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The heART of Ritual


The Light of the Christ Child

“The Nativity at Night”, by Geertgen tot Sint Jans (c1490). Oil on oak, National Gallery, London.

Today’s light emanates from the Christian story that God’s son was born to Mary, a virgin, in a stable in Bethlehem, to save mankind from itself. Christians everywhere today celebrate the birth of that child. It’s a simple little story that has endured through art as well as through faith for over 2000 years, and has inspired beautiful acts of creativity. Many artists signal the child’s holiness through a golden glow surrounding him, as the only light in a dark stable. Geertgen tot Sint Jans (Little Gerard of Saint John) was one such artist, as you can see in the picture above. The National Gallery website references Saint Bridget of Sweden as the source of this light, so to speak:

The idea of the infant Christ illuminating the Nativity scene comes from the writings of the 14th-century Saint Bridget of Sweden. She wrote that in her visions the light of the new-born child was so bright ‘that the sun was not comparable to it’. A century later, the interest of artists such as Geertgen in depicting naturalistically the contrasts of extreme light and shade served to heighten the sense of the miraculous birth.

However you spend today, I hope it’s a good and happy day! Merry Christmas!


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