The Baptism of Christ

14th century
Pomposa Abbey, Codorigo, Italy

As in more ancient images Jesus is shown naked and hip-deep in the river. This particular version appears to present the discourse preceding the baptism (Matthew 3:14-15). John has protested that "I ought to be baptized by thee," and Jesus is replying, "Suffer it to be so now. For so it becometh us to fulfill all justice. Then he suffered him."

As usual, an angel holds Jesus' garment on the bank opposite John. The second angel is also a common feature. Because this is not the more commonly pictured moment after Jesus "came out of the water and…saw the Spirit of God descending" (3:16), we do not see the usual dove above Jesus' head.

In the water are a scorpion, a serpent or eel, some fish, and a dragon on which Jesus is standing. The reference is to a passage in Cyril of Jerusalem's Catechesis on Baptism: "According to Job, there was in the waters the dragon that draweth up Jordan into his mouth.… He [Jesus] went down and bound the strong one in the waters, that we might receive power to tread upon serpents and scorpions."1

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

1 Catechesis on Baptism, ¶11. See Job 40:23 for the dragon in the waters, Psalm 74:14 for breaking its head, and Luke 10:19 for treading on serpents and scorpions. For more on Cyril's and similar passages see Jensen, 12.