12th Century Murals
In St John the Baptist’s Church, Clayton
The murals appear to represent the different outcomes which may await the parishioners on Judgement Day. This was common at the time, due to their lack of direct access to Scripture, and were an encouragement for them to repent of their sins. Something that could also be attributed to the preaching in the wilderness of John the Baptist.
John, the disciple, introduces us to John, the baptist, as the one who cries out “He who comes after me has surpassed me, for he was before me” (John 1:15). In the following verses he goes on to describe how John is questioned by the priests, the Levites and ultimately the Pharisees as to who he is and what he is doing. Initially, he replies by stating what he isn’t: so who was he?
An account of his conception is given in the Gospel of Luke and precedes an account of Jesus’ own conception (Luke 1:5-25). His barren mother Elizabeth and her father Zacharias, a priest, were both righteous before God but well advanced in years. An angel of the Lord visits Zacharias in the Temple and tells him that they will have a son and that he should be named John. He will be great and prepare a people prepared for the Lord. In the sixth month of her pregnancy they are visited by Elizabeth’s relative Mary, the mother of Jesus, (Luke 1:39-56) who stays with them for about three months.
When John is born Zacharias prophesies that he will be called a prophet of the Most High (Luke 1:57-80). He grows strong in spirit while in the desert.
John draws many followers and baptises them in the waters of the River Jordan. He speaks of the one “who comes after me, who is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to loosen“. The Jews, under Roman rule, were waiting for a Messiah to come and rescue them and one day, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, He comes to John to be baptised. John recognises Jesus when he sees the Spirit descend upon Him like a dove out of heaven.
Jesus is very clear as to John’s importance as he speaks to a crowd (Matthew 11:7-15) when he tells them, “Among those who are born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptizer.”
The story of John’s death is, perhaps, one of the better know events in the Bible (Mark 6:17-28). King Herod had imprisoned John for speaking out against the king’s marriage to his brother’s wife, Herodias. She desired to kill John but was prevented by Herod’s fear of him as a holy man. Herodias’ daughter dances so well for the king on his birthday that he promised her anything she asked for. To please her mother she asked for John’s head and Herod could not refuse.
A contemporary account of John’s death can be found in the Antiquities of the Jews (book 18, chapter 5, 2) by Flavius Josephus
I hope that, on this second walk, as you enjoy another time of quiet reflection (maybe studying the murals in the church at Clayton) you will be encouraged to continue on this journey of discovery.”