William Holman Hunt’s Holy War in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

in Religion and the Arts
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This essay is concerned to interpret the background, meaning, and reception of a late painting by the British Pre-Raphaelite painter William Holman Hunt entitled The Miracle of the Sacred Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (1899). The painting illustrates and critiques an annual Easter Saturday miracle reported to have been experienced by believers and nonbelievers since the third century CE. During this miracle, fire descends from the oculus of the dome in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem onto the site believed to be the tomb of Christ, and impassioned pilgrims by the hundreds seek to light their candles with its flame. The painting, not well received when first exhibited at the New Gallery in London, remained in Hunt’s studio until his death in 1910. The history of the church in Jerusalem, the conflicts between the different Christian sects who guarded it, the attitude of one Victorian ecumenical Protestant traveler to Jerusalem toward these conflicts, and their resolution in his painting are the subjects used to explore this strangely overwrought and little known image.

William Holman Hunt’s Holy War in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

in Religion and the Arts



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