What Jesus Saw from the Cross by AG Sertillanges, Sophia Institute Press, £12

This beautiful series of reflections and meditations, first published in French in 1930, has just been reissued. Its author, a Dominican priest and scholar, was inspired to write it after spending a year in Jerusalem in 1923.

Although utilising the topography of Jerusalem at the time of Christ (there are maps at the front and back of his book), Fr Sertillanges is not writing about archaeology; this is rather a spiritual and poetic work in which his knowledge of Scripture and biblical history has been enhanced by his gifts of the imagination.

In the prologue he states that although the site is changed, “we can recognise and even establish with precision the theatre of the drama”.

Leading the reader through the holy places of Jerusalem, such as the Mount of Olives, the Temple, Fort Antonia and so on, the author reminds us that “greatness is not measured only by dimensions”. Jerusalem, though small compared with other great world cities, through its divine election “becomes the city of the universe and the focus of religious hearts in all ages”.

Sertillanges’s eloquent style superbly evokes the unique drama of the peoples, personalities and places in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. For instance, his description of the “people of Israel” vividly suggests the contradictions of the race into which God chose to be born: “A people at once fearless, turbulent, restless, violent and weak; a nation of idealists and a nation of rebels; a nation of merchants and priests, of small money-lenders and heroes; a people enslaved and kingly; sordid yet protectors of the poor; mean yet superhumanly proud; prophetic yet killing the prophets; faithless in the name of an inflexible faith in their destiny; many times friends to their slaughterers and slaughterers of their friends.”

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