After rising from the dead, Christ continued to appear to his followers for forty days. Once this time was up, he then returned to heaven. According to St Luke, the eleven remaining apostles – and those with them – were witnesses of this event, which is known as the ‘Ascension’ of Christ (cf Luke 24:33).
Pope St John Paul II neatly summarised the message of the Ascension in this way: “The richness of this mystery is spelled out in two statements: Jesus gave instructions, and then Jesus took his place.” The instructions to his apostles were to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit and then to proclaim the gospel throughout all the earth. This instruction is symbolised in this image by the book that the ascending Christ is holding. The place that Christ then took was in heaven, “at the right hand of God” (Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20; 1 Peter 3:22).
This stunning Byzantine-style scene of the Ascension forms part of a mural that was painted by the artist Maurizia Lees in 2010. The golden mural covers the entire sanctuary of the church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Brixton. It depicts all five of the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary (the Resurrection, the Ascension, Pentecost, the Assumption and the Coronation of Our Lady).
This particular scene is based on a traditional Byzantine portrayal of the Ascension, first found in the Rabbula Gospels (sixth century BC). In keeping with this tradition, the Virgin is featured centre-stage, surrounded by a halo (unlike the apostles). She appears calm amid the drama, looking directly at the viewer.
The icon also reflects various details of the biblical account – Christ blessing the apostles with his right hand, the haloed angels pointing to Christ’s eventual return and the trees of the Mount Olives (Luke 24:50,51; Acts 1:10-12). Note that there is also an extra apostle among the group (i.e. 12 not 11). This is possibly St Matthias, who had followed Christ from day one but was not yet an apostle (cf Acts 1:21-26).
Where to find this work of art
Our Lady of the Rosary, Brixton
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: In his dream, Jacob saw a ladder stretching from heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending upon it – and God himself present.
- From the New Testament: The Ascension took place on the Mount of Olives, where Christ and the disciples often met – and where he experienced the Agony in the Garden.