The book of Revelation, otherwise known as the ‘Apocalypse’, is the last book of the Bible. It contains a series of prophetic visions that its writer, named ‘John’, experienced while exiled on the island of Patmos. He was told by God to write them down for the seven churches of Asia (1:1-9).
For a variety of reasons, some scholars have wondered whether this ‘John’ really was St John the Apostle. However, those who knew St John the Apostle personally said that he was indeed the author of the book, as well as of the fourth gospel.
Revelation is an unusual book, full of strange visions and cryptic codes, which make it difficult to interpret. St John’s visions, as they are written down, were designed to reveal secrets about the future. They refer in part to events from his own day, such as the persecution of Christians by the Romans. But they also concern events that are yet to happen.
Essentially, the book is about the ultimate triumph of good over evil. It describes different phases of world history, which eventually lead to the return of Christ and the end of the world. Revelation describes how the wicked will be judged and punished – and how the righteous will be saved and rewarded. While its contents can be puzzling and even frightening, the book encourages Christians to persevere in their faith.
St John begins his work by describing his sudden vision of Christ on the island of Patmos. He saw Christ, not as he had known him on earth, but in heavenly glory. His head and hair were bright white, he held seven stars in his right hand and a sword pointed from his mouth. These symbols are based on various passages from the Old Testament (1:8-20).
Next, St John saw a vision of God enthroned in heaven, surrounded by a rainbow and in front of a crystal-clear sea. In the midst of the throne, he also saw a slain lamb break the seven seals of a mysterious book, whose contents foretold the future. Then seven angels who were close to God were each given a trumpet to blow. These seven trumpets signalled a series of disasters that were about to happen (4:1-11; 5:1-14; 8:1-13).
These two unusual visions, from the start of the book of Revelation, are pictured here as large mosaics. They face each other within the sanctuary of Our Lady & St John, in Chorlton. The unique mosaics, which date to 1927, were the work of Eric Newton, from the Manchester-based craft firm, Ludwig Oppenheimer. They form part of an overall design scheme for the church and reflect its dedication to St John.
Newton’s imaginative mosaics are found in churches across the North-West of England. These two bring St John’s visions to life in all their strange glory. It’s only possible to appreciate their full meaning, as well as their attention to detail, by reading the passages themselves. In the first, a prayerful St John sees his glorified Lord reveal himself as the ‘Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last’ from the island of Patmos. In the second, we see God and Christ the Lamb in heaven, as various judgments fall upon the earth (6:12-13).
See both images in full:
Where to find this work of art
Our Lady & St John, Chorlton
Read the relevant passage