According to the Old Testament, Elijah was a prophet who lived in the northern kingdom of Israel during the ninth century BC. Elijah came from Tishbe near the River Jordan. Like St John the Baptist, he was known for wearing a distinctive shaggy cloak and a leather belt.
Elijah prophesied during the reign of King Ahab and his foreign wife, Jezebel (c. 874–853 BC). Ahab and Jezebel had turned away from God and introduced the nation to the worship of a foreign god, called Baal. They also murdered many of God’s prophets.
God sent Elijah to confront Ahab and Jezebel and to prophesy a drought over the land until the people turned back to God. Fearing for his life, Elijah then fled into the wilderness, where he drank from a stream and ravens brought him food.
When the stream ran dry, Elijah went to a poor widow in the town of Zarephath and asked her for food and water. Elijah promised that if she shared her food with him, her jar of flour and jug of oil would never run out.
This miracle enabled the widow to feed Elijah, herself and her son throughout the drought. Some time afterwards the widow’s son fell very sick and died. After Elijah prayed for him, however, the child was restored to life.
As time went on, Elijah went to see King Ahab again and prophesied that rain would fall from the sky, ending the drought. The two had words and then Elijah challenged him to a ‘battle of the gods’ on Mount Carmel.
This involved a competition between Elijah and the prophets of Baal, while the nation watched. Elijah proved God’s power by calling fire down from heaven, while the prophets of Baal failed to summon any fire. The people then realised that Elijah was right about God. The false prophets were put to death, and the drought ended.
All of this enraged Queen Jezebel, who threatened to kill Elijah. Fearing for his life again, he escaped into the desert. He hid out at Mount Sinai, where God had given the Ten Commandments to Moses. There, as he sheltered in a cave, God spoke to him, telling him to appoint a man named Elisha as his successor.
This stained glass scene of Elijah pictures him with one of the ravens that brought him food while he was living in the desert. As such, it is a symbol of how God provides for his faithful. It’s found within the Chapel of St Benedict at Buckfast Abbey, in Devon.
The window was made by Burlison & Grylls studio between the 1920s and 1930s, as part of a wider Gothic Revival scheme for the Abbey. It forms part of a stained glass set picturing the participants in The Transfiguration – Christ, Moses and Elijah.
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh
Read the relevant passage
1 Kings 17:1-24
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: Elijah appointed his disciple Elisha to be his successor as prophet to Israel.
- From the New Testament: Christ compared St John the Baptist to the Prophet Elijah (Matthew 11:14).