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St. John the Baptist

St John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels and the Qur'an. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River. John is regarded as a prophet in Christianity, Islam, the Baha'i Faith and Mandaeism. He is a patron saint of many places worldwide including Jordan, San Juan and Puerto Rico.

Most biblical scholars agree that John baptized Jesus at "Bethany beyond the Jordan", by wading into the water with Jesus from the eastern bank. John the Baptist is also mentioned by Jewish historian Josephus, in Aramaic Matthew, in the Pseudo-Clementine literature, and in the Qur'an. Accounts of John in the New Testament appear compatible with the account in Josephus. There are no other historical accounts of John the Baptist from around the period of his lifetime.

John anticipated a messianic figure who would be greater than himself, and, in the New Testament, Jesus is the one whose coming John foretold. Christians commonly refer to John as the precursor or forerunner of Jesus, since John announces Jesus' coming. John is also identified with the prophet Elijah. Some of Jesus' early followers had previously been followers of John. Some scholars have further speculated that Jesus was himself a disciple of John for some period of time, but this view is disputed.

Biblical references

Old Testament prophecy

Christians believe that John the Baptist had a specific role ordained by God as forerunner or precursor of Jesus, who was the foretold Messiah. The New Testament Gospels speak of this role. In Luke 1:17 the role of John is referred to as being "to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord." In Luke 1:76 as "...thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways" and in Luke 1:77 as being "To give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the remission of their sins."

There are several passages within the Old Testament which are interpreted by Christians as being prophetic of John the Baptist in this role. These include a passage in the Book of Malachi 3:1 that refers to a prophet who would prepare the way of the Lord:

"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts. — Malachi 3:1

and also at the end of the next chapter in Malachi 4:5-6 where it says,

"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse."

The Jews of Jesus' day expected Elijah to come before the Messiah; indeed, some modern Jews continue to await Elijah's coming as well, as in the Cup of Elijah the Prophet in the Passover Seder. This is why the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 17:10, 'Why then say the scribes that Elias must first come?.' The disciples are then told by Jesus that Elijah came in the person of John the Baptist,

"Jesus replied, "To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist". — Matthew 17:11-13

These passages are applied to John in the Synoptic Gospels. The Gospel of John indicates that John the Baptist denied this,

"Now this was John's testimony when the Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, "I am not the Christ." They asked him, "Then who are you? Are you Elijah?" He said, "I am not." "Are you the Prophet?" He answered, "No." — John 1:19-21

Life in the New Testament

Gospel narrative

All four canonical Gospels record John the Baptist's ministry, as does the non-canonical Gospel of the Hebrews. They depict him as proclaiming Christ's arrival. In the Synoptic Gospels (Mark, Matthew, and Luke), Jesus is baptized by John.

The Gospel of Luke includes an account of John's infancy, introducing him as the son of Zechariah, an old man, and his wife Elizabeth, who was barren. According to this account, the birth of John was foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, while Zachariah was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. Since Zachariah is described as a priest of the course of Abijah and his wife, Elizabeth, as one of the daughters of Aaron, this would make John a descendant of Aaron on both his father's and mother's side.

There is no mention of a family relationship between John and Jesus in the other Gospels, and the scholar Raymond E. Brown has described it as "of dubious historicity". Geza Vermes has called it "artificial and undoubtedly Luke's creation". Conversely, John Calvin, Albert Barnes Adam Clarke, John Gill, and John Wesley amongst many other have affirmed this as divine truth and found no problem with its historicity. On the basis of the account in Luke, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas.

Zachariah had lost his speech at the behest and prophecy of the angel Gabriel, and it was restored on the occasion of Zachariah naming John.

The many similarities between the accounts of the birth of John and that of Samuel in the Old Testament have led scholars to suggest that the Gospel of Luke story of the birth of John, and of the annunciation and birth of Jesus, are modeled on that of Samuel.


All four canonical gospels relate John's preaching and baptism in the River Jordan. Most notably he is the one who recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and baptizes him. The baptism marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry. The Gospels of Mark, Matthew and (most clearly) Luke relate that Jesus came from Galilee to John in Judea and was baptized by him, whereupon the Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice from Heaven told him he was God's Son. The Gospel of John does not record the baptism directly, but only by John's description afterward (John 1:32-33). John also introduces Jesus to his disciples as the "Lamb of God" (John 1:29-36).

Considered by Christians to be without sin, Jesus nevertheless received John's baptism, which was for the repentance of sins (Mark 1:4). This is addressed in the Gospel of Matthew's account, which portrays John's refusal to baptize Jesus, saying, "I need to be baptized by you." Jesus persuades John to baptize him nonetheless (Matthew 3:13-15).

The Gospel of John reports that Jesus' disciples were baptizing and that a debate broke out between some of the disciples of John and another Jew about purification. In this debate John argued that Jesus "must become greater," while he (John) "must become less" (Vulgate: illum oportet crescere me autem minui).

The Gospel of John then points out that Jesus' disciples were baptizing more people than John (John 4:2). Later, the Gospel relates that Jesus regarded John as "a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light" (John 5:35). The Book of Acts portrays the disciples of John as eventually merging into the followers of Jesus (Acts 18:24-19:6), a development not reported by the Gospels except for the early case of Andrew, Simon Peter's brother (John 1:35-42).


In the Gospel accounts of John's death, Herod has John imprisoned for denouncing his incestuous marriage, and later executes John by beheading. John condemned Herod for marrying Herodias (who was not only his brother Philip's former wife but also Herod's niece) in violation of Old Testament Law. Later Herodias's daughter Salome (who was both Herod's grand-niece and stepdaughter) dances before Herod, who offers her a favour in return. Herodias tells her to ask for the head of John the Baptist, which is delivered to her on a plate (Mark 6:14-29).

The first-century Jewish historian Josephus gives a slightly different account in his Antiquities of the Jews. Josephus writes that Herod had John arrested because John had so many followers that Herod feared they might begin a rebellion. Herod later had him executed (Ant. 18.116-118).

An account of John the Baptist is found in all extant manuscripts of the Jewish Antiquities (book 18, chapter 5, 2) by Flavius Josephus (37–100):

"Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away of some sins , but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure to him.

As with other passages in Josephus relating to Christian themes, concern remains over whether the passage was part of Josephus's original text or instead a later addition - it can be dated back no further than the early 3rd century when it is quoted by Origen in Contra Celsum. According to this passage, the execution of John was blamed for a defeat Herod suffered c. 36 CE. Divergences between the passage's presentation and the Biblical accounts of John include baptism for those whose souls have already been "purified beforehand by righteousness" is for purification of the body, not general repentance of sin (Mark 1:4). Biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan differentiates between Josephus's account of John and Jesus like this: "John had a monopoly, but Jesus had a franchise." To get baptized, Crossan writes, you went only to John; to stop the movement one only needed to stop John (therefore his movement ended with his death). Jesus invited all to come and see how he and his companions had already accepted the Government of God, entered it and were living it. Such a communal praxis was not just for himself, but could survive without him, unlike John's movement.


The burial-place of John the Baptist was at Sebaste in Samaria, and mention is made of his relics being honored there around the middle of the 4th century. The historians Rufinus and Theodoretus record that the shrine was desecrated under Julian the Apostate around 362, the bones being partly burned. A portion of the rescued relics were carried to Jerusalem, then to Alexandria, where on May 27, 395, they were laid in the basilica that was newly dedicated to the Forerunner on the former site of the temple of Serapis. The tomb at Sebaste continued, nevertheless, to be visited by pious pilgrims, and St. Jerome bears witness to miracles being worked there.

What became of the head of John the Baptist is difficult to determine. Nicephorus and Symeon Metaphrastes say that Herodias had it buried in the fortress of Machaerus (in accordance with Josephus). Other writers say that it was interred in Herod's palace at Jerusalem; there it was found during the reign of Constantine I, and thence secretly taken to Emesa, in Phoenicia, where it was concealed, the place remaining unknown for years, until it was manifested by revelation in 453. However, the decapitation cloth of St. John is kept at the Aachen Cathedral. The Coptic Christian Orthodox Church also claim to hold the relics of St. John the Baptist. These are to be found in a monastery in Lower Egypt between Cairo and Alexandria. It is possible, with permission from the monks, to see the original tomb where the remains were found. An obscure and surprising claim relates to the town of Halifax in West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, where the Baptist's head appears on the official coat-of-arms. A legend first recorded in the late 16th century and reported in William Camden's Britannia accounts for the town's place-name, as 'halig' (holy) and 'fax' (face), by stating that the first religious settlers of the district brought the 'face' of John the Baptist with them.

Several different locations claim to possess the severed head of John the Baptist. Among them: Umayyad Mosque in Damascus; San Silvestro in Capite in Rome; and the Residenz Museum in Munich, Germany (official residence of the Wittelsbach rulers of Bavaria from 1385 to 1918). Other heads, were once said to be held by the Knights Templar at Amiens Cathedral in France (brought home by Wallon de Sarton from the Fourth Crusade in Constantinople), at Antioch in Turkey (fate uncertain), and the parish church at Tenterden in Kent, where it was preserved up until the Reformation.

The saint's right hand, with which he baptised Jesus, is claimed to be in: the Serbian Orthodox Cetinje monastery in Montenegro; Topkapi Palace in Istanbul; and also in the Romanian skete of the Forerunner on Mount Athos. The saint's left hand is allegedly preserved in the Armenian Apostolic Church of St. John at Chinsurah, West Bengal, where each year on "Chinsurah Day" in January it blesses the Armenians of Calcutta. A crypt and relics said to be John's and mentioned in 11th and 16th century manuscripts, were discovered in 1969 during restoration of the Church of St. Macarius at the Monastery of Saint Macarius the Great in Scetes, Egypt; Additional relics are claimed to reside in Gandzasar Monastery's Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in Nagorno Karabakh;

In 2010, bones were discovered in the ruins of a Bulgarian church and two years later, after DNA and radio carbon testing proved the bones belonged to a Middle Eastern man who lived in the first century CE, scientists said that the remains could conceivably have belonged to John the Baptist. The remains include six human bones: a knucklebone from the right hand, a tooth, part of a cranium, a rib, and an ulna, or forearm bone.

Religious views


Early Jewish Christian sects

Among the early Judaistic Christian groups the Ebionites held that John, along with Jesus and James the Just—all of whom they revered—were vegetarians. Epiphanius of Salamis records that this group had amended their Gospel of Matthew, known today as the Gospel of the Ebionites, to change where John eats "locusts" to read "honey cakes" or "manna".

Eastern Orthodox Church

The Eastern Orthodox faithful believe that John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, thus serving as a bridge between that period of revelation and the New Covenant. They also teach that, following his death, John descended into Hades and there once more preached that Jesus the Messiah was coming, so he was the Forerunner of Christ in death as he had been in life. According to Sacred Tradition, John the Baptist appears at the time of death to those who have not heard the Gospel of Christ, and preaches the Good News to them, that all may have the opportunity to be saved. Orthodox churches will often have an icon of St. John the Baptist in a place of honor on the iconostasis, and he is frequently mentioned during the Divine Services. Every Tuesday throughout the year is dedicated to his memory.

The Eastern Orthodox Church remembers Saint John the Forerunner on six separate feast days, listed here in order in which they occur during the church year (which begins on September 1):

September 23 — Conception of St. John the Forerunner

January 7 — The Synaxis of St. John the Forerunner. This is his main feast day, immediately after Theophany on January 6 (January 7 also commemorates the transfer of the relic of the right hand of John the Baptist from Antioch to Constantinople in 956)

February 24 — First and Second Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner

May 25 — Third Finding of the Head of St. John the Forerunner

June 24 — Nativity of St. John the Forerunner

August 29 — The Beheading of St. John the Forerunner

In addition to the above, September 5 is the commemoration of Zechariah and Elisabeth, St. John's parents. The Russian Orthodox Church observes October 12 as the Transfer of the Right Hand of the Forerunner from Malta to Gatchina (1799).

Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church commemorates St. John the Baptist on two feast days:

June 24 – Nativity of St. John the Baptist

August 29 – Beheading of St. John the Baptist

Some Catholics have held to a belief that John the Baptist never sinned, though this has never been a point of doctrine and is not binding in belief upon any adherent as is the sinlessness of Mary. In her Treatise of Prayer, Saint Catherine of Siena includes a brief altercation with the Devil regarding her fight due to Satan attempting to lure her with vanity and flattery. Speaking in the first person, Saint Catherine of Siena responds to the Devil with the following words:

...humiliation of yourself, and you answered the Devil with these words: 'Wretch that I am! John the Baptist never sinned and was sanctified in his mother's womb. And I have committed so many sins...

—Catherine of Siena, , A Treatise of Prayer, 1370.

Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich mentioned in her mystical visions that Saint John the Baptist was pure, innocent and spotless from the womb of Saint Elizabeth and has never uttered a single lie in his earthy life. According to Emmerich's alleged visions received from Jesus Christ, Saint John the Baptist was the following:

... He sees, he knows, he speaks only Jesus…. In the desert, blameless and pure as a babe in the mother's womb, he comes forth from his solitude innocent and spotless as a child at the mother's breast. 'He is pure as an angel,' I heard the Lord (Jesus Christ) say to the Apostles. 'Never has impurity entered into his mouth, still less has an untruth or any other sin issued from it...

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that modern revelation confirms the biblical account of John and also makes known additional events in his ministry. According to this belief, John was "ordained by the angel of God" when he was 8 days old "to overthrow the kingdom of the Jews" and to prepare a people for the Lord. Mormons also believe that "he was baptized while yet in his childhood."

The LDS Church teaches that John the Baptist appeared on the banks of the Susquehanna River near Harmony Township, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania as a resurrected being to Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery on May 15, 1829, and ordained them to the Aaronic Priesthood. According to LDS doctrine, John's ministry has operated in three dispensations: he was the last of the prophets under the law of Moses; he was the first of the New Testament prophets; and he was sent to confer the Aaronic Priesthood in our day, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Mormons believe John's ministry was foretold by two prophets whose teachings are included in the Book of Mormon: Lehi and his son Nephi).

Unification church

The Unification Church teaches that God intended that John help Jesus during his public ministry in Judea. In particular, John should have done everything in his power to persuade the Jewish people that Jesus was the Messiah. He was to become Jesus' greatest disciple. John's failure to do so was the chief obstacle to the fulfillment of Jesus' mission.


John is also honored as a prophet in Islam as Yaḥyā ibn Zakarīyā (Arabic: يحيى بن زكريا‎), translated literally as "John, son of Zechariah". He is believed by Muslims to have been a witness to the word of God, and a prophet who would herald the coming of Jesus. His father Zechariah was also an Islamic prophet. Islamic tradition maintains that John was one of the prophets that Muhammad met on the night of the Mi'raj, his ascension through the Seven Heavens. It is said that he met John and Jesus in the second heaven, where Muhammad greeted his two 'brothers' before ascending with archangel Gabriel to the third heaven. John's story was also told to the Abyssinian king during the Muslim refugees' Migration to Abyssinia. According to the Qur'an, John was one on whom God sent peace on the day that he was born and the day that he died.


An early twentieth century European source says that John's name in Arabic, Yahya, was supposedly present in Arabia before the Qur'an was revealed. This claim, from an early 1900s European Orientalist source, is challenged by Islamic writers who cite and discuss with academics and modern day linguists like Professor Robert Hoberman and Dr. Geoffery Khan of the University of Cambridge "This study has shown conclusively that the names Yahya and John (Yuhanan or Yuhanna) are two entirely different names derived from two different roots." and from an exegetical standpoint "The verse at 19:7 which reads lam naj`al lahu min qablu samiyya may be interpreted in two ways: 1. Samiyy, means shabihan or mithlan, i.e., someone like him. The verse is interpreted to mean that the birth of Yahya was unlike the birth of others, as he was born to an aged father and a barren mother. 2. The name Yahya is unique, and no one prior to the birth of Yahya was ever given such a name by God, a point conveniently overlooked by the missionaries." The exegetes frequently connected the name with the meaning of "to quicken" or "to make alive" in reference to John's mother's barrenness, which was cured by God, as well as John's preaching, which, as Muslims believe, "made alive" the faith of Israel. The Qur'an accords the significance of John's name to the fact that it was a new name for mankind, in that no one previously had been named "John". Other scholars hold that John's name, which they state connects with the meaning of "He shall live", referred to his legacy, in that his memory will remain in the mind of the faithful for the generations to come.

John in the Qur'an

In the Qur'an, God frequently mentions Zechariah's continuous praying for the birth of a son. Zechariah's wife, mentioned in the New Testament as Elizabeth, was barren and therefore the birth of a child seemed impossible. As a gift from God, Zechariah was given a son by the name of "John", a name specially chosen for this child alone. In accordance with Zechariah's prayer, God made John and Jesus, who according to exegesis was born six months later, renew the message of God, which had been corrupted and lost by the Israelites. As the Qur'an says:

(His prayer was answered): "O Zakariya! We give thee good news of a son: His name shall be Yahya: on none by that name have We conferred distinction before."

He said: "O my Lord! How shall I have a son, when my wife is barren and I have grown quite decrepit from old age?"

He said: "So (it will be) thy Lord saith, 'that is easy for Me: I did indeed create thee before, when thou hadst been nothing!'"

(Zakariya) said: "O my Lord! give me a Sign." "Thy Sign," was the answer, "Shall be that thou shalt speak to no man for three nights."

—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), verse 7

John was exhorted to hold fast to the Scripture and was given wisdom by God while still a child. He was pure and devout, and walked well in the presence of God. He was dutiful towards his parents and he was not arrogant or rebellious. John's reading and understanding of the scriptures, when only a child, surpassed even that of the greatest scholars of the time. Muslim exegesis narrates that Jesus sent John out with twelve disciples, who preached the message before Jesus called his own disciples. The Qur'an says of John:

(To Zachariah's son came the command): "O John! take hold of the Book with might": and We gave him Wisdom even as a youth,

—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 12

John was a classical prophet, who was exalted high by God, for his bold denouncing of all things sinful. Furthermore, the Qur'an speaks of John's gentle pity and love for all creatures and his humble attitude towards life, for which he was granted the Purity of Life:

And piety (for all creatures) as from Us, and purity: He was devout,

And kind to his parents, and he was not overbearing or rebellious.

So Peace on him the day he was born, the day that he dies, and the day that he will be raised up to life (again)!

—Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam), ayah 13-15

John is also honored highly in Sufism as well as Islamic mysticism, primarily because of the Qur'an's description of John's chastity and kindness. Sufis have frequently applied commentaries on John's passages on the Qur'an, primarily concerning God-given gift of "Wisdom" which he acquired in youth as well as his parallels with Jesus. Although several phrases used to describe John and Jesus are virtually identical in the Qur'an, the manner in which they are expressed is different.

Baha'i view

There are numerous quotations in the writings of Baha'u'llah, Founder of the Baha'i Faith mentioning John the Baptist. He is regarded by Baha'is as a lesser Prophet. Baha'u'llah claimed that his Forerunner, the Bab, was the spiritual return of John the Baptist. In his letter to Pope Pius IX, Baha'u'llah wrote:

"O followers of the Son! We have once again sent John unto you, and He, verily, hath cried out in the wilderness of the Bayan: O peoples of the world! Cleanse your eyes! The Day whereon ye can behold the Promised One and attain unto Him hath drawn nigh! O followers of the Gospel! Prepare the way! The Day of the advent of the Glorious Lord is at hand! Make ready to enter the Kingdom. Thus hath it been ordained by God, He Who causeth the dawn to break."

However, Baha'is consider the Bab to be a greater Prophet (Manifestation of God) and thus possessed of a far greater station than John the Baptist.

Gnostic and anthroposophic views

In Gnosticism, John the Baptist was a "personification" of the Old Testament prophet Elijah. Elijah did not know the True God (as opposed to the Abrahamic God), and thus had to be reincarnated in Gnostic theology. As predicted by the Old Testament prophet Malachi, Elijah must "come first" to herald the coming of Jesus Christ. Modern anthroposophy concurs with the idea that the Baptist was a reincarnation of Elijah, (cf. Mark 9:11-13), Matthew 11:13-14, Luke 7:27 although the Gospel of John explicitly denies this (John 1:21).


John the Baptist plays a large part in some Mandaean writings, especially those dating from the Islamic period. They view John as the only true Messiah. The Mandaean scriptures state: "If the carpenter has joined together the god, who then has joined together the carpenter?"

In art

The beheading of St. John the Baptist is a standard theme in Christian art, in which John's head is often depicted on a platter, which represents the request of Herod's stepdaughter, Salome. He is also depicted as an ascetic wearing camel hair, with a staff and scroll inscribed Ecce Agnus Dei, or bearing a book or dish with a lamb on it. In Orthodox icons, he often has angel's wings, since Mark 1:2 describes him as a messenger.

The Baptism of Christ was one of the earliest scenes from the Life of Christ to be frequently depicted in Early Christian art, and John's tall thin, even gaunt, and bearded figure is already established by the 5th century. Only he and Jesus are consistently shown with long hair from Early Christian times, when the apostles generally have trim classical cuts; in fact John is more consistently depicted in this way than Jesus. In Byzantine art the composition of the Deesis came to be included in every Eastern Orthodox church, as remains the case to this day. Here John and the Theotokos (Mary) flank a Christ Pantocrator and intercede for humanity; in many ways this is the equivalent of Western Crucifixions on roods and elsewhere, where John the Evangelist takes the place of John the Baptist (except in the idiosyncratic Isenheim Altarpiece). John the Baptist is very often shown on altarpieces designed for churches dedicated to him, or where the donor patron was named for him or there was some other connection of patronage - John was the patron saint of Florence, among many other cities, which means he features among the supporting saints in many important works.

A number of narrative scenes from his life were often shown on the predella of altarpieces dedicated to John, and other settings, notably the large series in grisaille fresco in the Chiostro dello Scalzo (it), which was Andrea del Sarto's largest work, and the frescoed Life by Domenico Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel, both in Florence. There is another important fresco cycle by Filippo Lippi in Prato Cathedral. These include the typical scenes: the Annunciation to Zechariah, John's birth, his naming by his father, the Visitation, John's departure for the desert, his preaching in the desert, the Baptism of Christ, John before Herod, the dance of Salome, and his beheading.

His birth, which unlike the Nativity of Jesus allowed a relatively wealthy domestic interior to be shown, became increasingly popular as a subject in the late Middle Ages, with depictions by Jan van Eyck (?) in the Turin-Milan Hours and Ghirlandaio in the Tornabuoni Chapel being among the best known. His execution, a Church feast-day, was often shown, and by the 15th century scenes such as the dance of Salome became popular, sometimes, as in an engraving by Israhel van Meckenem, the interest of the artist is clearly in showing the life of Herod's court, given contemporary dress, as much as the martyrdom of the saint. Salome bearing John's head on a platter equally became a subject for the Northern Renaissance taste for images of glamorous but dangerous women (Delilah, Judith and others), and was often painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder and engraved by the Little Masters. These images remained popular into the Baroque, with Carlo Dolci painting at least three versions. John preaching, in a landscape setting, was a popular subject in Dutch art from Pieter Brueghel the Elder and his successors.

As a child (of varying age), he is sometimes shown from the 15th century in family scenes from the life of Christ such as the Presentation of Christ, the Marriage of the Virgin and the Holy Kinship. Leonardo da Vinci's versions of the Virgin of the Rocks were influential in establishing a Renaissance fashion for variations on the Madonna and Child that included John, probably intended to depict the cousin's reunion in Egypt, when after Jesus' Flight to Egypt John was believed to have been carried to join him by an angel. Raphael in particular painted many compositions of the subject, such as the Alba Madonna, La belle jardiniere, Aldobrandini Madonna, Madonna della seggiola, Madonna dell'Impannata, which were among his best known works. John was also often shown by himself as an older child or adolescent, usually already wearing his distinctive dress and carrying a long thin wooden cross - another theme influenced by Leonardo, whose equivocal composition, reintroducing the camel-skin dress, was developed by Raphael Titian and Guido Reni among many others. Often he is accompanied by a lamb, especially in the many Early Netherlandish paintings which needed this attribute as he wore normal clothes. Caravaggio painted an especially large number of works including John, from at least five largely nude youths attributed to him, to three late works on his death - the great Execution in Malta, and two sombre Salomes with his head, one in Madrid, and one in London.

Amiens cathedral, which holds one of the alleged heads of the Baptist, has a biographical sequence in polychrome relief, dating from the 16th century. This stresses the execution and the disposal of the saint's remains.

The death of John remained a popular subject throughout the Baroque period.

A remarkable Pre-Raphaelite portrayal is Christ in the House of His Parents by John Everett Millais. Here the Baptist is shown as a child, wearing a loin covering of animal skins, hurrying to bring a bowl of water to soothe the injured hand of Jesus. Artistic interest enjoyed a considerable revival at the end of the 19th century with Symbolist painters such as Gustave Moreau and Puvis de Chavannes (National Gallery, London). Oscar Wilde's play Salome was illustrated by Aubrey Beardsley, giving rise to some of his most memorable images.

In poetry

The Italian Renaissance poet Lucrezia Tornabuoni chose John the Baptist as one of biblical figures on which she wrote poetry.

In music

This Is the Record of John, by English Tudor composer Orlando Gibbons is a well-known part-setting of the Gospel of John for solo voice, choir and organ or viol accompaniment.

In film and television

John the Baptist has appeared in a number of screen adaptations of the life of Jesus. Actors who have played John include Robert Ryan in King of Kings (1961), Mario Socrate in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964), Charlton Heston in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), David Haskell in Godspell (1973), Michael York in Jesus of Nazareth (1977), and Andre Gregory in The Last Temptation of Christ (1988).


As a patron saint

Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Jordan, his beheading is said to have taken place in Machaerus in central Jordan.

Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Puerto Rico, and its capital city San Juan bears his name. In 1521, the island was given its formal name "San Juan Bautista de Puerto Rico", following the usual custom of christening the town with both its formal name and the name which Christopher Columbus had originally given the island, honouring John the Baptist. The indistinct use of "San Juan Bautista" and "Puerto Rico" for calling both the city and the island led to a reversal in practical use by most inhabitants due largely to a map-making error. Therefore by 1746 the name for the city (Puerto Rico) had become that of the entire island, while the name for the island (San Juan Bautista) had become the name for the city. The official motto for the island of Puerto Rico also references the saint, Joannes Est Nomen Eius (translated, "John is his name").

He is also a patron saint of French Canada, and Newfoundland. The Canadian cities of St. John's, Newfoundland (1497) and Saint John, New Brunswick (1604) were both named in his honor. In the UK Saint John the Baptist is the patron saint of Penzance, Cornwall. His feast day is June 24, celebrated in Quebec as the Fete Nationale du Quebec, and in Newfoundland as Discovery Day.

Also on the night of 23 June on to the 24, Saint John is celebrated as the patron saint of Porto, the second largest city in Portugal. An article from June 2004 in The Guardian, remarked that "Porto's Festa de Sao Joao is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country".

He is also patron of the Knights Hospitaller of Jerusalem, Malta, Florence, and Genoa, Italy. John is patron saint of Xewkija-Gozo, Malta, which remember him with a great feast on the Sunday nearest to 24 June.

Calamba City, Laguna; Calumpit, Bulacan; Lian, Batangas and San Juan City are among several places in the Philippines that venerate Saint John as their patron saint. A common feature of many Filipino fiestas in his honour is that revellers douse each other in water, alluding to his characteristic act of baptism. These celebrations, which are similar in form to Songkran and Holi, also serve as a playful respite from the intense tropical heat.

He also patron of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which covers the whole of South Carolina in the United States.

The Baptistines are the name given to a number of religious orders dedicated to the memory of John the Baptist.

Along with John the Evangelist, John the Baptist is claimed as a Patron Saint by the fraternal society of Free and Accepted Masons (better known as the Freemasons).


In many Mediterranean countries the summer solstice is dedicated to St. John. The associated ritual is very similar to midsummer celebrations in the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

See also: Fete St-Jean-Baptiste, Festival of San Juan, Saint Jonas Day, St John's Day (Estonia), Ivan Kupala Day, and Golowan

Locations, churches, and other establishments in his name

St. John the Baptist Primary School, Southampton,

Armenian Apostolic Monastery of Gandzasar, Nagorno Karabakh

Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, a 4th century Armenian monastery in the Taron province of historic Armenia that contained the relics of Saint John the Baptist (which were moved there from Caeserea)

Maronite Catholic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, Beit Mery, Lebanon

Romanian Skete Prodromos (the name is the Greek for "The Forerunner") on Mount Athos, holding relics believed to be of John the Baptist

St John's College of The University of Oxford, Oxford, England

San Juan del Rio, Queretaro, Mexico was founded on June 24, 1531.

Saint John, New Brunswick was named after the Saint John River which was named by Samuel de Champlain

Fete nationale du Quebec — also known as la St- Jean-Baptiste — is the provincial holiday of Quebec, celebrated on June 24 of every year

Prince Edward Island, a Canadian province, was originally called Ile de St-Jean or St. John's Island.

St. John's University located in Queens, New York; St. John's is the second largest Roman Catholic university in the United States.

Mission San Juan Bautista, one of the original 18th century missions in northern California.

The City of San Juan in Metro Manila, the Philippines. Also known by its formal name Sn Juan del Monte, the Pinaglabanan church is dedicated to this saint.

The City of Calamba in Laguna, the Philippines. Established in 1859. It was burned by the Japanese during World War II. It was reconstructed by Fr. Eliseo Dimaculangan. It was the christening site of Jose Rizal. The original baptismal font has been preserved and refurvished.

12th century cathedral in Kamień Pomorski (Poland) with a famous 17th century organ

St. John Ambulance and the Venerable Order of St. John.

Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of St. John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta (commonly referred to as the Sovereign Military Order of Malta)

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University and Saint John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN.

The city of Sveti Ivan Zelina and the village of Sveti Ivan Žabno in Croatia were named after John the Baptist. Both have churches dedicated to him.

Famous churches

St. John The Baptist Parish Church In Liliw Laguna Philippines

Two different Churches of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem, traditional place of his birth

Basilica of St. John Lateran

St. John the Baptist of Coventry

St. John the Baptist of Burford, a large parish church reflecting the wealth generated by the town's wool trade, and substantially completed in the 15th century.

The parish church adjoining Stokesay Castle, one of the very few constructed under the Commonwealth.

St. John the Baptist in St. John's, Newfoundland (Basilica-cathedral)

St. John the Baptist in St. John's, Newfoundland (Anglican Cathedral)

San Giovanni Battista of Cesena (cathedral)

San Giovanni Battista of Rimini (cathedral)

San Giovanni Battista Turin (cathedral)

Saint-Jean-Baptiste d'Audresselles

St. John's Cathedral of Valletta

Greek Orthodox Church of St John the Baptist Located on Ha-Notsrim street in the Christian Quarter, Old Jerusalem

Church of St. John the Baptist, Mudgee, New South Wales, Australia

St. John's (Episcopal) Church, Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the youngest signer of the United States Constitution is buried, Jonathan Dayton, and the 1769 wedding site of the parents of Elizabeth Ann Seton (first American Roman Catholic saint)

Chapel of St. John the Baptist (Capela de Sao Joao Baptista), 18th century, at the time an expensive chapel in Europe. It is in the Igreja de Sao Roque (Lisbon)

Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Warsaw, Poland. Coronation and Burial Site of Stanislaw August Poniatowski, last King of Poland.

Monastery of St John The Baptist Bigorski, Macedonia. Built in 1020, destroyed by the Turks in the 16th century and then rebuilt in 1743. Famous for its iconostasis.

Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Charleston, South Carolina

St John's Orthodox Church(Kadammanittapally) in Kadammanitta Kerala, India

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