Just before Christ ascended to heaven, he promised his apostles that after he was gone, he would empower them with the Holy Spirit. They were to wait in Jerusalem for this to happen (Acts 1:1-4). This event took place ten days later, on the feast day of Pentecost. They were all gathered together in the Upper Room of a house. They felt a strong wind and then the Holy Spirit descended on each of them in the form of fiery flames, empowering them to speak in foreign languages.
The Second Vatican Council explains that “the Holy Spirit was already at work in the world before Christ was glorified. Yet on the day of Pentecost, he came down upon the disciples to remain with them for ever. On that day the Church was publicly revealed to the multitude, and the Gospel began to spread among the nations by means of preaching.” For this reason, it refers to the event as the “birth of the Church”.
This image of the Descent of the Holy Spirit is found in the East Window of Holy Ghost, Balham. It was a later addition to this 19th century church and was made by the stained glass studio Goddard & Gibbs. The scene shows the Virgin Mary – who was also present – surrounded by the twelve apostles. The Holy Spirit is seen alighting on each of them in the form of a fiery flame. St John the Apostle is shown in green, on the Virgin’s left, clutching his gospel. The dove, another biblical symbol of the Holy Spirit, is shown hovering over the group.
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Where to find this work of art
Holy Ghost, Balham
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