Christ handing the keys to Saint Peter, ceiling at San Silvestro church, Rome,
painted and parcel gilt wood ceiling,
painted in 1869,
© Church of San Silvestro al Quirinale in Rome, Italy
Simon Peter answered, "˜Lord, who shall we go to?
John 6: 60-69
After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?
‘It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.
‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.
Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’
Reflection on the work of art
For today's reading we look at a church ceiling depicting a central panel of Christ handing the keys of Heaven to Peter. Simon Peter in today's gospel, shows himself as a leader who is impulsive, self-assertive, and quick to commit without always fully understanding the meaning of Jesus' words or actions. But he gets it absolutely right when he utters the words: 'You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.'
Ceilings in church architecture play an important role for visitors to church buildings, wether to simply visit, pray or participate at mass. The minute one walks into a church, the height of a ceiling and its decoration are immediately notcieable, even before we as a viewer get drawn in towards the walls and side chapels. When we think of Gothic architecture for example, its height, both absolute and in proportion to its width, alongside its strong verticality, suggests an aspiration to Heaven. We immediately look up as we enter the church building. The ceiling depicted here is later in date, 16th century, where the church architecture is less vertical, and thus ceilings are more lavish in their decoration, to try and achieve the same result for the church visitor: look up to Heaven, the minute one walks into the church. The 16th century coffered wooden ceiling we see here is richly decorated, not only with paintings and gilding, but also with acrved sculptural detail: architects, sculptors, gilders and painters all working together for the glory of God.
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