The Light of the World

Explore St Paul's Cathedral - Virtual Tour

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William Holman Hunt's painting is one of the great religious images of the nineteenth century, and prints of it are to be found in hundreds of churches and chapels throughout the world. But it is not a single painting:

Hunt painted three versions, of which St Paul's is the largest and the latest, having been painted fifty years after the first, which hangs in the chapel of Keble College, Oxford. As a result the artist, when he signed it, dated it '1851-1900'!

Charles Booth, a wealthy shipowner, who also contributed enormously by his writings to knowledge of the terrible social problems of the day, commissioned this third copy of the painting, and before presenting it to St Paul's in 1908, he sent it on a world tour, as a 'sermon in a frame'.

The picture shows Christ, dramatically lit from below by the lantern which he carries in his left hand, knocking on the door. It represents the human soul: Christ seeks admission, but too often he meets with no response.

The crown of thorns on Christ's head reminds us of his sacrifice for mankind on the Cross.

Behind him, the magical blue-green sky with a flying bat show that the hour is late.

The beautifully painted pre-Raphaelite brambles which have grown over the door show that it has not been opened for a long time. If it is late in the day, it is also late in the season.

More significantly, there is no handle on the door: it can only be opened from within. At the bottom of the gilded frame are Christ's words,
"Behold I stand at the door and knock, if any man hear my voice and open the door I will come in to him and will sup with him, and he with me"

The artist Holman Hunt is buried in the Crypt of St Paul's along with Charles Booth, who has a monument in the South Aisle.

This is now part of a triptych behind the altar, located in the North Transept (Middlesex Chapel).