Aleteia

Finding Faith: A Christian dragon tale told in stained glass

Photo by Lucien de Guise, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum
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This 16th-century window features a story about St. John the Evangelist and a tiny dragon.

A series that looks at the visual arts for signs of the universal Church in sometimes unexpected places.

J.K. Rowling has just released the first part of a new children’s book for lockdown. Unlike the Harry Potter stories, it doesn’t seem to feature dragons. In Christian tales, dragons tend to be an inspiration for Potter-land: super-sized and frequently fire-breathing. This is the stuff of the Golden Legend, written in the 13th century and the main source of information on St. George the dragon slayer.

ST John the Evangelist; DRAGON
Photo by Lucien de Guise, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum
ST JOHN THE EVANGELIST; DRAGON; GOLDEN LEGEND
Photo by Lucien de Guise, courtesy of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Less well known is the Golden Legend’s tale of St. John the Evangelist, who lived by the pen rather than the sword. He was tricked into drinking poison, which he then turned into a diminutive dragon to avoid drinking it. The story lacks some of the literary drama of St. George, but was popular among artists. This stained glass is from 16th-century Germany, where the visual possibilities of a tiny dragon were understood but not always easy to see unless you knew what you were looking for.

Lucien de Guise is on Instagram @crossxcultural. As a Catholic writer, editor, curator and former museum director, his aim is to build bridges through art.

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