The North Wall: The Four Gospels

  • The windows on the north wall represent the four gospel accounts in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John which are symbolized by the winged man, the lion, the ox, and the eagle, respectively.  These images are found in the Old and New Testaments and are referenced as the "four living creatures" of Revelation and Ezekiel. 

    " As I looked, a stormwind came from the North, a huge cloud with flashing fire (enveloped in brightness), from the midst of which (the midst of the fire) something gleamed like electrum.  Within it were figures resembling four living creatures that looked like this: their form was human, but each had four faces and four wings, and their legs went straight down; the soles of their feet were round. They sparkled with a gleam like burnished bronze. Their faces were like this: each of the four had the face of a man, but on the right side was the face of a lion, and on the left side the face of an ox, and finally each had the face of an eagle" (Ezekiel 1:4-10).
    “In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come’” (Revelation 4:6-8).
    “A virgin shall be with child, and give birth to a son and they shall call him Emmanuel” (Matthew 1:23).
    St. Matthew is traditionally represented by a winged man because his gospel account emphasizes the human nature of Christ through the Incarnation, and begins with an explanation of Jesus' human lineage. 

    It is a message to Christians to use their human gifts for the sake of the "Kingdom of Heaven," as Matthew calls it.

    “…Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare the way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness…” (Mark 1:2-3).
    St. Mark emphasized the kingship of Christ and is symbolized by the winged lion, a symbol of majesty and courage. His account begins with St. John the Baptist preaching "like a lion roaring," and is a triumphant announcement of the arrival of the Kingdom of God and our salvation from the moment of Jesus' birth. It is the shortest of the gospel accounts, and Jesus is depicted boldly as a "man of action."

    The lion here also represents Jesus, Himself, in the role of the King. He is the last king of the line of David, "the Lion (of the tribe) of Judah." And, it is symbolic of the Resurrection, because, according to ancient legend, lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, like Christ in the tomb.

    This calls Christians to be courageous in the proclamation of the Gospel in both word and deed.

    “The seeds on good ground are those who hear the word in a spirit of openness, retain it and bear much fruit through perseverance” (Luke 8:15).
    Traditionally, the ox has been understood across the ancient "known world" as a figure of sacrifice, service, and strength, because it was not only one of the more common beasts of burden available for a variety of reasons, but also one of the most common and best animals to offer for sacrifice.

    Thus, the use of the winged ox for St. Luke’s account symbolizes his emphasis on Jesus as "our great High Priest." (Hebrews 4:4) The account is a proclamation of the Good News that Christ has been sacrificed for all peoples, and that we are all given an opportunity to partake of His self-sacrifice by following his example of service. In his account, Luke places a premium on the virtues of patience in the face of adversity, and docility and obedience to the Will of God, beginning with the Nativity stories of St. John the Baptist and Jesus, Himself. This is the only gospel which contains canticles, or jubilant songs of praise of God, like Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).
    The ox is a call to Christians to be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.



    “I saw the spirit descend like a dove from the sky and it came to rest on Him” (John 1:32).
    St. John's account is represented as an eagle, symbolic of the soaring spirit of the Gospel and the grace of the Spirit that was always on Jesus.  John starts with an eternal overview of Jesus as the Logos of God in the Prologue. (Logos is a Greek word that translates, inexactly, as "Word", "Mind", "Thoughts", or "Rationale/Rationality.") This account is known for its "high" theology, because it focuses much more on Christ's divine nature than the other three (synoptic) gospels and explains core Christian doctrines, like the core of the doctrine of the Real Presence in the Eucharist. It is also known for Christ's continual focus on the Cross which He will bear and "the hour of salvation": Jesus, here, is very focused and explicit in His mission: He came to bring salvation to all, and proclaim the Kingdom of God. 

    This reminds us that Christians should place their hopes in eternity and focus on the Resurrection through the Cross.