Archive for January 2009

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 27, 2009
Paul by Bellini, 1471-74

Paul's vision on the road to Damascus by Bellini, 1471-74

This last Sunday we commemorated the conversion of Paul. Needless to say, this has been a subject of many artistic representations. This first painting is by Giovanni Bellini (15th century). Paul appears to have fallen from his horse.  If you have heard Father Troncale’s story, you will know why I felt it  necessary to include this one first. Others have rendered the scene differently, as in the painting below.

You will note that the artist, Giorgio Vasari, included no horse. However, Jesus is holding a book  upon which are the symbols for alpha and omega.  paul-conversion-21This is for our benefit, presumably, since Paul is now blind.

Fra Angelico also felt the horse was needed in his painting below:

paul-conversion-1

Archbishop Rodi gave a fine homily during his visit at the Saturday mass.  Among other things, he said that his favorite New Testament character is Ananais of Damascus who only appears once– he is the one who is sent to Paul to pray with him and relieve his blindness.  Ananais is a wonderful example of someone obeying God but not doing anything spectacular in and of itself. Yet the result was amazing.  Below is a modern rendering of the scene which is a study for a window at St Paul’s Church) by Benjamin West.

west71

I really like this depiction.  In Acts 9:11-17 we are told plainly that Paul is in the house of one Judas, on Straight Street. However, the scene here appears to be out of doors. The dark clouds are parting (I think this must be an allusion to Paul’s blindness) and the dove just above Ananais’s hand makes plain that a miracle is taking place.

I think it is interesting that the men Paul brought with him to help arrest the Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem are also present in this scene. They are depicted as soldiers and I have to wonder, since we are not told, what they made of this 3-day blindness and recovery. I wonder, too, at the courage of Ananais! He knew Paul’s reputation and that his coming to Damascus meant trouble for the believers there. But Ananais said yes to God and the rest is, as they say, history.

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