The account of Christ walking on water is found in three of the gospels, although only St Matthew’s version tells us about St Peter’s involvement in the miracle. (Matthew 14:22-23; Mark 6:45-52; John 6:15-21)
After Christ fed the 5,000, he told the apostles to set sail for the town of Capernaum, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Then he sent the crowds away, and went alone into the hills to pray. The apostles set off in a boat, but the wind was against them. The night grew dark, the wind rose, and their boat was tossed on the waves.
Suddenly they saw Christ approach the ship, walking on the water. They were absolutely terrified and wondered if it was a ghost. To calm them down, Jesus said: “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then St Peter called out: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” Jesus said: “Come.”
So St Peter got out of the boat and began walking on the lake. However, sensing the wind he lost his nerve and began to sink. In fear, he cried out: “Lord, save me.” Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, saying: “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Then they both got into the boat together and the wind dropped. Those who were in the boat were astounded. They said to Christ: “Truly you are the Son of God.” This recognition by the apostles of Christ’s power over the waves reminds us of their earlier experience, when he had stilled a storm on the Sea of Galilee.
This golden mosaic scene picturing the story is found within the crypt of Westminster Cathedral, London. It dates to the 1930s and is by the artist Gilbert Pownall, who was also responsible for other mosaics within the Cathedral. The crypt chapel is dedicated to St Peter, which explains why it’s decorated in this way.
The Byzantine-style design spans the arches of the chapel and also includes a scene of Christ giving the keys to St Peter. As such, it contrasts St Peter’s initial doubts with his later expression of faith in Christ as the Son of God. St Peter’s experience amid the waves is often used as an illustration of Christ’s rescue of the faithful in moments of crisis.
The mosaic captures the moment that the drowning St Peter cried out to Christ for help. Spotting Christ from the ship are the two other apostles that he was particularly close to – St John (the clean-shaven one) and St James Major. To the left, the barefoot Christ reassures them as the waves crash against the boat.
See the full image:
Gilbert Pownall / Christ walks on water / Mosaic / 1930s
Where to find this work of art
Westminster Cathedral, London
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The story finds a parallel in the water miracle of Joshua crossing the Jordan.
- From the New Testament: Previously, Christ stilled the tempest on the Sea of Galilee.