St Matthew’s gospel tells us that Christ once gave a long talk to the people, while seated on a mountain (Matthew 5:1-7:29). This great speech became known as ‘the Sermon on the Mount’. During this sermon, Christ covered many topics, including how to do good works, keep the Law of God and develop real faith.
He also shared eight short sayings about how to be truly happy, or ‘blessed’, in this life. Since each saying started with the word ‘blessed’, they later became know as The Beatitudes (from the Latin word for blessed, beati). They are as follows:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
- Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Pope St John Paul II once reflected on these sayings, while speaking of the Christian life as a journey. He said: “The “Sermon on the Mount” marks out this journey. The eight Beatitudes are the road signs that show us the way. It is an uphill path, but he [Christ] has walked it before us.”
The pope continued: “Jesus did not limit himself to proclaiming the Beatitudes, he lived them! Looking at his life anew, re-reading the Gospel, we marvel: the poorest of the poor, the most gentle among the meek, the person with the purest and most merciful heart is none other than Jesus. The Beatitudes are nothing more than the description of a face, his face!”
He added: “At the same time, the Beatitudes describe what a Christian should be: they are the portrait of Jesus’ disciple, the picture of those have accepted the Kingdom of God and want their life to be in tune with the demands of the Gospel. To these Jesus speaks, calling them “blessed”.”
St Luke’s gospel includes a shortened version of the Beatitudes (Luke 6:20-26). His list also includes four ‘woes’, which talk about the way to unhappiness. It’s also significant that Christ shared the Beatitudes on a mountainside. Just as the Israelites heard the Law from Mount Sinai, they also heard Christ’s moral code from the slopes of a mountain.
Around the church of St Mary’s, Ryde, are the words of each of the Eight Beatitudes in Latin. They are featured on stone sculptures of angels, who tower down on the congregation from above. Each angel holds a scroll with the words of one of the Beatitudes.
These quirky-looking angels may have been installed when the church was built, between 1846-1848. On the other hand, since they are painted they may actually have been the work of Nathaniel Westlake, who decorated other parts of the church in the 1890s. While some are in better condition than others, each has its own unique character.
Top row: Blessed are the poor in spirit, Blessed are those who mourn
Bottom row: Blessed are the meek, Blessed are those who yearn for righteousness.
Top row: Blessed are the merciful, Blessed are the pure in heart
Bottom row: Blessed are the peacemakers, Blessed are those who are persecuted
Where to find this work of art
St Mary’s, Ryde
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