Illumination from the 6th C.
He also clothed the apostles
sent them to the four corners
to accomplish their tasks.
From the disciples He drove out fear,
silence also from tongues fled
and this thanks to tongues!
St Ephrem the Syrian,
Hmn LXXIV to the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost, though celebrated since the 2nd Century, only became a distinct feast day from the Ascension in the 4th Century. This miniature, taken from the Rabbula Gospels (the name of the Syrian monk who painted it in the year 586), is the oldest representation that we have of this theme in Christian art.
The composition of the scene is simple: it is inserted under a dark archway, whose branches reach up to the upper corners evoking Paradise.
“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:2-4)
As in the Baptism of Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes down in the form of a dove and pours out His fire.
Standing in the middle of the apostles, we can see the silhouette of the Blessed Virgin praying and clothed in blue, standing out from those around her. She personifies the Church- Spouse of Christ, gathered together in the Cenacle, praying assiduously for the coming of the Spirit who had been promised. Most of the apostles have the same gesture of the hands as her, praying or giving a stereo typed blessing, as a sign of their unity.
In his translation of the Bible, St Jerome gave this title to the Acts of the Apostles: "The Church begins in Jerusalem". It was from there indeed that the Good News gathered momentum and reached to the ends of the earth, passing through the ages and the generations to us.