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Paul, Saint

acts century christian damascus

Although not one of the original twelve *apostles, Paul is often depicted among them because of his experiencing a direct revelation   or vision of *Christ and also because of his great significance in the development of the early Christian church. A *Jew, with Roman citizenship, Paul was born in Tarsus (Asia Minor), was originally named Saul, and was educated and brought up as a Pharisee (a strict, law-oriented, and separatist Jewish party). He is first mentioned in the book of Acts as a consenting witness at the stoning of Saint *Stephen, when he guarded the clothing of Stephen’s attackers (Acts 7: 58). An opponent and persecutor of Christians, Saul’s conversion is dramatically recounted in Acts 9:1-19and frequently illustrated in art from at least the sixth century onward. He was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus when he was blinded by a light from *heaven; he fell to the ground and heard the voice of Jesus asking, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Illustrations may show him falling forward or backward, crouching or covering his eyes, or stretching out his hands in a *prayerlike gesture. The hand of *God or a bust medallion of Christ may be shown, emanating rays of light. His companions, who also heard the voice and who assisted him to Damascus, may also be included. Until the later Gothic period, scenes of this event normally show him on foot; from the fourteenth century onward he may be shown falling off a horse (which is not mentioned in the biblical text).

At Damascus, Saul’s sight was restored by the disciple Ananias, and Saul was baptized (these subjects occur in Carolingian and later art). Although he is still named “Saul” in the book of Acts (until 13:9), traditionally Paul became his Christian name at this point, reflecting his conversion and new life as a now ardent preacher and supporter of Christians.

Paul’s later dramatic escape from Damascus (fleeing from Jews who intended to kill him) by being lowered down outside the city wall in a basket is also illustrated in art from the Carolingian period onward (Acts 9:23-25). His subsequent journeys (to Jerusalem, Caesarea, Syria, Cilicia, and Antioch) and missionary travels alone or with Saint Barnabus (to Cyprus, Lystra, Philippi, Athens, and Ephesus) provided materials for several scenes, for example, Paul *preaching and performing various *miracles of healing, as well as the arrest, imprisonment, and scourging of Paul at Philippi. When he returned to Jerusalem, Paul again met with violent Jewish opposition, was imprisoned by the Roman authorities for several years, questioned by King *Herod Agrippa II, and allowed to go to Rome to stand trial. The boat was shipwrecked off the coast of Malta, and Paul’s miraculous survival of a bite from a poisonous viper (he shook the snake off into the fire, Acts 28:1-7) appears in fifth-century ivories, Romanesque frescoes, Gothic stained glass, and later manuscript illustration.

Reaching Rome, Paul remained in loosely guarded captivity, and the subsequent chronology of his life and *martyrdom is primarily provided by apocryphal sources: the second-century Acts of Paul (including the Acts of Paul and *Thecla and the Martyrdom of Paul ) and the fourth-century Apocalypse of Paul . The latter text was widely popular in the early Christian and medieval periods; the detailed visions of *heaven and its inhabitants were influential on illustrations of the *Last Judgment and on authors such as *Dante. The decapitation of Paul in Rome, sometimes shown with the *crucifixion of Saint *Peter, which traditionally took place on the same day, features largely in Romanesque and Gothic hagiographic illustration, although the scene of his arrest appears in the early Christian period.

Paul’s chief iconographic attribute is the sword of his execution. He is also generally recognizable by his physical appearance (detailed in the Acts of Paul and Thecla ) as a short, bald or balding man, sometimes with heavy eyebrows, and bearded. He is frequently depicted holding books or scrolls, indicating his authorship of the majority of Epistles contained in the New Testament.

For other scenes including Paul.

Paul the Hermit, Saint [next] [back] Patty (AKA The Shame of Patty Smith) (1962) - Overview, Synopsis, Critique

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