This fragment of stained glass shows one of the first faces of Christ ever to be made in glass. Over 900 years old, experts date it to about the year 1070, and it comes from an abbey church in the borderland between France and Germany on the River Rhine.
Jesus is surrounded by a multi-coloured halo of light, identifying him as the Son of God.
Stained glass was used in churches to teach people about the Christian faith and to make people aware of the presence of God with them. The rich colours of the glass must have had a stunning effect on ordinary people. This was medieval television!
The face of Jesus in this image is calm and without feeling. This is because artists of the time wanted to emphasise the majesty of Christ as the ruler of creation. They wanted to show him as God. Pictures which expressed the human, suffering side of Jesus only came later. St Francis of Assisi, who lived some 150 years after this stained glass image was made, was a key figure in helping people to see Jesus in a more human light.
The simplicity, confidence and calm about this face of Jesus express an important Christian belief: Jesus, as ruler of creation, is above every earthly power – good and evil. Our lives and our stories are in his hands.
What do you think? Do you find this image forbidding, reassuring, or something else?
Sweet name of Jesus, so loved, so full of grace,
life of the angels, brightness of the sun,
putting in fetter every evil one,
God one of us, redeemer of our race.
All-shining brightness, loveliest face we know,
gold candle-holder, wisdom’s treasury,
fount of precious blood poured out to set us free,
hand of God’s giving, never let me go.
Honey-shower of graces, gifts that never cease,
free me from my sins, dear face as bright as stars,
else I’m in prison, full of wounds and scars
sweet name of Jesus, come and give me release.
Medieval Irish prayer
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Christians have been making images of Jesus since the early centuries of the church. In this section, we look at pictures of the face of Christ – some of them centuries old, some of them from today.
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