The Feast of the Epiphany

An introduction to Epiphany:

In the Western churches, the Epiphany (‘manifestation’) became an occasion to celebrate one element in the story of Christ’s birth, the visit of the far-travelled magi, understood as the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. Matthew’s account speaks simply of ‘wise men from the east’; later tradition fixed their number at three, made them kings and recalled their resonant names – Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar. In this perspective, Epiphanytide is an apt season to pray for the worldwide mission of the Church. The feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles, appropriately falls in the Epiphany season, as does the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

The collect for Epiphany in Anglican liturgy:

O God, who by the leading of a star manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may at last behold your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Here are two paintings commemorating this event in the life of the Christ Child from one of my favorite artists, Giotto di Bondone (1266-1337).

From The Met (New York City): Dating to about 1320, this panel is one of seven showing the life of Christ. Nothing is known of their early history beyond the fact that they were painted for a Franciscan church or convent; however, the masterly depiction of the stable, the carefully articulated space, and the columnar solidity of the figures testify to Giotto’s reputation as the founder of European painting. The impetuous action of the kneeling king, who picks up the Christ Child, and Mary’s expression of concern translate the Biblical account into deeply human terms. “He made [art] natural and gave it gentleness” (Ghiberti, ca. 1450).

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Giotto, “The Adoration of the Magi” (c. 1320)

The fresco features a realistic depiction of the comet as the Star of Bethlehem.

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Giotto, “Adoration of the Magi” (1304-1306). Arena Chapel, Padua, Italy.

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