Post 5

The Apostle John – and the great Da Vinci code controversy 

It was not only Leonardo Da Vinci  in the Last Supper who painted young St John as a rather beautiful man – Domenico Ghirlandiao initial drawing for his Last Supper in the Cenacolo di Ognissanti sketched a decidedly female image, and as far afield as Flanders in the  1460’s  Hans Memling shows John looking decidedly female – and even puts him in Mary’s trademark red gown!

St John

However the purpose of these Posts is to establish what the Disciples did after the death of Jesus, so I don’t want to enter into this un-provable argument at this point – however much I might enjoy the debate over a glass of wine one day!!

St Mary Magdalene

St John the Apostle was the younger brother of another disciple – namely James, son of Zebedee , the fisherman,and his wife Salome (possibly sister of  the Virgin Mary?).   James and John were initially disciples of Saint John the Baptist, their second cousin, but were recruited by Jesus just after the other fishers of men Saint Peter and Saint Andrew.

Tradition has it  that John outlived all the remaining apostles, his brother James being the first to die a martyr’s  death, and despite being plunged into boiling oil in Rome and banished to Patmos for surviving the experience he survived to die of natural causes “in great old age  in Ephesus”

So what did this “beloved disciple” do between sleeping through Christ’s announcement that someone was about to betray him at the Last Supper in AD33, through to his peaceful death in Ephesus” at the beginning of the second century?

Well, first at Jesus’s request , he helped with preparation for the Passover,  and then significantly in the John/Mary confusion,  he was the only one the Apostles to risk remaining with Jesus, standing with  myrrhbearers and numerous other women – including Mary Magdalene – at the foot of the cross on Calvary  – again in the picture below it is John who is wearing a red robe whilst Mary is in blue  and St Veronica in red- however in most paintings Mary sports her trademark red !

Jesus asked John to take care of his mother, which he did unto her death.

But if John stayed for the crucifixion – and to look after Christ’s mother Mary – he would also  have been around to meet the resurrected Christ?

After Mary’s death John, maybe still learning his trade, spent a lot of time with St Peter, who was the rock on which the church was founded.  According to Scriptures he was with St Peter at the healing of the lame man in the Temple and was also thrown into prison with Peter. He also went with Peter to Samaria and then on missions elsewhere.

So how do we recognise St John in paintings? – if  he is portrayed as shown below with the other three Evangelists, St Matthew, St Mark and St Luke – St John’s emblem is an eagle. An eagle believed to be able to look straight at the sun without flinching so represents the concept that Christians should look on eternity without fear as they journey towards God – plus, as an Evangelist he is almost always also shown with a book,


Alternatively John is shown holding a cup with a viper in it  which relates to a story that a high priest of Diana at Ephesus challenged him to drink from a poisoned cup – which he survived . Many Saints, notably St Catherine with her wheel and St Sebastian with his arrows, are shown with attributes relating to unsuccessful methods of execution before the authorities tired of trying to get rid of them by unconventional means and turned to the reliably effective method of beheading!

The other fierce debate in relation to John is as to which – if any – of the Gospels he wrote – The Church Fathers generally say he was the  author of five books in the New Testament: the Gospel of John, three Epistles of John, and the Book of Revelation.

That is some oeuvre -he needed  a long life to out pour all that!  The debate is over the variety in style  – especially over the work on Patmos , which raise the possibility that John the Apostle, John the Evangelist, and John of Patmos were three separate individuals!

I am not scholar enough to even hazard a guess!