After the Fall of Adam and Eve, Genesis says that God spoke to each of those involved (the snake, the woman and the man) about the consequences of their sin. While explaining the punishment they would each receive, he also provided reassurance to Adam and Eve that all was not lost.
God said to the Devil (represented by the snake): “I will establish hostility between you and the woman, between your line and her line. Her offspring will crush your head and you will bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:14-15) This was a prediction that a woman, through her child, would eventually defeat, or “crush”, the Devil.
Referring to this text, the Catechism explains: “After his fall, man was not abandoned by God. On the contrary, God calls him and in a mysterious way heralds the coming victory over evil and his restoration from his fall. This passage in Genesis is called the Protoevangelium (“first gospel”): the first announcement of the Messiah and Redeemer, of a battle between the serpent and the Woman, and of the final victory of a descendant of hers.”
It goes on: “The Christian tradition sees in this passage an announcement of the “New Adam” who, because he “became obedient unto death, even death on a cross”, makes amends superabundantly for the disobedience, of Adam. Furthermore many Fathers and Doctors of the Church have seen the woman announced in the Protoevangelium as Mary, the mother of Christ, the “new Eve”. Mary benefited first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin: she was preserved from all stain of original sin and by a special grace of God committed no sin of any kind during her whole earthly life.”
The last book of the Bible, Revelation, both refers back to – and explains – this cryptic promise. It describes the battle between a woman and her male child on the one hand, and the “ancient serpent”, the Devil, on the other (Revelation 12:1-17). The male child, who will rule with a rod of iron, is revealed to be Christ (cf 2:27). The woman, like the Devil and Christ, is also an individual – the Virgin Mary.
This stained glass window picturing the announcement of the First Gospel is found within the Lady Chapel of St Mary’s, Derby. It dates to 1930 and is by the Hardmans firm, who created much of the glass in this beautiful Pugin church. The window is part of a series of scenes, all coloured in blue (Mary’s traditional colour), that all relate to the saving role of the Virgin.
Here we see Adam and Eve being given a vision of the Woman and her Son who will later undo the damage they have caused. The figure speaking to them is God the Father. We know this because of his triangular halo, which is a traditional symbol of the First Person of the Trinity.
The Virgin is in the act of crushing the Devil’s head, as mentioned in the prophecy. Interestingly, God is addressing the words to Adam and Eve, rather than to the Devil himself (as in the text of Genesis 3:14-15). As the couple kneel in prayer, Adam is pictured holding a spade, which relates to his own punishment of farming the earth with difficulty (cf Genesis 3:17-19).
The window also includes small details that contain references to both Genesis and Revelation. On the ground are the thorns and thistles that Adam would have to deal with after the Fall (Genesis 3:18). The curtain features apples, which were thought to be the forbidden fruit that Eve had shared with Adam. The Virgin is crowned with stars and standing on the moon, as described in Revelation 12:1.
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Where to find this work of art
St Mary’s, Derby
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