Aaron was the older brother of Moses and Israel’s first high priest. He served as Moses’ spokesperson and played a key role in leading the Israelites out of Egypt.
God himself told Moses to appoint Aaron as the first high priest. This special role involved acting as mediator between the people and God. Once a year, the high priest entered the holiest part of the Temple, the Holy of Holies. This was where the Ark of the Covenant, a wooden chest containing sacred items, was kept.
Entering the sanctuary, the high priest took with him the blood of sacrificed animals, to atone for the sins of the people. For the ceremony, he wore holy vestments that matched the materials that decorated the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 16:1-34).
Aaron’s sons – and their male descendants – were appointed as regular priests. Their role was to worship God in the Temple on a daily basis, offering a series of animal and grain sacrifices. After the exodus from Egypt but long before the Temple was built, Aaron and his sons began all these rituals (Leviticus 9:1-24).
Although Scripture describes Aaron as a “holy man”, he did have flaws. For example, he led the Israelites in worshipping a golden calf instead of God. Along with his sister Miriam, he also later questioned the authority of Moses. Because he lacked trust in God at a critical moment, he did not survive long enough to enter the Promised Land. After his death, the role of high priest was passed on to one of his sons, Eleazar.
The New Testament explains that Aaron’s role as high priest paved the way for Christ, who was to be the mediator between God and all people – not just Israel. The book of Hebrews goes into detail about how Christ became the eternal high priest by his death on the cross, discontinuing the priesthood of Aaron in the process (Hebrews 7:11-9:28).
This stained glass scene shows Aaron performing the role of the high priest in the Holy of Holies. The window, by the Gothic Revival studio Hardmans, dates to 1897. On the left is the Ark of the Covenant, curtained off in the Holy of Holies. His three sons bow in worship on the right, next to the burnt animal offering. Aaron is in the centre, wearing his priestly vestments and carrying the blood of the sacrifices as he enters the sanctuary.
The scene is one of six stained glass windows that are found in the sanctuary of English Martyrs, Streatham. The windows tell the story of various Old Testament men who offered sacrifice to God and who all pointed towards the eventual sacrifice of the Mass.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
English Martyrs, Streatham
Read the relevant passage