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The Life of St. Paul
|St Paul's Life|
|Artist||Attributed to Sir James Thornhill|
|Location||St. Paul's Cathedral, London|
St. Paul's Cathedral's dome displays a set of paintings from Sir James Thornhill, who was commissioned to provide them in a monochrome style, illustrating the life of St. Paul about three hundred years ago. Saint Paul is one of the most important and influential of all the saints. Many of his writings are contained in the Canon of the Bible and have influenced the growth and development of the Church since the first century. St. Paul is the patron saint of missionaries, evangelists, writers, journalists, authors, public workers, rope and saddle makers, and tent makers. His feast day is on June 29 when he is honored with Saint Peter, although he is also honored on other days throughout the year, January 25, for his conversion, February 16, for his shipwreck, and Nov. 18 for the dedication of his Basilica.
We know from Sir Christopher Wren's son that the architect had always intended that the interior of his dome be decorated with mosaics. "For this purpose he had projected to have procured from Italy four of the most eminent artists in that profession; but as this art was a great novelty in England... it did not receive the encouragement it deserved."- Parentalia. So then was when Sir James Thornhill was commissioned to provide monochrome paintings about the life of St. Paul. Thornhill was chosen because, besides his great talent, he fulfilled the characteristics of being a protestant and an English man, which were crucial in this decision. He painted in a style that mimicked rock sculpture which added a fantastic sense of dimension to his artwork and satisfied the conservative political committee of that time. This mainly because they were afraid that the paintings would look ostentatious or too similar to colorful catholic churches.The committee in charge of the project, which was headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and whose other members were ecclesiastics and other professionals appointed by the monarch, had been deliberating the matter since April 1708. The French artist Laguerre (1663-1721) is said to have begun painting, only for work to be halted a month later. Then, in 1709, an open competition was announced. By 1710 the field had narrowed to two contestants, Thornhill and the Venetian, Pellegrini (1675-1741), but no immediate decision was taken.
Paul was born in Tarsus, in modern day Eastern Turkey, he was a tent maker by trade, was an avid student under the top Jewish teacher in Jerusalem and was also a Roman citizen. He was a man who worked with his hands but wrote with the grace of a Greek philosopher; a Jewish zealot who nevertheless enjoyed the rights of citizenship in the world's greatest empire. What we know about Paul comes from two extraordinary sources. The first is the Acts of the Apostles, written after Paul's death, almost certainly by the same author who wrote St Luke's gospel. There is evidence that Acts was written to pass on the Christian message, but behind the theology lie clues about Paul's life. The author of Acts claims that he knew Paul and even accompanied him on many of his journeys. The second source is Paul's own letters. They represent Paul's own version of events, and it seems reasonable to accept them as the more reliable account. His works are some of the earliest Christian documents that we have and 13 of the 27 books of the bible are written by him. 
Paul spent much of the first half of his life persecuting the nascent Christian movement, an activity to which he refers several times. Paul’s motivations are unknown, but they seem not to have been connected to his Pharisaism. The chief persecutors of the Christian movement in Jerusalem were the high priest and his associates, who were Sadducees (if they belonged to one of the parties), and Acts depicts the leading Pharisee, Gamaliel, as defending the Christians (Acts 5:34). It is possible that Paul believed that Jewish converts to the new movement were not sufficiently observant of the Jewish law, that Jewish converts mingled too freely with Gentile (non-Jewish) converts, thus associating themselves with idolatrous practices, or that the notion of a crucified messiah was objectionable. The young Paul certainly would have rejected the view that Jesus had been raised after his death—not because he doubted resurrection as such but because he would not have believed that God chose to favour Jesus by raising him before the time of the judgment of the world. Whatever his reasons, Paul’s persecutions probably involved traveling from synagogue to synagogue and urging the punishment of Jews who accepted Jesus as the messiah. Disobedient members of synagogues were punished by some form of ostracism or by light flogging, which Paul himself later suffered at least five times (2 Corinthians 11:24), though he does not say when or where. According to Acts, Paul began his persecutions in Jerusalem, a view at odds with his assertion that he did not know any of the Jerusalem followers of Christ until well after his own conversion (Galatians 1:4–17).
Schooled as a Pharisee, he was a tent maker by trade, but was most noted for his hatred of Christians. He believed the teachings of Jesus violated Mosaic Law and zealously harassed, and even jailed, anyone who followed those teachings.The first scriptural mention of Saul is found in Acts 7:58, as he is a bystander watching his fellow Jews stone St. Stephen to death. An aggressive persecutor of Christians in Jerusalem, Saul sought and received permission from the high priest to proceed to Damascus for the purpose of imprisoning more followers of Christ. Most Christians know the story of what happened on the Damascus road: the bright light that knocked Saul down, the voice of Jesus, Saul’s blindness and immediate response to the calling of Christ. In the manner of the first Apostles who, when beckoned by Christ, gave up their lifestyles to follow him, Saul too doesn’t hesitate. He says yes, just as the Blessed Mother said yes. Blinded from his encounter with Jesus, he allowed himself to be led into Damascus where he was baptized, after which he set out to spread the news of Jesus. Paul would repeat the story of his conversion again and again throughout his life, including to the different magistrates and kings who judged his activities. The book of Acts, in three places, tells the story of Saul’s experience on the Damascus road.
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