The Conversion of St Paul – 25 January 2021

What we see depicted here is one of the most famous and important moments from early Christianity, the conversion of St Paul. On the road to Damascus, Saul falls to the ground. He sees a blinding light and hears the voice of Jesus.

The artist depicts this moment as one of religious ecstasy. Saul lies on the ground, his arms and legs open, vulnerable to the vision he is receiving. His dress is that of a soldier, plumed helmet and sword (which in Christian iconography he will carry forever, representing the Word of God) lie at his side.

There is no horse in the Biblical story, but many depictions of the story include one. Here the horse is huge, calmed by a groom, but with its hoof raised in the air, while on the ground Saul is calmed by the encounter with Jesus.

The painting is by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, painted in 1601 for the Cerasi Chapel of the church of Santa Maria del Popolo, in Rome. Caravaggio was given a free hand in determining the composition. The drama of this painting is in the use of light, that has no obvious natural source. The figures emerge from the darkness, a metaphor for the moment when faith comes alive.

 

 

As he went he drew near Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” He said, “Who are You, Lord?” The Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 9:3-5

Almighty God,
who caused the light of the gospel
to shine throughout the world
through the preaching of your servant Saint Paul:
grant that we who celebrate his wonderful conversion
may follow him in bearing witness to your truth;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Collect of the Conversion of St Paul, Common Worship

 

An enemy whom God has made a friend,
A righteous man discounting righteousness,
Last to believe and first for God to send,
He found the fountain in the wilderness.
Thrown to the ground and raised at the same moment,
A prisoner who set his captors free,
A naked man with love his only garment,
A blinded man who helped the world to see,
A Jew who had been perfect in the law,
Blesses the flesh of every other race
And helps them see what the apostles saw;
The glory of the lord in Jesus’ face.
Strong in his weakness, joyful in his pains,
And bound by love, he freed us from our chains.

Malcolm Guite, Apostle