Thursday, 05 April 2018 06:35

Jesus Calming the Tempest

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Jesus Calming the Tempest, 1930 © Roger Boccini Nincheri Jesus Calming the Tempest, 1930 © Roger Boccini Nincheri

Introduction

On the west side of Saint-Léon-de-Westmount Church, there is a stained-glass window, completed in 1930, of Jesus calming a tempest that had risen on the Sea of Galilee while He was out fishing with his disciples. This story was recounted in three separate Gospels:

Matthew 8:23–27

23 Now when He got into a boat, His disciples followed Him. 24 And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep. 25 Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” 26 But He said to them, “Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?” Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. 27 So the men marveled, saying, “Who can this be, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?”

Mark 4:25–41

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

Luke 8:22–24

22 Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out. 23 But as they sailed He fell asleep. And a windstorm came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in jeopardy. 24 And they came to Him and awoke Him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!”Then He arose and rebuked the wind and the raging of the water. And they ceased, and there was a calm.

When looking at the window, I’m always impressed by the movement Nincheri managed to create. The opalescent glass used to depict the sea enhances its turbulence. We can almost feel the spume at the prow and the side of the boat sprinkle our own faces.

We can also see movement in the clouds as they lift. To replicate the various hues of the setting sun after a storm, the studio artists used types of red, pink, and purple glass, partly etched to give a chiaroscuro look that blend the varieties of hues into a seamless continuum. As a young student, Nincheri had already shown the ability to observe natural phenomena. We can see this in the studio collection of his university works as well as in his poetry where he describes weather phenomena. This ability was transmitted to the studio artists who did the cartoons and painted the glass pieces in a way that resulted into a seamless glass canvass. As usual, a photograph cannot capture the way light dances with the glass and colours, increasing the effect. In fact, the window is best seen in the late afternoon light when the sun has a reddish tint that illuminates the scene.

Jesus Calming the Tempest, James Tissot,
between 1886 and 1894, Brooklyn Museum

The characters too are dynamic and were captured mid-motion—Jesus, as He’s calming the storm; His disciples, begging for His help and holding on to dear life. This liberty of movement is possible by Nincheri’s ability to hide the lead cames in the folds of vestments, the sides of the mast, the borders of the wooden planks. The scene does not feel imprisoned by the lead.

The other thing that stands out to me is Nincheri’s attention to detail. The wood planks with which the boat was built are all individual planks with their own veins and knots. It is interesting to note that the shape of the boat was probably inspired by the boat in James Tissot’s painting found at the Brooklyn Museum. Likewise, we can see each strand of hair blowing in the wind. This attention to detail and desire to show historical accuracy stems from Nincheri’s study of the Pre-Raphaelites.

Understanding the Story

In this story, it is interesting to understand that the storm itself was not divine; rather, it was its swift ending. Normally, a storm calms slowly, with the waves dying down gradually, but as the Gospels say, after Jesus rebukes the winds, there is complete and immediate calm.

As mentioned before, the scene takes place in the Sea of Galilee. Sailing can be traitorous on this body of water, especially for the fragile fishing boats of Jesus’s time. On the Sea of Galilee, peaceful, calm waters can quickly become violent because of the peculiar characteristics of the Jordan Valley. Indeed, the cold air that gathers on the Golan Heights (2000 m) sinks into the Jordan Valley and strong winds swoop onto the warm Sea of Galilee (located at -210 m below sea level). The different temperatures and air pressures create strong and sudden storms. These storms, that quickly churn the surface waters creating waves that can reach 3 metres in height, often arrive in mid-afternoon as the heat of the valley (averaging mid-30s Celsius in the shade) sucks down the cool air of the Golan Heights. After half an hour, the winds drop and the waves subside, restoring calm to the lake.[1]

Any fisherman caught in such a storm can experience the dangerous situation described in the Gospels.

The disciples, understandably, are frightened, but they should know better, not least because some of them were fishermen. They had walked with Him, had seen His miracles, had heard His messages, but had lacked the faith in the presence of the storm because Jesus was sleeping. But as the story shows us, Jesus is always present, even when we think we are alone; that he will always be there to help us through the storms of our lives.[2]

 

To reinforce this idea of being able to rely on Jesus, Nincheri added the symbol of the anchor in the top left of the window. On top of being a nautical tool, the anchor is “the Christian symbol for hope and steadfastness.”[3] This symbolism is based the following verse: “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19).

 

The dove and olive branch, on the top right, remind us of another time when the waters were threatening—the story of Noah’s Ark as mentioned in Genesis: “And the dove came to him at eventide; and lo in her mouth an olive-leaf freshly plucked; so Noah knew that the waters were abated from off the earth” (Genesis 8:11). The dove and olive branch are also symbols of peace, the peace that God had made with humans after the flood, as well as symbols of harmony, hope, and recovered joy.[4]

 

[1] For more information, see http://www.seetheholyland.net/sea-of-galilee-article-israeloutside-jerusalem/ and https://christiananswers.net/q-eden/ednk-seaofgalilee.html

[2] https://www.gotquestions.org/calming-the-storm.html.

[3] George Ferguson. (1961). Signs and Symbols in Christian Art. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 169.

[4] Jean Chevalier et Alain Gheerbrant. Dictionnaire des symboles. Paris: Robert Laffont, p. 269.

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