This icon of Pentecost is adorned by a large blue vault which represents the realms of heavenly glory. Above the arch grow trees which symbolize the garden of paradise. The Spirit of the Living God, depicted as a dove, descends from the heavens, and enters earthly realms to rest over Mary who is speaking with the apostles. Beneath her veil is the typical Syriac head cloth to hold the hair in place. Lively tongues of fire, another symbol of the Spirit, overshadow the apostles.
To the right and left of Mary is an intense concentration of red to suggest the fullness of the divine life gifted to her by the Holy Spirit. Her presence is not mentioned in Acts, but the artist imagined Mary as “the mother of the infant Church” in this Pentecost event – the oldest known in Christian art.
The 6 th century Rabbula Gospel Book is a rich and lasting Syriac-Maronite treasure for the Christian world. These paintings invite the viewer to encounter the God of Mystery-Presence in Jesus Christ. They are prayer and contemplation transformed into art which influenced the Byzantine and Roman Churches. Yet this tradition is not a fossil of the centuries but an living inspiration for contemporary Church art.