March 3rd 2018

El Greco’s “Christ driving the Traders from the Temple”, now at the National Gallery in London is thought to have been painted in Toledo in 1600. He had painted the same subject a number of times and would return to it once more before his death in 1614.  In Counter Reformation Europe, the gospel narrative about Christ driving the traders from the Temple was seen as a precedent to the contemporary Church’s internal reform movement. The details of this commission are unknown but it is likely to have been painted for private use. El Greco draws on the tradition of icon painting in his native Crete and so strives to make present to the viewer the spiritual power of the what he depicts, the inner reality rather than the external. But change within Church at large necessitates change within the believer. Most of the canvas is covered with bodies. The body of Christ is at the centre. Christ, his body boldly clothed in crimson, is like a stripe or a flame, which divides these people into two distinct groups. In one hand, he has a cord raised towards the traders, but with his other hand he blesses the disciple kneeling before him. The traders on the left are in obvious disarray. They hold their goods ready to take them away. Above them on the wall is the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. To the right of Christ are the disciples, discussing in animated fashion the things of the Spirit. With their hands free of burdens, they gesture to each other, suggesting an animated discussion on the meaning of Christ is doing. A woman on the extreme right carries a basket and seems not to notice the commotion. It is not clear what her significance is, but perhaps she represents the world that has not yet encountered Christ. At the bottom right, a disciple, possibly Peter, kneels before Christ to receive his blessing. He is in marked contrast to the trader opposite who is bent low trying to lift something heavy which has fallen. At the top, on the wall above the disciples is the sacrifice of Isaac, which prefigures Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This image still speaks, if I stay with it. First I find myself in it, then I find the Body of Christ as we experience it today.


Edinburgh Catholic Chaplaincy

The Catholic Chaplaincy serves the students and staff of the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Napier University and Queen Margaret University.

The Catholic Chaplaincy is also a parish of the Archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh (the Parish of St Albert the Great) and all Catholic students and staff are automatically members of this parish.

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