Portrait of Wailing Wall is featured at St. Gall during the Lenten season | RecordCourier.com
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Portrait of Wailing Wall is featured at St. Gall during the Lenten season

by Gail Davenport

Gone were the life-sized statues, the colorful flowers and live plants that line the altar and the holy water. Instead, members of St. Gall walked into a desert scene like none other when they entered the gardnerville church on Ash Wednesday.

Instead of holy water, the baptismal fount was filled with sand, the life-sized statues were covered or removed and the space where floral arrangements usually adorn the altar was now the site of barren branches.

Behind a primitive wooden cross, nails in place from where a crucified Jesus would be hung, was suspended a large painted replica of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall, a reminder to the Christian community of its Jewish heritage.

“Alongside the canvas portrait of the Western Wall, often known as the “Wailing Wall,” stands a simulated three-dimensional “Wailing Wall” where parishioners were invited to place their personal prayers among the crevices, just as their Jewish ancestors have done at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem for centuries.

The Western Wall, located in the Old City of Jerusalem, is a place of pilgrimage and prayer sacred to the Jewish people. The wall itself, which dates from about the second century BC, was once the retaining wall for the expanded Temple Mount, upon which the Second Temple of the Jewish people was built. It is believed to be the closest point to Holy of Holies, the innermost room of the old temple, the side of which is not occupied by a Muslim mosque.

Because the temple was a great privilege for the Jewish people, it came along with great responsibilities, and the Jews were to serve God with more devotion than ever before and to be a guiding light for all of the nations of the world. When the people did not live up to these responsibilities, they are thought to have lost the Temple as a consequence. Jews believe the rebuilding will begin when the Messiah comes, and this third temple will be on the Temple Mount, exactly where it previously stood.

The tradition of praying at the wall began around 200 or 300 AD, when Jews were taught that the presence of God still lingered at the location of the former Holy of Holies. Often Jews write prayers on papers and press them into the cracks of the wall.

Jerusalem itself, and the Temple Mount in particular, holds religious significance, not only for Jews, but for Muslims and Christians as well. Some of Christianity’s holiest sites are in Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane and the Via Dolorosa. The temple is the site where Mary and Joseph presented the Christ child to Simeon and Anna.

As a candidate who will become a full member of the St. Gall Catholic Community in Gardnerville at Easter, artist Dirk Wunderlich wanted to contribute something special to his church as his Lenten offering.

When he and his wife, Natalia, were on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem last year, Natalia took photographs at the Western Wall of the Second Temple of Jerusalem. Wunderlich created the portrait of the “Wailing Wall” on canvas, using an airbrush.

Because of the immense size of the project, he could only manage to work on a few feet at a time. It took approximately 30 hours to complete. It wasn’t until the large linen canvas was hung and unrolled on the altar of St. Gall that Wunderlich finally viewed his masterpiece in its entirely.

When they entered the church on Ash Wednesday, St. Gall parishioners were greeted with the portrait of the wall, along with two striking blown-up photographs of the Wailing Wall and close-up faces of people pressing their foreheads against the wall in prayer, that Natalia had taken.

“The Wailing Wall is a reminder to the Christian community of its Jewish heritage, and is a tangible link between Christians and Jews,” said St. Gall parish priest, Father Bill Nadeau. “Lent is a ‘desert experience’ that we are each called upon to go within and embrace during this holy season of reconciliation and renewal.”

The transformation of St. Gall into the stark Jerusalem desert scene was created to give parishioners an environment that would inspire personal insight into Christ’s 40 days in the desert where He, in His humanity, was tempted three times.

The 40 days of Lent symbolize Christ’s desert experience. The church invites each of its faithful to embrace its own desert experience each year during the season of Lent.

The portrait of the Wailing Wall will remain at the church, 1343 Centerville Lane, Gardnerville, during Lent. The church is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and visitors of all religious backgrounds are welcome to spend time in quiet reflection or to place their personal prayer petitions at the site.

Artist: Dirk Wunderlich, RCIA candidate at St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville, poses before the hand air-brushed portrait of Jerusalem’s Western (Wailing) Wall that he created as a Lenten gift to his church community to remind them of their Jewish heritage.