The Conversion of Saint Paul,
Painting by Karel Dujardin (1626–1678),
Painted in 1662,
Oil on canvas
© The National Gallery, London
Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul
Jesus showed himself to the Eleven and said to them:
‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation. He who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned. These are the signs that will be associated with believers: in my name they will cast out devils; they will have the gift of tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and be unharmed should they drink deadly poison; they will lay their hands on the sick, who will recover.’
Reflection on the painting
Our large painting by Karel Dujardin depicts the dramatic scene of Saint Paul at the moment of his conversion to Christianity. He had persecuted Christians in Jerusalem but was struck down on the road to Damascus by a vision of Christ, who asked him why he was persecuting Christians. Paul was blinded by a strong light which we can see descending from the top left corner. Even though scripture doesn’t tell us that Saint Paul was riding a horse, artists’ favourite way of depicting the conversion is to show Saint Paul falling off his horse.
Dujardin has captured the moment of terror when the skies split open and the light of heaven was revealed. Paul’s horse rolls to the ground, taking him with it. We don’t see the face of Paul. The little cherub in the heavens is holding a torch of fire but also an olive branch, a symbol of peace, softening the message that has panicked the people below. The movement in this painting is powerful. Even the trees in the background have been shaken by the events.
Perhaps more than any other member of the early church, Saint Paul responded to the call of Jesus in our gospel reading of today: ‘Go out to the whole world; proclaim the Good News to all creation’. He was the great apostle to the Gentiles, to the whole world, way beyond the land of Israel. But he was an unlikely candidate for such a role. From the moment of his conversion depicted in our painting, Paul came to see all of reality in that light which descended from heaven. C.S. Lewis once wrote, ‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else’… Paul saw that light, and invites us to illuminate our lives too by the celestial light, so we may see things clearly around us.
Wishing you a happy feast day of the Conversion of Saint Paul.
Share this Gospel Reading
Did you like this Gospel reading and art reflection?
Join in the discussion about this artwork & Gospel reading
Readings related to Mark 16:15-18
Join our community
In addition to receiving our Daily Gospel Reading and Art Reflection, signing up for a free membership allows you to: