Friday, December 18, 2015

In the Picture: The children of Bethlehem

Massacre of the Innocents
Léon Cogniet 1794-1880
Musee des Beaux Arts, Rennes

Read: Matthew 2.16
When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.

The pictures of the Massacre of the Innocents which we saw yesterday and the day before focus on the gory brutality of the event. This picture, by the Parisian painter Léon Cogniet, portrays its emotional force. It is as if the mother and child hiding behind the wall are  begging us not to draw attention to them. We can see why. In the background a woman carrying two children runs headlong down some stairs, chased by a soldier. It seems unlikely they will escape but perhaps the child we see will go unnoticed. His mother has her hand over his mouth to stop him making a noise. He is looking at us, confused and frightened.

The story of this terrible massacre highlights the price that is often paid by children caught up in the crossfire of adult conflicts, and the mother and child in Cogniet’s picture could be any of the refugees we have seen this year fleeing across the Mediterranean in flimsy boats. Will we save them, this picture asks, or will we allow them to die?

  • Can you recall times in your childhood when you were unable to understand what was happening around you? Can you remember how that felt?
  • Look at the children you see around you today? What might they be having to deal with in their lives?

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