Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius,
Painted by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510),
Painted circa 1500,
Tempera on wood
© National Gallery, London

Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius,
Painted by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510),
Painted circa 1500,
Tempera on wood
© National Gallery, London

Gospel of 10 January 2023

Unlike the scribes, Jesus taught them with authority

Mark 1:21-28

Jesus and his disciples went as far as Capernaum, and as soon as the sabbath came he went to the synagogue and began to teach. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because, unlike the scribes, he taught them with authority.

In their synagogue just then there was a man possessed by an unclean spirit and it shouted, ‘What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit threw the man into convulsions and with a loud cry went out of him. The people were so astonished that they started asking each other what it all meant. ‘Here is a teaching that is new’ they said ‘and with authority behind it: he gives orders even to unclean spirits and they obey him.’ And his reputation rapidly spread everywhere, through all the surrounding Galilean countryside.

Reflection on the painting

Mark writes that Jesus taught with authority. Jesus wasn’t just interpreting the laws but  was teaching with authority. This was different from the scribes, whose teaching was dependent on what others had said or written before them. Jesus however was teaching with authority and saying new things.

Mark is writing these words, alongside the performance of an exorcism as he wants to set the tone and make the point that Jesus came to heal as well as teach. Jesus, from the very start of his ministry revealed how the gift of Christ’s power is to be revealed: not in dominance but in healing! Casting out devils is part of this healing. The exorcisms are a witness to the final victory of the Kingdom of God over evil and death.

Our painting (and please enlarge it on screen if you can) is by Sandro Botticelli. In the Middle Ages, the role of the exorcist was inseparable from the saint's life, whose primary function was to help heal people and make them grow closer to God. Like Christ, the medieval saints were expected by the people around them to have the ability to perform divine healings. So the depictions of saints performing exorcisms became very popular. Botticelli's painting of the Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius illustrates the life of the 5th-century bishop Zenobius, one of the patron saints of Florence. The first miracle, on the very left of our panel, is the bishop healing two possessed young men. The men, who had beaten their mother and who, after being cursed by her (depicted in the middle scene), began to devour their own flesh, are being exorcised by Saint Zenobius, who is praying before a Crucifix. We can see the two demons leaving their bodies. The scene on the right hand is the young men kneeling in front of the bishop after having been healed by him… with authority…

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spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace(@spaceforgrace)
28 days ago

At first sight I thought this was a modern painting- the colour palette is so fresh and clean, but the perspective and the figures are clearly Botticelli. I think there is also a blip on the web-site this morning- must be all the rain we’re having! Thank you for sending some sunshine with this lovely artwork Patrick!

Niobe Hunter
Member
Niobe Hunter(@niobe)
28 days ago

The central,scene is the revival by St Zenobius of a dead child, I presume.

I used to go to Florence every winter, but I was unaware of S Zenobius! Pretty odd as I am an inveterate church haunter. They don’t publicise him much in our era, which is odd as he is a well documented and ‘real’ saint, part of that band of confessors who did so much for the faith in the immediate aftermath of legalisation. I shall add him to my personal calendar forthwith.

Thank you for this ( and for all the daily readings and postings). I have only just found your site.

Patricia O'Brien
Member
Patricia O'Brien(@marispiper)
28 days ago

Fantastic painting! It’s not on display currently but on the National Gallery’s site, you can zoom in very closely indeed…
A dear, dear parish priest we were privileged to have some years back was an exorcist in the diocese. He never spoke about it much except to state “it’s very real” Let us pray that we, and our lives, may be ruled by nothing but good, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Last edited 28 days ago by Patricia O'Brien
Anthony
Member
Anthony(@anthony)
28 days ago

People rarely speak with authority today.

spaceforgrace
Member
spaceforgrace(@spaceforgrace)
28 days ago
Reply to  Anthony

I agree- where have all the leaders gone? Maybe we’re looking in the wrong places?

Niobe Hunter
Member
Niobe Hunter(@niobe)
28 days ago

I wonder if it is not on display as it looks like a studio effort. The background is very formulaic and flat, a bit ‘painting by numbers’. I think Botticelli must have had quite a big studio, there is something very similar ( though a different subject) in the Jacquemar- Andre in Paris

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