Christian Art and the Bible – Mark 9: 2-13

The TransfigurationSix days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one[a] on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings,[b] one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.The Coming of ElijahAs they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean. 11 Then they asked him, “Why do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 12 He said to them, “Elijah is indeed coming first to restore all things. How then is it written about the Son of Man, that he is to go through many sufferings and be treated with contempt? 13 But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written about him.”The story of the Transfiguration is one of those rare moments when we are permitted to encounter God’s intense fullness. Peter, James, and John were “very much afraid” when they saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain. Through out Jesus’ ministry we see many miracles and wonders, but, God chooses only rare moments to reveal his divine glory in the flesh, and then leaves witnesses for when the time is right the rest of us so we can believe.It’s a story that always makes me wonder why was it only those three disciples, why did they walk up a mountain? Because if other were nearby surely they would have asked when they went back down the mountain ‘what happened?’ Surely the light would have shown for miles. Then there is the fact this is the one time Jesus says don’t say anything – not yet! Other things needed to happen first but then they could tell anyone who would listen.The Transfiguration of Jesus, artwork by Andrew Gray

Mountain top experiences can be awe inspiring, physically and spiritually. Does the altitude have an effect on what we experience in those types of places? I love the emotional effect the painting above by Andrew Grey gives. By darkening the surroundings, using highlights on the disciples give the impression that the light was so intense that it made everything else seem dark.

A far more classical view is Raphael’s painting from 1520.

This is the last painting by the Italian Master painter. It was commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de Merdici, later Pope Clement VII (1523-1534) he worked on it for the Narbonne Cathedral as an altarpiece in France. Currently resides in Vatican City.

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Christian Art and the Bible – Mark 7: 24-30

Mark 7:24-30 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Jesus exorcising the Canaanite Woman’s daughter from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century.

The Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry or Très Riches Heures, is a very famous and one of the best surviving examples of French Gothic illumination work. This can be seen in they style of buildings and landscape setting of this piece of work. It was created between 1412 and 1416. The manuscript was left unfinished, because the three painters and sponsor died in 1416 possibly victims of the plague.

Etching by Pietro del Po, The Canaanite (or Syrophoenician) woman asks Christ to cure, ca. 1650.

Pietro del Po was born in Palermo in 1616. He was an Italian painter, who studied in Naples. He was better known as an engraver than painter. He died in Naples in 1692.

This etching, for me brings out far more of the emotion in the story that you would expect to find than the above painting. Because it’s an etching, with the lack of colour it enable the imagination to build up the picture. There is also the nice touch in the addition of the dog – referencing Jesus’ comment in verse 27.

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Christian Art and the Bible – Luke 2: 22-52

Splits in to two section, verses 22-40 & 40-52.

Luke 2:22-52New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

29 

“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

according to your word;

30 

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

31 

which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

32 

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

and for glory to your people Israel.”

33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Return to Nazareth

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The Boy Jesus in the Temple

41 Now every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the festival of the Passover. 42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up as usual for the festival. 43 When the festival was ended and they started to return, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it. 44 Assuming that he was in the group of travelers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem to search for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.” 49 He said to them, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” 50 But they did not understand what he said to them. 51 Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.

52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.

The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, a Cloisonné enamel work from Georgia. 12th Century Icon on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Tbilisi, Georgia.

I love this simple depiction of the presentation of Jesus, no intricate detail in the background just showing the point of the story of Mary presenting Jesus to Simeon.

One of the main differences between Eastern Orthodox and Western Art that Simeon the temple priest is often already holding the infant or at the moment he is handed over. Like this icon Mary is still holding Jesus.

The Presentation is celebrated at Candlemas https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candlemas

Luke 2: 40-52 Jesus’ return to the temple

We move quickly through Jesus’ early years to when he is 12 years old. With Mary and Joseph and a group of relatives Jesus goes on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On their return from the temple they thought Jesus was with the group but he had stayed behind.

The picture above is a page from a Book of Hours from the 15th Century. It shows a medieval composition that shows Jesus seated on a large thrown-like chair. This image of the thrown-like chair was typical from the 12th Century onwards.

Jesus and the doctors of faith by Giuseppe Ribera

Renaissance painters, painted more “close-up” compositions, showing Jesus surrounded and interacting with the scholars. Focusing on his being the Word of God – sharing his insight and knowledge, teaching the scriptures. On this journey, his return to the temple signposted his divinity.

Ribera’s painting highlights Jesus by making him brighter than anyone else. This painting always reminds me of Jesus time and time again telling the Pharisees of God’s kingdom and his place within it – yet like here in this painting they don’t take any real notice of what he is saying, they don’t take him seriously, and think they can find the Truth for themselves in writings or their own understandings.

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Christian Art and the Bible – Luke 2: 15-21

This is slightly behind as it was part of the reading for Christmas Day!

Luke 2:15-21New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Jesus Is Named

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds – Govert Flinck. Oil on panel, 1639.

Govert Flinck was a Dutch painter and draftsman, born in Kleve on the 25th January 1615. Died in Amsterdam on the 2nd February 1660.

This painting currently resides in the Lovre Museum in Paris. It is believed this painting is inspired by Rembrandt’s engraving on the same subject from 1639. The Angels Appearing tot he Shepherds.

Both, depict an emotional image of shepherds confronted in the middle of the night by angels. The piercing light reaches through the clouds and the darkness. In Flinck painting it is easier to see the shock, surprise and wondering what on earth is going on, particularly as one in the foreground looks as though they have just woken him from his slumber and another with his hands firmly clasped together praying – who knows what for?

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Christian Art and the Bible

Phillippe de Champaigne - The Nativity

Phillippe de Champaigne – The Nativity

In my current circuit, it was decided to use a different lectionary this coming year created by the circuit staff. For festivals and special occasions the traditional readings are kept. The rest of the time is focussed on readings that are not in the common lectionary, some are based on themes or are readings we don’t hear beyond our Sunday school years.

Yesterday, playing a quiz game with family I realised one of the answers was so obvious I should have gotten it right – the artist was Degas with his Ballerinas!

These were paintings I loved looking at when I studied art history at art college many moons ago.

I decided to combine the two and increase my knowledge of Christian Art. Every so often I’m going to share one or two pieces of art that I’ve not really looked at before that are based on the lectionary reading for the coming Sunday. It probably won’t be every week! But hopefully introduce you to some art work you maybe haven’t come across before.

So keep an eye out for posts throughout the year.

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Rhodes Road Trip – Part 3 (Prasonisi (also Prassoníssi) cape is a part of the island of Rhodes)

We decided to see a bit more of the Island this time and travelled down the coast to the southern tip to Prasonisi. At this time of the year the water level is low enough that the island becomes joined to the mainland. 


It was very busy with masses of people enjoying water sports – how they managed not to crash into each other is beyond me! On one side the sea was lovely and calm, while the other side had quite a rough sea along with a lot of litter.


Very picturesque, definitely a place to go to if you enjoy water sports but don’t expect to be the only person there!

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Rhodes Road Trip – Part 2 (Monastery of the Virgin Skiadenis)

When ever we go anywhere, particularly if Charlotte is directing or driving we often go off the beaten track. On the way down the coast road as soon as she saw a sign for a monastery we did a quick turn inland to go and explore.


We went up and up… 


What a beautiful view awaited us.


Such a beautiful and peaceful spot. As usual the chapel didn’t disappoint!


Charlotte looked so Angelic…

“Following an uphill road outside the village of Apolakkia towards the village of Kattavia, is guiding to Skiadi mountain. On the top of the mountain is placed the Holly Madonna Skiadenis that protects the villages of Rhodes.

 There are two stories about the name of Madonna. The first declares that the place where the monastery has been built, even during the morning when the sun is shining, this place is not illuminated immediately but it remains in the shadow. The second story says that if someone looks at the mountain from far away its shape is similar to a hat.

The exact date of the foundation of the monastery is not known. The dates that are written in the Sanctuary point out its construction in 1200 and the other its foundation in 1977. It is sure that the monastery was repaired and finished at the time when the Abbot was Ignatios Zannetidis from Kattavia with the fulfilment of the works in 1861.

The tradition has it that in the forest lived two or three monks from Vati or Kattavia in a building by name “Askitario” about 300 meters from the Monastery. These monks saw a bright light and when they approached at night they found the picture of Madonna. Devoutly they returned to their Askitargio but the next morning the picture had disappeared. When they were looking for it they found it in the same place where they had earlier seen it. So they understood that Madonna wanted to stay there and they built the Monastey for Her.

 In the area of the Holy Monastery there are a lot of jewels the oldest of which is the above picture of the Monastery which is located on the Altar Stone, while besides this picture there is a Gospel of 1871. Also there are five liturgy books the Monthly and the request of old editions. The code of the Holly Monastery is located in Metropolis of Rhodes.

 Madonna Skiadeni is celebrated on 8th September simultaneously with the Madonna’s birthday where a lot of people are gathered in the yard of the Monastery to worship. Furthermore, one of the costumes that is referred to Madonna’s picture, is its transportation all over villages something that happens till today. This happened in order to bless the pace with raining. Men, women and children are holding in their hands the miraculous picture of Madonna singing and transporting it to the island of Chalki . Then it returned to Skiadi and after the resurrection of Lazaros which is located in Monolithos, every day it is transported to another village. In Sianna, Empona, Sain Issidoos, Istrio, Arnitha, Apolakia. On Sunday of Thomas the picture is transported to Messagros and Monday after Thomas celebration the picture returns to the Monastery.

Madonna’s picture is miraculous with a lot of miracles that happened during the difficult period that Rhodes and all the villages suffered. A known miracle is the following : During pirate years, a pirate vessel birthed at Skiadi and the pirates climbed on the mountain and stole the church. Among the others they took the picture of Madonna. When they returned to their vessel, it and its crew was turned into marble. Christians thought that it was a miracle of Madonna Skiadeni. In the seaside of this area there is a small island which is located in Mesanagro towards Skiadi. They called it stone vessel because it looks like a small vessel made of stone.

(The above is taken from – http://secretrhodes.gr/en/holly-monastery-of-madonna-of-skiadeni/)”

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