Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Beheading of St John the Baptist 2020

A righteous man is murdered by adulterers, and a death sentence is pronounced by the guilty upon their judge. Then the death of the prophet was the fee of a dancing girl. Last of all (something which even savages are wont to shun), the order to perpetrate this cruelty was given amid feasting and merriment, and the servants of this brutal crime run from banquet to prison, from prison to banquet. How many crimes within this one evil deed!

The Head of St John the Baptist Presented to Herod, by Donatello, 1427; one of six decorative panels on the baptismal font of Siena Cathedral.
Look, most grievous king, on these sights well worthy of thy banquet. Put out thy hand, that nothing may lack from thy savagery, and let the streams of sacred blood run between thy fingers. ... Look at the eyes, which even in death are witnesses of thy crime, even as they turn away from the sight of thy pleasures. Those eyes are closed, not from the necessity imposed by death, but from horror at thine excess. That golden mouth, now bloodless, whose sentence thou couldst not bear, groweth silent, and is still feared. (St Ambrose, On the Virgins, book 3; the sermon at Matins for the feast of the Beheading of St John the Baptist in the Breviary of St Pius V.)

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