The Feeding of the Four Thousand,
T'oros Roslin Gospels,
Walters Manuscript W.539, fol. 67r,
Executed in 1262,
Illumination and ink on vellum
© Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

The Feeding of the Four Thousand,
T'oros Roslin Gospels,
Walters Manuscript W.539, fol. 67r,
Executed in 1262,
Illumination and ink on vellum
© Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, Maryland

Gospel of 15 February 2020

The feeding of the Four Thousand

Mark 8:1-10

A great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?’ He asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said. Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and handed them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them among the crowd. They had a few small fish as well, and over these he said a blessing and ordered them to be distributed also. They ate as much as they wanted, and they collected seven basketfuls of the scraps left over. Now there had been about four thousand people. He sent them away and immediately, getting into the boat with his disciples, went to the region of Dalmanutha.

Reflection on the Armenian Illuminated Manuscript

This manuscript was made in 1262 by T’oros Roslin, a prominent Medieval illuminator, who introduced a whole cycle of images depicting many of the Gospel passages in his manuscripts. This particular manuscript was created at the scriptorium of Hromkla, which became the leading artistic centre in Armenia under the rule of Constantine I (1221-1267). It is one of seven known manuscripts bearing T’oros Roslin’s signature, and it is the most sumptuous of them all, with 15 miniatures and 67 smaller illustrations. The style of the images and slight differences in execution, indicates that T’oros had several assistants helping with the illustrations. This manuscript has long been cherished within the Armenian church. Still well into the 17th century, Armenian scribes made copies based on the manuscript we are looking at in today’s reflection. 500 years of artistic influence this book carried!

The focus of the manuscript illumination is on the disciples. Jesus is not placed in the middle, but is at the far right. Yes, today’s reading is as much about the disciples, as about Jesus. Precisely because they are disciples, they still learn every day being alongside Jesus. They were afraid that they couldn’t feed the large crowds. But Jesus tells them that fear cannot stop them, nor us.

When they gave the seven loaves and some small fish to Christ,  they got back so much more. They had seven full baskets left, instead of seven loaves. Often our own fears of inadequacy prevent us from offering small things to Our Lord. But knowing that the disciples were freed from this inadequacy by Jesus multiplying their gifts, should encourage us to follow in the footsteps of the apostles. If we give Jesus everything, He will transform our humble offerings into an overabundance that gives life to our neighbours…

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