The Miracle of The Gadarene Swine,
Unknown illustrator, probably made in Canterbury,
Tempera colours, gold leaf, and ink on parchment,
Executed circa 1000 A.D.
© The John Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The unclean spirits went into the Gadarene swines
Jesus and his disciples reached the country of the Gerasenes on the other side of the lake, and no sooner had Jesus left the boat than a man with an unclean spirit came out from the tombs towards him. The man lived in the tombs and no one could secure him any more, even with a chain; because he had often been secured with fetters and chains but had snapped the chains and broken the fetters, and no one had the strength to control him. All night and all day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he would howl and gash himself with stones. Catching sight of Jesus from a distance, he ran up and fell at his feet and shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What do you want with me, Jesus, son of the Most High God? Swear by God you will not torture me!’ – for Jesus had been saying to him, ‘Come out of the man, unclean spirit.’ ‘What is your name?’ Jesus asked. ‘My name is legion,’ he answered ‘for there are many of us.’ And he begged him earnestly not to send them out of the district.
Now there was there on the mountainside a great herd of pigs feeding, and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us to the pigs, let us go into them.’ So he gave them leave. With that, the unclean spirits came out and went into the pigs, and the herd of about two thousand pigs charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. The swineherds ran off and told their story in the town and in the country round about; and the people came to see what had really happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his full senses – the very man who had had the legion in him before – and they were afraid. And those who had witnessed it reported what had happened to the demoniac and what had become of the pigs. Then they began to implore Jesus to leave the neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed begged to be allowed to stay with him. Jesus would not let him but said to him, ‘Go home to your people and tell them all that the Lord in his mercy has done for you.’ So the man went off and proceeded to spread throughout the Decapolis all that Jesus had done for him. And everyone was amazed.
Reflection on the Illuminated Manuscript Page
Our artwork housed at the John Paul Getty Museum, is one of the earliest depictions of the Gadarene swines miracle in art history, executed circa 1000 AD. In the center of this miniature, removed from a larger Gospel book, we see Jesus performing the exorcism, transferring the demons into a herd of swines. The early medieval illuminator closely followed the story as Mark described it, depicting at the bottom of the page the swines hurtling down the cliff into the sea. The illustrator, probably a monk, arranged the scene in three horizontal bands, keeping the main focus on the middle figures, whose emphatic gestures and tense body movements recount the vivid story. There is a restored area in the middle of the page, which either addresses damage or maybe at some stage the area was removed so as not show the possible nakedness of the possessed man. Notice also how his face has been rubbed and is undefined.... Throughout the ages some artworks have indeed been tampered with to address any contemporary sensitivities of the viewers.
Today’s Gospel reading is a rather frightening story. The possessed man as described by Mark, is one of the most violent people we meet in his Gospel. He is in the grip of, not just one, but a legion of unclean spirits. A legion at the time was 6,000 Roman Soldiers. So Mark indicates that it was a very large number of unclean spirits that had entered the man. This man is overrun by pain, torment, depravity, brokenness... Yet, this ‘legion’ recognises who Jesus is and falls at Jesus’ feet. The unclean spirits went into a herd of about two thousand pigs which then charged down the cliff into the lake, and there they were drowned. A very dramatic story indeed.
With all the scary surrounding events described in our reading, we have to keep our attention on Jesus. By exercising His authority over evil spirits Jesus is revealing who He really is: the source of power, and of compassion.
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