The Baptism of Christ

12th century with later modifications
Palatine Chapel, Palermo, Sicily

On the left, John wears the "garment of camels' hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins" noted in Matthew 3:4. In the middle as always Jesus stands in the Jordan River, baptized simultaneously with water by John and with the Holy Spirit from above. On the right the usual angel with towel has been doubled to two angels with two towels of different colors. The Greek inscription at the top simply means "Baptism."

In the water at the bottom of the panel Christian baptism is symbolized by two small human figures ride on dolphins. The dolphin is a conventional symbol of resurrection (Sill, 19) or of the Christian person (Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. "Dolphin").

The piled-up look of the water may refer to the kind of vessel in which candidates for Christian baptism were immersed, or it could reflect the idea in the commentaries that when Jesus entered the Jordan it "turned back and stopped flowing, rising up in a heap."1 The piled-up water is also seen in this relief in a Croatian cathedral this one in a Swiss museum.

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Photographed at the chapel by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

1 Jensen, 12-13. Jensen cites Cyril of Jerusalem, On the Words 'Incarnate' and 'Made Man', ¶15 and others.