The Feeding of the Multitude,
Illuminated page from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,
Painted by the Frères de Limbourg,
Executed between 1411-1416,
Tempera on vellum,
folio 168
© Musée Condé, Paris

The Feeding of the Multitude,
Illuminated page from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry,
Painted by the Frères de Limbourg,
Executed between 1411-1416,
Tempera on vellum,
folio 168
© Musée Condé, Paris

Gospel of 6 December 2023

How many loaves have you?

Matthew 15:29-37

Jesus reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee, and he went up into the hills. He sat there, and large crowds came to him bringing the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb and many others; these they put down at his feet, and he cured them. The crowds were astonished to see the dumb speaking, the cripples whole again, the lame walking and the blind with their sight, and they praised the God of Israel.

But Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them off hungry, they might collapse on the way.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Where could we get enough bread in this deserted place to feed such a crowd?’ Jesus said to them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ ‘Seven’ they said ‘and a few small fish.’ Then he instructed the crowd to sit down on the ground, and he took the seven loaves and the fish, and he gave thanks and broke them and handed them to the disciples, who gave them to the crowds. They all ate as much as they wanted, and they collected what was left of the scraps, seven baskets full.

Reflection on the illuminated manuscript page

Today's illuminated miniature of the feeding of the multitude was the image I used for my ordination card. The 'Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry' is one of my all time favourite works of art. It is one of the most beautiful and possibly the best surviving example of manuscript illumination in the late phase of the International Gothic style. Being a Book of Hours, it holds a collection of prayers to be said at the canonical hours of the day. Three Low Countries miniature painters, the Limburg Brothers (Herman, Paul, and Johan), all worked on the illustrations, which are executed with finest detail. Unfortunately, their lives were cut short by the plague, and the manuscript was later completed by another artist, Jean Colombe. Consisting of a total of 206 leaves of very fine quality vellum, the manuscript contains 66 large illustrations and 65 small ones. Its miniatures helped to shape the image we have of the Middle Ages, and the clothes and vestments in particular are rendered with striking detail.

The illuminated page illustrates today's reading where Jesus is feeding the crowds. We see the loaves and fish being held in front of Jesus. The Holy Spirit and God the Father are depicted above Jesus. The crowds are patiently waiting. A miracle is about to happen. Jesus will now take what is being offered to him, however small, the loaves and fish, and will multiply it greatly. Whatever small thing we offer him, he returns graces to us in abundance. Therein lies one of the big mysteries of our faith: a mysterious disproportion between what little I can give and what the Lord makes of it.

Note also the snails around the borders of the central illustration. Snails are known for their slow but steady pace. In this context, they symbolise patience, resilience, and perseverance. Their ability to carry their protective shells with them may be seen as an emblem of resilience in the face of challenges. Furthermore, the humble appearance of a snail, slow-moving and carrying its shell, symbolises the virtue of humility and modesty.

 

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Estrellita Picart
Member
Estrellita Picart
2 months ago

I love this Illuminated Manuscript! It gives me much pleasure to be able to understand not only the Gospel message but the artwork itself…like the snail, the flowers, and all the details of this wonderful artwork! Thank you, Fr. Patrick for another enlightening message! I’m always mesmerised!

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