enveloped as he is in his mantle, I cannot see his face clearly. I can only see his long beard, which is more white than dark, stick out of his very dark mantle.
When Jesus arrives near them, they weep more loudly and bow low to Him. Then they move forward resolutely. The soldiers would like to drive them back with their lances. But the one who is all covered like a Muslim moves her veil aside for a moment before the ensign, who has just arrived on horseback to see what it the cause of this new hindrance, and he orders the soldiers to let her pass. I cannot see her face or her dress, because the shifting of the veil is done with the speed of a flash, and her dress is all concealed under a heavy mantle that reaches down to the ground and is completely closed by a set of buckles. The hand that comes out from there for a moment to shift the veil, is white and beautiful. And it is the only thing, in addition to her very dark eyes, that can be seen of this tall matron, who is certainly influential if she is so promptly obeyed by Longinus' adjutant.
They approach Jesus weeping and kneel at His feet, while He stops panting... and yet He still knows how to smile at those compassionate women and at their escort, who uncovers himself to show that he is Jonathan. But the guards do not let him pass. Only the women.
One of them is Johanna of Chuza. And she is more haggard than when she was dying. Only the traces of her tears are red, all her face is snow-white with her kind dark eyes, which, dimmed as they are, seem to have become a very dark violet shade like certain flowers. In her hand she has a silver amphora and offers it to Jesus. But He refuses it. In any case, He is so breathless that He would not even be able to drink. With His left hand He wipes the sweat and blood that trickles into His eyes and that, streaming down His purple face and neck, the veins of which are swollen through the laboured throbbing of His heart, wets all His tunic at the chest.
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Another woman, who is accompanied by a young maidservant holding a small casket in her arms, opens it and takes out a square piece of very fine linen cloth, and offers it to the Redeemer. He accepts it. And as He cannot manage by Himself with one hand only, the compassionate woman helps Him to take it to His face, watching not to knock against His crown. And Jesus presses the cool linen cloth to His poor face and holds it there, as if He felt a great relief.
He then hands the linen cloth back and He says: "Thank you, Johanna, thank you, Nike,... Sarah,... Marcella,... Eliza,... Lydia,... Anne,... Valeria,... and you... But... do not weep... for Me... daughters of... Jerusalem... But for your sins... and for those... of your town... Bless... Johanna... for not having... more sons... See... It is God's mercy... not... not to have sons... because... they suffer... for this... And you... too, Elizabeth... Better... as it was... than among deicides... And you... mothers... weep for... your sons, because... this hour will not pass... without punishment... And what a punishment, if it is so for... the Innocent... You will weep then... for having conceived... suckled and for... having more... sons... The mothers... of those days... will weep because... I solemnly tell you... that he will be lucky... who then... will be... the first... to fall... under the ruins. I bless you... Go... home... pray... for Me. Goodbye, Jonathan... take them away..."
And in the midst of the loud noise of weeping women and cursing Judaeans, Jesus sets out again.
Jesus is once again completely wet with perspiration. Also the soldiers and the other two condemned men are perspiring, because the sun this stormy day is as burning as flames, and the side of the mountain, very warm by itself, increases the heat of the sun. What this sun must feel like on Jesus' woolen garment placed on the wounds of the scourges, one can easily imagine and be horror-stricken at the idea...
But He never moans. But although the road is not so steep as the other one and it is not strewn with uneven stones, which were so dangerous to His feet that He is now dragging, Jesus is staggering more and more, and once again He knocks first into one line of soldiers and then into the other and is bent more than previously.
They decide to overcome the difficulty by passing a rope round His waist and holding the two ends as if they were reins. It does in fact support Him, but it does not make His load any lighter. On the contrary the rope, knocking against the cross, shifts it continuously on His shoulder and makes it strike the crown, which by now has turned Jesus' forehead into a bleeding tattoo mark. Further, the rope rubs against His waist, where there are many wounds, and it certainly makes them bleed again, in fact His white tunic is tinged with pale red at the waist. So, in order to help Him, they make Him suffer more.
Jesus Meets His Mother
The road continues. It goes round the mountain, it comes back almost to the front, towards the steep road. Here, there is Mary with John. I should say that John has taken Her to that shady place, behind the slope of the mountain, to give Her some relief. It is the steepest part of the mountain. There is no other road going round it. Above and under it the slope rises or descends steeply, and that is why the cruel people have abandoned it. It is shady there, because I should say that it is the north, and Mary, leaning as She is on the mountain side, is protected from the sun. She is leaning against the slope, standing, but already exhausted, panting, as white as death, in Her very dark blue dress, which is almost black. John looks at Her with desolate pity. He has no trace of colour on his face either, and he looks wan, with wide-open tired eyes, unkempt, and his cheeks are sunken as if he were suffering from a disease.
The other women – Mary and Martha of Lazarus, Mary of Alphaeus and Mary of Zebedee, Susanna from Cana, the mistress of the house and some more whom I do not know – are all in the middle of the road looking to see whether the Saviour is coming. And when they see Longinus arrive, they rush towards Mary to inform Her. And Mary, supported by John who is holding Her by the elbow, departs from the hillside, stately in Her grief, and places Herself resolutely in the middle of the road, moving aside only at the arrival of Longinus, who from the height of his black horse looks at the pale Woman and at Her blond wan companion, whose meek eyes are blue like Hers. And Longinus shakes his head while passing by followed by the eleven soldiers on horseback.
Mary tries to pass through the dismounted soldiers, who, being warm and in a hurry, strive to drive Her back with their lances, all the more that stones are thrown from the paved road, as a protest against so much compassion. It is the Jews, who once again curse because of the halt brought about by the pious women and say: "Quick! It is Easter tomorrow. Everything must be accomplished by this evening! You are accomplices who deride our Law! Oppressors! Death to the invaders and to their Christ! They love Him! Look how they love Him! Well, take Him! Put Him in your cursed Eternal City! We surrender Him to you! We don't want Him! Let rotters be with rotters! And leprosy with lepers!"
Simon of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
Longinus gets tired and followed by the ten lancers he spurs his horse against the reviling pack of hounds, who run away for the second time. And in doing so he sees a cart standing still, which has certainly come up from the vegetable-gardens at the foot of the mountain and is waiting for the crowds to pass, so that it may go down towards the town with its load of greens. I think that curiosity has made the man from Cyrene and his sons go up there, because it was not necessary for him to do so. The two sons, lying on the top of the green pile of vegetables, look and laugh at the fleeing Judaeans. The man, instead, a very strong man, about forty-fifty years old, standing near the little donkey, which is frightened and tries to draw back, looks attentively at the procession. Longinus looks him up and down. He thinks that he can be useful and says to him in a commanding voice: "Man, come here."
The man from Cyrene feigns he has not heard. But one cannot trifle with Longinus. He repeats the order in such a way that the man throws the reins to one of his sons and approaches the centurion.
"Do you see that man?" he asks. And in doing so, he turns round to point out Jesus and he sees Mary, Who is imploring the soldiers to let Her pass. He takes pity on Her and he shouts: "Let the Woman pass." He then resumes speaking to the man from Cyrene: "He cannot proceed further laden as He is. You are strong. Take His cross and carry it in His stead as far as the summit."
"I cannot... I have the donkey... it is restive... the boys cannot hold it..." But Longinus says: "Go, if you do not want to lose your donkey and get twenty blows as punishment."
The man from Cyrene dare no longer react. He shouts to the boys: "Go home and be quick. And say that I am coming at once" and he then goes towards Jesus.
He reaches Him just when Jesus turns towards His Mother, Whom only now He sees coming towards Him, because He is proceeding so bent and with His eyes almost closed, as if He were blind, and He shouts: "Mother!"
Since He began being tortured, it is the first word that expresses His sufferings. Because in that cry there is the confession of everything, and all the dreadful sorrow of His spirit, of His morale, of His body. It is the heart-broken and heart-breaking cry of a little boy who dies all alone, among torturers and the most cruel tortures... and who goes so far as to be afraid of his own breathing. It is the wailing of a raving little boy tormented by nightmare visions... and wants his mummy, his dear mummy, because only her fresh kisses soothe the ardour of his fever, her voice dispels phantoms, her embrace makes death less fearful...
Mary presses Her hand against Her heart, as if She had been stabbed, and She staggers lightly. But She collects Herself, quickens Her step and while going towards Her tortured Son with outstretched arms, She shouts: "Son!" But She says so in such a way that whoever has not got the heart of a hyena, feels it is breaking because of so much grief.
I notice signs of compassion even among the Romans... and yet they are soldiers, accustomed to slaughters, marked by scars... But the words: "Mother!" and "Son!" are always the same for all those who, I repeat it, are not worse than hyenas, they are understood everywhere and they raise waves of compassion everywhere...
The man from Cyrene feels such pity... And as he sees that Mary cannot embrace Her Son because of the cross, and that after stretching Her arms out, She lets them drop, convinced that She is unable to do so – and She only looks at Him, striving to smile with Her smile of a martyr to encourage Him, while Her trembling lips drink Her tears, and He, turning His head round, from under the yoke of the cross, tries in His turn to smile at Her and send Her a kiss with His poor lips, wounded and split by blows and fever – he hastens to remove the cross, and he does so with the gentleness of a father, in order not to give a shove to the crown or rub against His sores.
But Mary cannot kiss Her Son... Even the lightest touch would be a torture for His torn flesh, and Mary refrains, and then... the most holy feelings have a profound modesty and they exact respect or at least compassion, whilst here there is curiosity, and above all, mockery. Only the two anguished souls kiss each other.
The procession, which sets out again under the pressure of the waves of the furious people, divides them, pushing the Mother against the mountain, to be sneered at by all the people...
Behind Jesus there is now the man from Cyrene with the cross. And Jesus, freed of that weight, is proceeding more easily. He is panting violently, He often presses His hand against His heart, as if He had a great pain or a wound there, in the sternum-heart region, and now, since His hands are no longer tied and He is able to do so, He pushes His hair, which had fallen forward and is sticky with blood and perspiration, behind His ears, to feel some air on His cyanotic face, He unties the cord round His neck, as it makes Him suffer in breathing... But He can walk better.
Mary has withdrawn with the women. She follows the procession once it has passed, and then, along a short cut, She turns Her steps towards the top of the mountain, defying the insults of the cannibalistic populace.
Now that Jesus can walk freely, the last stretch of the road around the mountain is soon covered, and they are already close to the top crowded with shouting people. Longinus stops and orders his men to inexorably repel everybody farther down, so that the top, the place of the execution, may be free. And one half of the century carries out the order, rushing to the spot and mercilessly driving back whoever is there, making use of their daggers and lances to do so. The hail of blows with the flat of swords and clubs makes the Jews run away from the top, and they would like to stop in the open space below. But those already there do not give in and the people begin to brawl fiercely. They all seem to be mad.
As I told you last year, the top of Calvary is shaped like an irregular trapezium, slightly higher on the right side, after which the mountain descends steeply for more than half of its height. In this little open space there are already three deep holes, lined with bricks or slates, that is, built for a special purpose. Near them there are stones and earth ready to prop the crosses. Other holes instead are full of stones. It is obvious that they empty them each time according to the number required.
Under the trapezoidal summit, on the side of the mountain that does not descend steeply, there is a kind of platform that slopes down gently forming a second little open space. Two wide paths depart from it going round the top, which is thus isolated and raised at least two metres in height on all sides.
The soldiers, who have driven the people away from the top, with convincing blows of their lances subdue quarrels and make room, so that the procession may pass without any hindrance on the last stretch of the road, and they remain there forming a double hedge while the three condemned men, surrounded by the soldiers on horseback and protected behind by the other half of the century, arrive at the spot where they are stopped: at the foot of the natural raised platform that is the summit of Golgotha.
While that takes place, I see the Maries, and a little behind them there is Johanna of Chuza with the other four ladies mentioned previously. The others have withdrawn. And they must have gone by themselves, because Jonathan is still there, behind his mistress. The one we call Veronica and whom Jesus called Nike, is no longer there and also her maidservant is absent. And also the one, who was all covered with a veil and was obeyed by the soldiers, is no longer there. I can see Johanna, the old woman named Eliza, Anne (the mistress of the house where Jesus went for the vintage in the first year of His public life), and two more whom I cannot identify.
Behind these women and the Maries I can see Joseph and Simon of Alphaeus, and Alphaeus of Sarah with the group of the shepherds. They have scuffled with those who wanted to repel them insulting them, and the strength of these men, increased by their love and grief, has been so powerful that they defeated their opponents, forming a free semicircle at which the very pusillanimous Jews dare only to hurl cries of death and shake their fists. But nothing else, because the crooks of the shepherds are knotty and heavy, and these valiant men lack neither strength nor the ability to aim accurately. And I am not wrong in saying so. It takes real courage for a few men, known as Galileans or followers of the Galilean Master, to oppose a hostile population. It is the only place on the whole of Calvary in which Christ is not cursed!
The mountain, on the three sides on which the slopes descend gently towards the valley, is all crowded with people. The yellowish barren earth can no longer be seen. In the sun that appears and disappears, it looks like a flowery meadow with corollas of all colours, so numerous and close together are the headgears and mantles of the sadists standing there. More people are beyond the torrent, on the road, and more beyond the walls. And there are more on the terraces, which are closer. The rest of the town is deserted... empty... silent. They are all here. All the love and all the hatred. All the Silence that loves and forgives. All the Clamour that hates and curses.
While the men responsible for the execution prepare their instruments, finishing emptying the holes, and the men condemned await in the middle of the square formed by the soldiers, the Jews, who have taken shelter in the corner opposite the Maries, insult them. They insult also the Mother: "Death to the Galileans. Death! Galileans! Galileans! Curse them! Death to the Galilean blasphemer. Nail on the cross also the womb that bore Him! Away from here the vipers that give birth to demons! Death to them! Clear Israel of the females who copulate with the billy-goat!..."
Longinus, who has dismounted, turns round and sees the Mother... He orders his men to stop the uproar... The fifty soldiers who were behind the condemned men charge the rabble and clear the second esplanade completely, as the Jews run away along the mountain, treading on one another. Also the other soldiers dismount, and one takes the eleven horses, in addition to that of the centurion, and takes them to a shady spot, behind the ridge of the mountain.
The centurion sets out towards the top. Johanna of Chuza moves forward and stops him. She gives him an amphora and a purse. She then withdraws weeping, and goes towards the edge of the mountain with the other women.
Everything is ready on the summit. They make the condemned men go up. And once again Jesus passes near His Mother, Who utters a groan, which She tries to stifle, by pressing Her mantle against Her lips.
The Jews notice it, they laugh and deride. John, the meek John, who has one arm round Mary's shoulders to support Her, turns round and glares at them. Even his eyes are phosphorescent. If he did not have to protect the women, I think that he would grip one of the cowards by the throat.
As soon as the condemned men are on the fatal platform, the soldiers surround the open space on three sides. Only the one that drops sheer is empty.
The centurion orders the man from Cyrene to go away. And he goes away, unwillingly now, and I would not say out of sadism, but out of love. In fact he stops near the Galileans, sharing with them the insults that the crowds give liberally to these haggard believers of the Christ.
The two robbers throw their crosses on the ground swearing. Jesus is silent.
The sorrowful way has come to its end.