December 11th 2021

Madonna dell’Orto (Venice) – Right side of the nave – John the Baptist among the saints Peter, Marco, Jerome and Paul by Cima da Conegliano 1495


St John the Baptist stands before us, surrounded by four other saints.  He has the usual reed-like cross,  but there is no lamb, nor is he baptising.  He points upwards to the open sky above his head.  This very beautiful painting remains in situ.  John looks towards the actual daylight coming from the adjacent window.   Like the light, most of the elements in the painting have symbolic meaning.   The ruined classical vault must surely refer to pagan antiquity.  The four roundels depict the vices of idolatry,  luxury, violence, and, perhaps, pride. Their dominion will be overcome by the Advent of Christ. The four saints represent the Christian era.  The owl perched at the very top, which is for us is a symbol of wisdom, may well represent the night and the darkness in which the light of Christ comes like the dawn. So John the Baptist represents the advent of faith in Christ, standing as first within an old order which gives way to the new age of the Church.  The light within the picture comes from the East. The patrons were engaged in the Levantine spice trade and had a particular devotion to St John the Baptist.  Their trade brought them into contact with  a non-Christian world, and this image may have been as much about conversion of non-Christians as the repentance of those already baptised. 

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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