Rachel was one of the great women of the Old Testament. She was the daughter of Laban and worked as a shepherdess, caring for her father’s flock. Rachel and her family lived in the land of the east, where Abraham had grown up.
She met her husband Jacob at a well while watering her sheep and became the great love of his life. Her father Laban tricked Jacob into marrying her older sister Leah first, before allowing him to marry Rachel. This started a long-running feud between the two sisters, who competed for his attentions. The focus of their rivalry became motherhood. Leah bore Jacob many sons, but Rachel was unable to get pregnant, which made her both unhappy and jealous of her sister.
Eventually, however, she was able to give birth to a son, Joseph, who became his father’s favourite. Rachel also later gave birth to a second son, Benjamin, although she sadly died during childbirth. Jacob buried her near Bethlehem, but never really got over her death. Even many years later he still spoke of his sorrow over the loss (Genesis 48:7).
Rachel and her sister Leah are known in the Bible as the two “who together built up the house of Israel” (Ruth 4:11). This is because together, they had twelve sons who were the ancestors of the twelve tribes of Israel. They therefore hold an important place in the history of the Jewish people.
This particular gothic revival window, by John Francis Bentley, dates to the late 1890s and is found within the former Lady Chapel of Corpus Christi, Brixton. The scene depicts Rachel as a shepherdess, holding a crook. This is in keeping with her name, which in Hebrew means “ewe” (female sheep).
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Where to find this work of art
Corpus Christi, Brixton
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: Rachel’s firstborn son, Joseph, became his father’s favourite.
- From the New Testament: St Matthew’s gospel links the story of Rachel with the death of the Holy Innocents (Matthew 2:17-18; Jeremiah 31:5).