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Art for meditation - July 2020

Liberazione di San PietroRaffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael (Urbino, Italy 1483 – Rome, Italy 1520), Deliverance of Saint Peter, 1513-14, fresco, 660 cm wide, Vatican, Vatican Museums.

Month of July.

This fresco, like the one seen last month, is also located in one of the four rooms of Pope Julius II's apartments. Today, it is called “Heliodorus' room,” and it was once destined for the Pope's private audiences; all four walls had as many episodes in which God's miraculous protection of the Church and its Popes was manifested.

The episode represented here is written in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (12:1-10), where it is said that Peter, captured by King Herod and imprisoned, is miraculously freed during the night by an angel sent by God. The heart of the fresco is of course the central scene, placed above one of the two large windows that had the task of illuminating the room: behind a thick and regular metal grill, we can see the angel bursting in, finding the two sleeping guards on the sides, and about to wake up Peter, which is also asleep. On the right side of the fresco there is the following scene, where the angel leads Peter, now free, out of prison, passing by two other armed soldiers deeply asleep. Finally, the left side of the fresco - basically symmetrical to the previous one - presents us with four soldiers who have noticed Peter's escape and who are frantically thinking about how they will have to tell their superiors about it.

It immediately leaps to the eye of each of us who contemplate the fresco that the absolute protagonist, even before Peter, is the light and its effects in the different parts of the scene. It has been rightly noted that all the types of light known at the time are present: the natural light that comes from the half-moon, encircled by a few small clouds in the night sky of Jerusalem; the artificial light of the torch held by the soldier in the foreground on the left; and finally the supernatural light of the angel illuminating, as if it were daylight, the darkness of the prison and the path that will lead Peter to the house of Mary, the mother of John, also known as Mark, where several Christians were gathered in prayer for him (cf. Acts 12:12).

This play of light is even more enhanced by the reflections that reverberate on the armour of the many soldiers in the scene. If we then think that when the Pope gave audience to some dignitary the large window below was open, and therefore light could come in from it too, we understand well how astonishing it must have been that a nocturnal scene was absolutely bright and capable of making people see far beyond the darkness of the night.

In this time, still marked by the pandemic and its effects in many parts of the world, let us turn to the Lord, our light, with the words of the Psalmist:


The Lord is my light and my salvation,

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life,

of whom shall I be afraid?


Teach me your way, Lord;

lead me in a straight path

because of my oppressors.


I will see the goodness of the Lord

in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord;

be strong and take heart

and wait for the Lord.

(Psalm 26:1.11.13-14)

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