The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8)

The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8)

The story of the Transfiguration of Christ is described in three of the gospels, as well as in the Second Letter of St Peter. (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36; 2 Peter 1:16-18). It describes how those closest to Christ got a glimpse of him in heavenly glory.

Pope Francis picks up the story: “Taking aside three of the Apostles, Peter, James and John, He led them up a high mountain. And that is where this unique phenomenon took place: Jesus’ face “shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light” (v. 2). In this way, the Lord allowed the divine glory which could be understood through faith in his preaching and his miraculous gestures, to shine within Him. The Transfiguration was accompanied by the apparition of Moses and Elijah who were “talking with him” (v. 3).”

As Christ was glorified, the disciples heard a voice from heaven say: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” This made them very afraid, but Christ told them not to worry. However, he did ask them to keep the vision secret until after his resurrection.

The Pope explained the purpose of the event: “By now decisively headed toward Jerusalem, where he will be sentenced to death by crucifixion, Jesus wanted to prepare his own for this scandal — the scandal of the Cross — this scandal which is too intense for their faith and, at the same time, to foretell his Resurrection by manifesting himself as the Messiah, the Son of God. Jesus was preparing them for that sad and very painful moment.”

Francis concluded: “Transfigured on Mount Tabor, Jesus wanted to show his disciples his glory, not for them to circumvent the Cross, but to show where the Cross leads. Those who die with Jesus, shall rise again with Jesus. The Cross is the door to Resurrection. Whoever struggles alongside him will triumph with him. This is the message of hope contained in Jesus’ Cross, urging us to be strong in our existence.”

This painted scene of the Transfiguration is by the Gothic Revivalist Nathaniel Westlake and dates to 1908-1911. The scene covers the sanctuary roof of St Thomas of Canterbury, St Leonards-on-Sea. It tells the story of the Transfiguration in some detail. Either side of the glorified Christ, set against the gold of his glory, are Moses (left) and Elijah (right).

Beneath them are St Peter on the left, with St James and St John on the right. St Mark and St Matthew hold their gospel accounts describing the event on the left and right. Seraph angels hover above the scene, while God points towards Christ from the cloud and speaks to the disciples. Below you can see some close-up shots of the some of the main participants in the episode.

The Transfigured Christ:


Here is Moses and a seraph:


This is Elijah:


This is St James and St John:


And here is St Peter:


Where to find this work of art
St Thomas of Canterbury, St Leonards-on-Sea

Read the relevant passage
Matthew 17:1-8

On a similar theme

  • From the Old Testament: Moses died on the mountain, but his grave was never found, which explains his presence in this scene.
  • From the New Testament: During the Baptism of Christ, the Father’s voice was also heard to say: “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)

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