|Luca Signorelli, Doubting Thomas|
Loreto, Basilica of the Santa Casa
But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them. Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and
said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”
When I was a child I always waited with some excitement for the Sunday after Easter when this quotation from John is read as part of the Gospel of the day. For a child, or even for an adult, there is a certain “yuck factor” about the scene. And we know how kids (or adults) are drawn to that “yuck factor”. The idea of putting your hand into someone’s side is, well, yucky.
from the Ramsay Psalter
English, ca. 1275-1300
St. Paul in Lavanttal, Stiftbibliothek
But, of course, this episode was not included in John’s Gospel to give us the creeps. In the first place it underscores the bodily reality of the Resurrection. One of the things about ghosts is that you cannot touch them. As the ghost of M. de Ste. Colombe’s wife tells him in a touching scene in the film Tous les matins du monde (1991) “You would only touch air.” So, the Risen Jesus’ invitation to Thomas underscores the reality of the Resurrection. He can be touched, His wounds can be probed with a finger or a hand. He is real, flesh and blood, NOT a ghost or an apparition resulting from passionate longing, like Mme de Ste. Colombe.
Secondly, the Gospel underlines the future of the church, already known by the time John wrote his Gospel at the end of the first century. It would be a church filled with those “who have not seen and have believed”. And, that’s all of us during these nineteen hundred years.
During about six hundred of those nineteen hundred years numerous artists have imagined this moment. The images they have produced tend to fall into two separate iconographic types: (1) the moment of touch and (2) Thomas’ confession of belief.
Thomas’ “Confession of Belief” seems to have been the earliest type to develop. Generally, in this type, the figures are shown standing, but with Thomas either kneeling or beginning to kneel, so that he appears lower in the composition than Jesus. Two fine examples from the Renaissance are by Duccio and the large bronze sculpture by Verrocchio.
|Duccio, Confession of Thomas|
Siena, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo
|Verrocchio, Confession of Thomas|
|James Tissot, Confession of Thomas|
New York, Brooklyn Museum
|Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas|
Potsdam, Sans Souci Museum
|Rubens, Doubting Thomas|
Antwerp, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten
|Rembrandt, Doubting Thomas|
Moscow, Pushkin Museum