This mosaic scene is found in St Paul’s chapel within Westminster Cathedral. It depicts the vision that St Paul had on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus. Scripture says that St Paul (then known as ‘Saul’) was floored by a flash of light and heard the voice of Christ. The Latin text under the image reads ‘Surge, et ingredere civitatem, et ibi dicetur tibi quid te oporteat facere‘ This saying comes from Acts 9:6 and translates as “Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” This is what St Paul heard Christ say to him as he was blinded by the light.
After going into the city, St Paul was healed of his temporary blindness and converted to Christianity. The expression ‘Damascene conversion’ – a saying referring to a sudden change of heart – comes from this biblical story. The mosaic was designed and made by the Russian artist Boris Anrep and his assistant Justin Vulliamy between 1961-1965. It forms part of a series of artworks in the chapel that illustrate aspects of the life of St Paul, including his later escape from Damascus and experience of shipwreck.
The mosaic is particularly interesting because it departs from a long tradition, apparently begun by Caravaggio, of picturing St Paul falling from a horse when he was blinded by the light. The book of Acts does not say whether St Paul was walking or on horseback on his way to Damascus (a distance of 136 miles from Jerusalem). In this scene, however, there is no horse. Christ is also shown here speaking to St Paul, although in the original text St Paul only hears his voice.
Where to find this artwork
Westminster Cathedral, London
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The sudden call from God is mirrored in the episode of Moses at the Burning Bush.
- From the New Testament: St Paul’s conversion led to him becoming a towering figure in the history of Christianity, as we read in The Life and Letters of St Paul.