The Piercing of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-14)

The Piercing of the Messiah (Zechariah 12:10-14)

The Prophet Zechariah served God at a critical time, when the Jews had just returned from exile in Babylon (around 520 BC). He was from a priestly family and lived at the same time as the prophet Haggai (Nehemiah 12:1,12,16). The two of them supported the high priest Joshua and the governor Zerubbabel in the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 5:1-2).

His prophetic book is divided into several sections. In the first part (1:7-6:15), he shares a series of ‘night visions’ about the future of the Jewish people. He then wrote a response to a wintertime question about fasting (7:1-8:23). Finally, he records two proclamations – one against neighbouring nations and another about the future deliverance of Jerusalem (9:1-14:21).

In his proclamation on Jerusalem’s future, Zechariah said that when the people of the city “look on the one whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.” (Zechariah 12:10). The mourning, he added, would be very great – and the women of the land would grieve separately to the men.

In his gospel, St John tells us that this saying by Zechariah is a reference to the death of Christ. After witnessing a Roman solider pierce Christ’s corpse with a spear instead of breaking his legs, he wrote: These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’” (John 19:36-37)

These two quotations are from the Psalms (34:20) and Zechariah (12:10). True to Zechariah’s prophecy of the mourning women, St John also tells us that there were three women grieving for Christ at the cross – his mother, her sister and St Mary Magdalene (19:25). He adds that “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (19:34)

This stained glass scene of the crucifixion of Christ is found within the sanctuary of St Tarcisius’, Camberley. This impressive East Window, which dates to 1935, is by the Arts and Crafts artist, Paul Woodroffe. It pictures Christ already dead, after having being pierced with a spear. Blood and water flow from his right side as the mourners look on.

Woodroffe’s scene unpacks the death of Christ, as prophesied by Zechariah and recorded in St John’s gospel, in some detail. While a number of Roman soldiers are present, it’s the mourners who are particularly prominent. To Christ’s immediate left and right (from his perspective) are St John the Apostle and his mother. Further to his left are St Mary Magdalene (standing with the long hair) and St Mary, the wife of Clopas (as mentioned in John 19:25).

See the full image:

Christ-pierced-crucifixionPaul Woodroffe / The Piercing of Christ’s side / Stained glass / 1935

Detail of Christ crucified:


Detail of the Roman Centurion and the Virgin:


Detail of St John the Apostle, St Mary Magdalene and St Mary Clopas:


Detail of the pierced feet and skull:


Where to find this work of art
St Tarcisius, Camberley

Read the relevant passage
Zechariah 12:10-14

On a similar theme

  • From the Old Testament: Zechariah was one of The Twelve Prophets; along with Haggai and Malachi, he prophesied after the return of the Jews from exile.
  • From the New Testament: According to St John’s gospel, Zechariah’s prophecy of the piercing of the Messiah relates to Christ’s death on the cross.

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