While he was in his forties, Jacob had a dream about God that changed his life forever. The dream took place while he was on the run from his brother, Esau, who he had cheated out of his birthright. To escape his angry twin, Jacob was sent by his parents to stay with his uncle Laban in the city of Haran.
Pope Francis picks up the story: “During his journey from Beersheba to Haran, Jacob decides to stop and rest in a solitary place. In a dream, he sees a ladder: its base rests on the earth and its top reaches to heaven (cf. Genesis 28:10-22). The ladder, on which angels of God are ascending and descending, represents the connection between the divine and the human, fulfilled historically in Christ’s incarnation (cf. John 1:51), which was the Father’s loving gift of revelation and salvation.”
He added: “The ladder is a symbol of the divine action that precedes all human activity. It is the opposite of the Tower of Babel, built by men with their own strength, who wanted to reach heaven to become gods. In this case, however, it is God who comes down; it is the Lord who reveals himself; it is God who saves.”
Genesis describes how God spoke to the sleeping Jacob and promised him three things. Firstly, the land of Canaan for his people, secondly, blessings for all nations through his descendants and thirdly, personal protection on his travels. When Jacob woke, he realised that God was with him – and vowed to serve him faithfully from then on.
Jacob’s prophetic dream later became a reality on all three counts. Firstly, he enjoyed God’s protection throughout his life (Wisdom 10:9-12). Later, after the Exodus, the Israelites took possession of the Promised Land. Finally, through the birth of Jesus, his descendent, God’s blessing then extended to all nations.
This striking mosaic scene of Jacob’s Ladder is found within the sanctuary of St Patrick’s church, in Bristol. It was created by two Polish artists, Maciej and Piotr Kauczynski. Its presence in the sanctuary reflects the biblical theme of a place where God descends to earth.
The mosaic features five angels ascending and descending either side of the Lord, who in this case is pictured as the Divine Mercy (a devotion that started in Poland). In the centre of the stained glass window above the angels are the words Spectate Praemium (look to the reward).
The artwork forms part of a wider scheme of biblical scenes, including the Baptism of Christ, the Last Supper, as well as the sacrifices of Abraham, Noah, Melchizedek, Cain and Abel. St Patrick’s church features an assortment of other art based on Scripture, including this painting of Christ turning water into wine.
See the full image:
Detail of the angels to left and right:
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: The reason for Jacob’s flight into the east was his disagreement with his brother, Esau, over his father’s birthright.
- From the New Testament: Christ’s incarnation and birth, when he descended from heaven to earth, was part of the fulfilment of this prophetic dream.
Where to find this work of art
St Patrick’s, Redfield
Read the relevant passage