Christ Triumphant (High Altar)

The theme for the high altar mural was suggested by Rev. Loaring-Clark (1901-1952), the first rector of Saint John’s. It came from the first line of one of his favorite hymns, “Christ the Fair Glory of the Holy Angels.”  [The Hymnal 1982 pp. 282, 283] In abstract composition, “Christ Triumphant” shows Christ standing with the cross behind him. Wounds are shown in his hands; there are nail prints but no nails for he is held on the cross by his love for us.  This is Christ Triumphant, not Christ crucified.  His head is raised, his arms are outstretched in an attitude of blessing.  Behind the head of Christ, the small circle, the nimbus, symbolizes divinity. In the larger circle behind the head of Christ, the silver band represents earth, the gold band represents our solar system and the orange band represents the universe. The stars are the constellations of the Western Hemisphere during the Spring Equinox. 

On each side are two messenger angels, the Seraphim, whose ministry is praising God in heaven. The Seraphim are turned toward Christ. They hold incense burners, which symbolize the purification of the Son and the adoration of Christ. The clouds replicate those expressed in an etching by Albrecht Durer, a painter most respected by Mr. DeRosen. 

The two six-winged medallions represent the four evangelists. The six blue wings on each medallion are depicted according to the description in Revelation 4:6-8. Blue is the color of the Cherubim, angels who dwell beside the throne of God, act as guards to the most holy place, and are usually positioned below the Seraphim.

Four dominant characteristics of the Savior are symbolized by the figures in the medallions. On the right, St. Matthew is depicted as a winged man, symbolizing the humanity of Christ. His gospel presents the lineage of Jesus. St. Mark is shown as a winged lion, symbolizing kingship and courage.  His writings show the resurrected Christ the King. On the left, St. Luke is depicted as a winged ox, representing sacrifice. His gospel is filled with Christ’s sacrifice and atonement for us. St. John is pictured as a winged eagle, representing divinity and soaring heights. St. John’s writing contemplated the divinity of our Lord and explored sublime mysteries. 

St. John the Evangelist, patron saint of the parish, stands below Christ. The only disciple who lived to be old and who died a natural death, he is shown as an old man. He both preached Christ’s message, “Love one another,” (John 15:12-17) and wrote of the apocalypse in Revelation.

Archangels stand on either side of St. John.  From left to right, they are:

Jophiel:  According to tradition, Jophiel is the archangel who drove Adam and Eve from Paradise and stood at the gates of Eden with a flaming sword, a symbol of God’s judgment. The shield in his left hand shows Adam and Eve, created not born, and the Tree of Knowledge. Under his foot is the serpent, showing that Satan will be overcome. His wings are bejeweled with moonstones, which, according to the symbolism of the Middle Ages, are the gems representing marriage. (Genesis 3:22-24) Jophiel is a self-portrait of the artist.

Chamuel: According to tradition, Chamuel stood by Christ during the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He holds in his hand the symbolic chalice, recalling Christ’s words, “Let this cup pass from me.” It also reminds us of the comfort Christ left his disciples in the rites of the Blessed Sacrament. The cup illustrated here depicts an early chalice which is in the treasury of the Basilica of St. Mark in Venice. The gem of Chamuel is the  amethyst as shown on his wings. The purple symbolizes mourning, sorrow and penance. (Matthew 26:36-46, Mark 14:32-42, Luke 22:29-46 and John 18:1)

Uriel: The archangel of the universe and the elements, Uriel’s robe is the color of fire, one of the elements. He is the keeper of beauty and light and the regent of the sun. Uriel, in Hebrew, means “Light of God.” He holds in his right hand a Greek Ionic column which symbolizes perfection in aesthetics and man-made beauty. In his left hand is a staff topped with the sun because he is the regent of constellations. His gem is the emerald with its green of grass and trees.

Michael: God’s special angel leads the fight against the devil and bears the flag of the Church. He is dressed in armor representing that of ancient Greece and Rome. His left arm is raised and grasping a silver spike while the right arm is turned down  holding a gold and silver sword, representing God’s judgment. Michael wears the crown of victory and on his breastplate is reproduced an early Greek icon showing him piercing the devil with his lance. His gem is the ruby, the color of blood, symbolizing the fighter and reminding us that Christ gave his blood for us. (Rev. 12:7-8)

Gabriel: The Holy Messenger came not only to Mary, but also to Elizabeth. (Luke 1:5-28) His name means “strength of God”. Gabriel is the Archangel of the Annunciation. He holds in his hand the triple rose, which, until the fourteenth century, was the symbol of the Blessed Virgin. On his white cloak is embroidered the Annunciation scene. His gem is the sapphire, chosen because blue is the color of the Virgin.

Raphael: The protector of the traveling youth, Raphael is the friend and defender of young Tobias, whom he saved from the monster, which planned to devour the boy. He guided Tobias to Media. (Tobit 5). Raphael holds in his hand his symbols, the pilgrim’s staff and the fish. The fish was a symbol used by early Christians to denote their Christianity. The Greek letters on the fish are initials for “Jesus Christ (of) God Son Savior.” On his pilgrim staff, is a gourd always carried by a traveler so he could drink from any spring that he might pass on his journey. Raphael does not have a jewel, but instead has two scallop shells, the sign of the pilgrims in the Middle Ages and emblematic of baptism. (Tobit 1:14)

The red background of the entire mural symbolizes power and love. This mural recalls the mosaic in the Church of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, and the mosaic in the church of St. Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey.

The mural, Christ Triumphant, is a highly symbolic, mystical representation of the Revelation, featuring a dramatic as well as symbolic use of figure, space, color and accessory. It was presented by Mr. and Mrs. Norfleet Turner (Elinor) and Mr. and Mrs. Bayard Boyle (Elizabeth) to the Glory of God and in loving memory of Mr. and Mrs. Sam Ragland, parents of Mrs. Turner and Mrs. Boyle.

In the adjacent working sacristy, there is a small mural showing the women at the foot of the cross. This was a gift to the women of the parish from the artist.

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Saint John’s Episcopal Church
3245 Central Avenue | Memphis, Tennessee 38111
Phone (901) 323-8597 | Fax (901) 327-9032