Miraculous art

2 Painted by saints

How did the legend of St Luke as an artist arise? In the bible he is mentioned as a physician. The earliest references to him as an artist came in the 8th century, and the legend caught on, as is demonstrated by Rogier van der Weyden’s painting above. One suggestion is that it came as a defence against Byzantine iconoclasm – if an artwork was produced by a saint, particularly one as important as the Apostle Luke, it could not be destroyed. Another theory says that, as a physician, he would understand human anatomy and would therefore be well placed to paint images of human figures.
  Legends swirl around the first image below, from the Church of St John Lateran in Rome. It is said that the Virgin Mary commissioned Luke to paint an image of Christ.  An extended version of the story says that before he could get round to it an angel started it for him. It arrived in Rome c 700 from Jerusalem, and has been treasured ever since.
  The second image is also in Rome. The Salus Populi Romani, (Salvation of the Roman People) is in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. The legend tells us that the Virgin told Luke the details of the life of Christ while he was painting her, which enabled him to write his gospel. St Helena acquired it in Jerusalem, and brought it back to Jerusalem in the 4th century. Examination suggests a much later date, but, it is pointed out, the image has been repainted over the centuries.

This crucifix, in the Cathedra of San Martino in  Lucca, is known as the Volto Santo, The holy face. It has a delightful legend as to its origin. It is said to be a copy of an original carved by Nicodemus, who assisted Joseph of Arimathea in the deposition from the cross. A biblical character, though not a saint.  It supposedly arrived in Lucca in 742; pilgrims helped themselves to bits of it, thus necessitating this copy. It became the model for other early wooden crucifixes. What is left of the original has been dated to c 800.


3. Miraculous creation

Fresco of the Annunciation, church of Santissima Annunziata, Florence.
The church was founded in 1250 to serve the Servite order. In 1252 Friar Bartolomeo was commissioned to paint an image of the Annunciation. He struggled to create a satisfactory image, especially the face of the Virgin, and, it is said, prayed to her for help. He fell asleep: when he woke up, he discovered that angels had completed the image. It became much revered, and a marble tabernacle was provided by the Medicis.

Our Lady of Guadeloupe
This is a Mexican image dating from 1531. After meeting an apparition of the Virgin a number of times, Juan Diego, a Mexican Peasant, discovered that a miraculous image of the Virgin had a appeared on his cloak. This is a rather simplified version of the story: the Wikipedia account is very good. The shrine containing the image, in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadeloupe in Mexico, is one of the world’s most revered Catholic shrines.


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