Stories through Pictures

Imagine, for a moment, that you would like to teach history to someone who cannot read. Or maybe they can read, but there are no suitable materials available for teaching in their language. Maybe it would take more time to explain, using only words and hand gestures (what, you don’t move your hands when you talk?), than your students can afford. Maybe their attention span is too short, or perhaps they have to leave to go back to work. What do you do?

People tell stories with pictures when literary skills or written resources do not meet the need. Over the years I have seen many works of art — mosaics, paintings, drawings, and so forth — in churches as far flung as Hawaii, Italy, and places in between. Impressive as works of devotion and worship, I only recently realized that they were also tools for teaching. Each of them provides a springboard to speak about some historical event from the Old or New Testament, for discussing how God reveals Himself to men, or for sharing the Gospel. Were they always used that way? Admired or critiqued as works of art, they were probably also used as teaching tools more often than I realized.

With all of this in mind, here are some New Testament examples seen during our recent trip to Europe. For examples from the Old Testament, see my earlier post on Ravenna.

Three wise men bringing their gifts to the infant Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Note that scripture does not say there were three wise men, only that there were three gifts. This mosaic includes the names of the three visitors handed down by tradition, though.
Center image below the ceiling is a mosaic showing Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44). Right hand image below the ceiling shows Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42). Bonus points if you can figure out the image over to the left.
Left hand image below the ceiling is a mosaic image of Jesus healing the Garasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20) with the heard of swine going into the water after the healing. Canter mosaic image below the ceiling is the paralytic being lowered through the roof for Jesus to heal him (Mark 2:1-12). Right hand mosaic below the ceiling may be showing Jesus as the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18).
Stone carving of the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17). Notice the image of a dove below the image of the Father.

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