Most often the four Evangelists are represented by their symbols, the picture that summarizes Chapter One of each writer’s Gospel. Thus St Matthew will always be shown with the head of a man since his first chapter tells the genealogy of Jesus with the long list of names to connect Jesus in the direct line of descent from Abraham and King David. These are the famous “begots” that we’ve all listened to so uncomfortably each year: “Abraham begot Isaac. Isaac begot Jacob. Jacob begot Joseph and his brothers” etc down through 42 generations to “Jacob begot Joseph, the husband of Mary. Of her was born Jesus”. St Mark is represented by the head of a lion because this gospel begins with Jesus 40-day fast in the desert by Jesus to prepare for his public life. The lion is still a common animal in the deserts of the near East. For Luke’s gospel the symbol is the head of an ox, one of the animals commonly identified with the stable in the story of Jesus’ birth found in chapter one there. Finally, St John’s gospel symbol is the head of an eagle, the highest flying of all birds according to ancient popular belief. St John begins his gospel with the prologue, the theological introduction explaining Jesus’ reason for coming to earth and his connection with the Father, very “highflying” ideas for anyone to get a handle on.
Our Evangelist plaques come from the design found in the Book of Kells, the famous hand-written and handillustrated copy of the four gospels in Latin. The Book of Kells dates to about 800 AD and was done at the monastery of Kells, Co. Meath Ireland. It is still today the most richly decorated of all ancient copies of the Gospels or any other part of the Bible. It is on permanent display in the Library of Trinity College, Dublin.
These representations of the 4 Evangelists add to the richness of our stained glass windows and statuary here at St Tars. Feel free to come forward before or after Mass to get a closer look at our parish’s newest artwork, symbols that have reminded over 1200 years of Christians of the Word of God as found in the words of the tax collector, the friend of St Peter, the physician and the beloved disciple, ordinary people writing an extraordinary story only possible through the inspiration of the God who loves us.