Several days before he died, Christ was alone with his disciples on the Mount of Olives. While sitting on the mountain, he spoke to them about his Second Coming. To reinforce what he had to say, Christ shared with them four parables on the subject. One of these was the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. It tells the story of ten virgins, or bridesmaids, who are waiting for the ‘bridegroom’ (i.e. Christ) to arrive.
Pope Francis explained the parable in this way: “In Jesus’ time it was customary for weddings to be celebrated at night; so the procession of guests took place with lit lamps. Some of the bridesmaids are foolish: they take their lamps but do not take the oil with them; the wise ones instead take the oil with them together with their lamps. The bridegroom is late, late in coming, and they all fall asleep.”
He went on: “When a voice alerts them that the bridegroom is about to arrive, in that moment, the foolish ones realize that they do not have oil for their lamps. They ask the wise ones for some, but the latter reply that they cannot give away any oil, because there would not be enough for them all. While the foolish maidens go to buy oil, the bridegroom arrives. The wise maidens enter the banquet hall with him, and the door is closed. The others arrive too late and are turned away.”
The pope observed: “It is clear that with this parable, Jesus wants to tell us that we must be prepared for the encounter with him. Not only for the final encounter, but also for the everyday great and small encounters, with a view to that encounter for which the lamp of faith is not enough; we also need the oil of charity and good works. As the Apostle Paul says, the faith that truly unites us to Jesus is, “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). It is what is represented by the behaviour of the wise maidens. Being wise and prudent means not waiting until the last moment to correspond to God’s grace, but to do so actively and immediately, starting right now.”
This stained glass scene of the parable is found within the chapel of St Paul’s Convent, in Birmingham. Dating to 1922, the window was created by Hardman & Co. This firm was based in the city and produced glass for many local churches.
The window, on the left of the sanctuary, features two scenes as a pair – the parable and beneath it, an image of the Last Supper. The scenes are divided by a scroll containing the words of Matthew 25:6, ‘Behold the bridegroom cometh: go ye forth to meet him’, which are taken from the parable.
The inclusion of the parable in the chapel window reflects the particular vocation of the nuns living at the convent. In this context, the word used in the parable for the bridesmaids ― ‘virgins’ ― relates to women who had taken religious vows of chastity. Notice how only the five wise virgins, who had oil in their lamps, are featured in the stained glass.
This means that the window was designed to remind the nuns that they must be ‘wise virgins’, actively practising their faith, if they wish to meet their bridegroom, the Risen Christ. This is underlined by the link between the two ‘suppers’ – the wedding supper attended by the bridesmaids and the Last Supper, which they would be bringing to mind during Mass.
See the full image:
Detail of the Wise Virgins:
Detail of the Bridegroom:
The image of the Last Supper in the window’s lower half:
Where to find this work of art
St Paul’s Convent Chapel, Birmingham
Read the relevant passage
On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: ‘Wise women’ are often found in the Old Testament, such as in the stories of Abigail and Judith.
- From the New Testament: In the Parable of the Sower, Christ also spoke of the need for faith to yield good works.