Christ's Charge to Peter, Cartoon for a Tapestry
By Raphael (1483-1520),
Executed circa 1515,
Bodycolour on paper mounted onto canvas,
© On loan from the collection of His Majesty the King to the Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Simon, do you love me more than these others do?
Jesus showed himself to his disciples, and after they had eaten he said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?’ He answered, ‘Yes Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He replied, ‘Yes, Lord, you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Look after my sheep.’ Then he said to him a third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter was upset that he asked him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ and said, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.
‘I tell you most solemnly, when you were young you put on your own belt and walked where you liked; but when you grow old you will stretch out your hands, and somebody else will put a belt round you and take you where you would rather not go.’
In these words he indicated the kind of death by which Peter would give glory to God. After this he said, ‘Follow me.’
Reflection on the Tapestry Cartoon
Today’s passage tells us about Peter’s love for Jesus and ultimately what Peter will be called to do: help build Christ’s Church. We basically witness a conversation between Jesus and Peter, both chatting away at Lake Galilee after Jesus has risen from the dead. On our large scale tapestry cartoon (cartoons took the form of a painting, made on cloth or paper, the same size as the planned tapestry; these cartoons would sit underneath the weaving looms, so the weavers would know exactly what to weave) we see the lake to the right and part of the fishing boat that the disciples had been using. Jesus appeared to them and he tells Peter ‘Feed my lambs...look after my sheep’. We see Jesus pointing to the sheep with his right hand, showing Peter what his responsibilities are. Peter is kneeling, a sign of humbly accepting his newly assigned duties.
Before handing Peter the keys of responsibility (we can see Peter holding large keys), Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves him. Jesus knew that Peter loved him with all his heart, but he wanted Peter to affirm his love. Jesus wanted to hear Peter say out loud that he loved Jesus. By saying things out loud, we affirm who we are and what we believe in.
Note how the disciples in our cartoon are all staring at Jesus, and not at Peter. Their focus remains on Jesus, and not on Peter. The present cartoon is part of a set of 7 which were commissioned from Raphael (1483-1520) by Pope Leo X in 1515. The tapestries were intended to hang in the Sistine Chapel in Rome. They belong to the British Royal Collection, but since 1865 have been on loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where they can still be admired. The actual tapestries (based on these cartoons and woven in Brussels) are hung on very special occasions in the Sistine Chapel.
Just as Peter had denied Jesus three times before the crucifixion, the risen Jesus asked Peter to affirm his love three times. This helped Peter move on from a burden of the guilt of having denied Jesus, to start his new mission afresh, by expressing his love for his master.
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I think Jesus’ words to Peter are beautiful. I had not thought before about them being compared to Peter’s denial after Jesus was arrested. Thank you for writing that.
I believe Churchill wrote something like “Words are the only things that last for ever.” (And gosh did ever he produce a lot of words!)
On the painting. I notice the haloes. One apostle looks away. One holds a book.
A book I am reading now describes Florence about that time as being a center for weaving and textiles. Patrick writes that the tapestries were woven in Brussels. Why Brussels and not Florence where Raphael once lived?
You may not look back at this now Mark but since medieval times, Brussels has been the pre-eminent centre for tapestry and weaving. They had developed the skill – but they had plenty of WOOL much of it from England. Same as the Scottish Isles have become famous for tweed. Florence, I would guess, though full of artisans, probably didn’t have as much of that particular raw material!
Thank you Patrick! I This makes sense that the craftsmen would cluster close the source of wool. I did some follow up reading and evidently tapestry artisans began to migrant from Brussels to Florence, which was flourishing in the arts and commerce.
I keep thinking how ordinary the apostles were… Lord bless us in our own mundane lives.
I used to care for my aunt; she absolutely hated being washed (she could no longer bathe) and each time I took her to the bathroom she would say “…when you are old someone will put a belt round your waist and take you where you would rather not go” Then we would both crack out laughing.
Fabulous, fabulous image today. Good ol’ Raphael. Genius.
A nice peronal story Patricia. I worked in a geriatric ward once and the occupants were most unhappy at the perceived indignities they had to go through. I don’t think any of us look forward to that stage of life and hope for a dignified exit.
I believe that the tapestries have recently been rehung in a room of their own at the V&A and very splendid they look.
This Bible passage has great significance for the Catholic Church but is played down by Protestants. I suppose these differences will carry forward into the future….
My dog is very upset today after a big operation. Our young priest said that animals have souls, just different ones to ours. The word animal comes from the Latin word anima meaning soul! Well, well….
Chazbo, all the best for your dog and for you! Animals do have a soul, I am sure of that. After my death I will see my cat and my dogs again! God bless you!
What a lovely picture. I think the reason we love these creatures so much is that they love us unreservedly which makes it very easy for us to love them back. We humans are meant to love without expecting return but, of course, this is a much greater undertaking as we are FAR more complex than dogs!
Once words are spoken they cannot be unspoken.
Once we say; “I love you” the relationship becomes concrete and deeply personal.
This exchange is one of the most intimate in the whole of the scriptures, I almost feel like an intruder reading it.
Thank you for your comment Mike. How indeed would anyone know we hold a belief unless we give voice to it, somewhere, sometime? My eyes are drawn to the rag-tag bunch Jesus addresses in today’s art piece. My mind can easily grasp how a Philip Neri or an Augustine, Aquinas and John Paul II are able to “build” God’s Church and Kingdom. The apostles, their hearts burning with Jesus’ love and life, and later with that of the Holy Spirit, are humbling examples of the ordinary doing extraordinary things by the grace of God.
There’s power in voicing a belief. Speaking out makes the belief take deeper roots. A tree with deeper roots withstands the storm and can protect others. Jesus knew Peter would soon need to do this for the persecuted Church he was called to lead.
How deep are my roots of faith? Where can I speak out in order to deepen them? Anywhere and everywhere. Anytime and all the time.
Jesus, give me courage to speak out my belief in you.
Saint Philip Neri, please pray for me.