Spiritual Torrents: A Service of Tenebrae Venerating the Women of the Passion


Wednesday, April 5th, 2023


7:00 pm – 8:15 pm


St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, 5720 Ridge Ave, Philadelphia, PA 19128

Free Library of Philadelphia Lewis E 112, Book of Hours, Use of Rome, fol. 86r

Join St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Roxborough for a unique service of contemplative prayer during Holy Week. The Passion stories in the Gospels tell us of the women—some named, some anonymous—who witnessed the suffering and death of Christ. In this service for Holy Wednesday, we pay attention to the women who appear in Scripture accounts of the Passion, the roles they played in Jesus’s last hours, and what their perspectives from the margins of the Gospels reveal about Jesus’s faithful followers. By dwelling on the margins, we encounter important new perspectives.

The theme of viewing Christ from the margins shapes the reading selections for this service of Tenebrae. Paired with the Gospel texts are women’s mystical writings dating from the Middle Ages through the 1960s. Mysticism has lived on the margins of Christianity for centuries—dabbled in by many of the great minds and hearts of the church but rarely sanctioned by authorities, who feared its radical potential. Women spiritualists in particular have embraced mysticism, and for some, mystical visions of agony and ecstasy have placed them in devotional closeness to Christ. Women mystics highlighted in this service include St. Bridget of Sweden, Madame Guyon, and Christina Rossetti. Contemplative pieces by St. Hildegard von Bingen and Christanna Lassle (of the Ephrata Cloister near Lancaster, Pennsylvania) will be performed by candlelight on solo Celtic harp as part of this service.

The Latin word “tenebrae” most commonly means “darkness” or “night,” but can also refer to death and the underworld. Tenebrae services in the Episcopal Church today are based on ancient monastic patterns of worship meant to mark the passing of time. The service is characterized by the gradual extinguishing of candles while the story of Jesus’s death is related—as well as a “strepitus” (clatter, crashing, or rumbling) at the end of the Gospel readings, to symbolize the closing of Christ’s tomb.

The event is free, and all are encouraged to attend.

Image credit: St. Bridget of Sweden (1315-1373) before the Cross of the Crucified Christ. Book of Hours, use of Rome, France, 1525. Lewis E 112. Courtesy of the Free Library of Philadelphia Rare Book Department.