May 22nd 2021

“Pentecost”, El Greco, c. 1600, Museo del Prado, Madrid.   You can view this image in higher resolution at

El Greco’s late style lends itself readily to the subject of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we find in Acts 2:1-11.  The elongated bodies of the disciples, and the bright colours they wear,  echo the “tongues as of fire” visible above each head.  The vibrant garments are “lit up” with the light which descends from the Holy Spirit, who is shown as dove.  The figures almost completely fill the narrow space and most of them look upwards to the descending light so that the whole group is like one multi-coloured flame.  There are fifteen figures.  Our Lady is in the centre with seven others on either side.  Beside her is another woman.  While our RSV Lectionary which only mentions Apostles being present,  what the Greek text of Acts 2:1-11 actually says is:  “They were all together in one place.”   This opens up the idea that Holy Spirit descended upon the much larger group mentioned in Acts 1:15.   El Greco includes himself among those who receive the Holy Spirit.   He is the man, second from the right.  He alone looks out at the viewer.  This is a testament to his own deep faith, which is so evident in his works, but it can also be understood as an invitation to viewers to acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit within themselves. 


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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