The Martyrdom of Saint John the Baptist
Saint John the Baptist bore witness to the Truth without compromise throughout his entire life. While still in his mother’s womb, he leaped for joy upon encountering Jesus in the womb of Mary. (Luke 1:41) As a young man, Saint John was called to “prepare the way of the Lord,” (Matthew 3:4) then identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) Finally Saint John was called to the “extraordinary witness few men and women are called to, Christian martyrdom”.
In the 13th century, Benozzo Gozzoli an Italian artist, received a commission for an altarpiece from the Confraternity of the Purification of the Virgin. His instructions, create a center altarpiece of the Virgin and Child surrounded by Angels and Saints. Then create predella panels, individual strips to line the bottom of the center panel, illustrating the lives of each of the Saints surrounding the Virgin and Child.
The Saints in Gozzoli’s center altarpiece are to the left standing Saint John the Baptist, Saint Zenobius and Saint Jerome kneeling. To the right stand Saint Peter and Saint Dominic with Saint Francis kneeling. The predella created for Saint John the Baptist would depict simultaneously three moments of his final hours as recounted in the Gospel of Matthew 14:3-11.
In this Gospel, Herod had arrested John, and put him in prison because John had told Herod it was not lawful for him to marry his brother's wife Herodiaus. As John sat in prison Herod threw a party where the daughter of Herodiaus danced for the guests. Taking great pleasure in the dance, Herod promised to give the girl whatever she asked for. “Prompted by her mother, she said, ‘Give me here on a platter the head of John the Baptist.’” (Matthew 14:8)
In my August 2011 issue of Magnificat, Jem Sullivan describes Gozzoli’s predella, The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
Saint John the Baptist Pray for Us
The Virgin and Child Enthroned among Angels and Saints - Benozzo Gozzoli (1461-1462)
The Feast of Herod and the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist - Benozzo Gozzoli