We are a small Episcopal Church on the banks of the Rappahannock in Port Royal, Virginia. We acknowledge that we gather on the traditional land of the first people of Port Royal, the Nandtaughtacund, and we respect and honor with gratitude the land itself, the legacy of the ancestors, and the life of the Rappahannock Tribe. Our mission statement is to do God’s Will in all that we do.

Arts and Faith – Lent 1, Year

Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.

This scene of The Temptation of Christ is a 12th–century detail of the magnificent mosaic program of St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. In its full context, it is situated in the barrel vault of the south arm of the transept. The temptation scene is right above the scene of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

On a golden background depicting the heavenly realm, the mosaic tells the story of Jesus’ temptation through a series of symbols. Moving from left to right, the figures of Christ and the devil repeat in a pattern. Each set evokes one of the temptations of Christ through key images: bread, the pinnacle of the Temple, and the mountain top with all riches of the world. The angels on the right who come to minister to Christ close the visual narrative, as the devil flees downward under them to escape the scene.

This presentation of the temptation story assumes that the viewer is familiar with it. Each of the symbols serves to jog our memory and help us recall the story we already know. In this sense, the mosaic relies on the viewer to be the real storyteller, while the artwork simply summarizes the highlights as reminders along the way. By casting the viewer as storyteller, the artwork invites us into the story in a special way, challenging us to share the Good News of it with others.

The figure of Christ in this mosaic sequence is unique—it is not the man who endured the desert for 40 days among wild animals, but Christ the Lawgiver, holding a scroll in one hand, strong, steady, and wearing dignified robes. Christ the Lawgiver reminds us that each time he rebuked the devil, he did so by referring to the written Word, the truth of God manifest in the Scriptures. Each time the hunger for food, for assurance from God, and for an easier way tempted him, Jesus found steady ground again recalling the Word of God—the source of where he came from and who he was called to be.

For people of faith encountering this mosaic within St. Mark’s Basilica, worship in this space was an occasion to find steady ground again, to become more fully who they were as Christians in Word and in sacrament. This mosaic spoke to them of this steady ground, but also invited them to be storytellers so that through them, others could find this steady ground as well.