Saint Thomas of Canterbury, Bolton

Stay with us, Lord, on our journey

Pentecost Icon

The "Descent of the Holy Spirit" is a Russian icon painted toward the end of the 15th century. It leaves out the swirling wind and the parting tongues of fire of the original narrative, to illustrate rather the gentle stillness of the presence of God. The apostles and evangelists in the icon are still, meditative, seemingly contemplating the presence of God within them through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, repesented by the rays descending from heaven above. Jesus is no longer with them as he was during the time of his public ministry. But he is not absent from them. Risen and returned to his Father, he is now closer to them than he was previously. By the gift of his Spirit he is within them, binding each of them to himself and all of them together in him.


The Spirit binds them together in community. Although they appear in contemplative mood, with no indication of discussion reaching out to one another, they are very much together. In their hands they each hold either a book or a scroll, symbol of God's word entrusted to them. Apart from the gifts of Word and Spirit, there is no set pose, no fixed expression, no uniform colour of robes, nothing to mark them out as one. They repesent great diversity and yet they are all are held together in truly remarkable unity. This is the work of the one Spirit in them all. The Christian community is not the product of human effort or activity but is first and foremost gift of God.

At the base of the icon is an oval door opening out onto sheer darkness, with a figure representing all the people who live in darkness, still waiting for the light which is Christ. He holds a white cloth with scrolls containing the preaching of God's word. This dark space and the figure representing the world in darkness are a vivid reminder that the Word was not given simply for their own enlightment, and that the Spirit was not given to them simply for their own comfort. These gifts were given to them to be brought to the whole world.