Catholic Life


Holman Hunt Light of the world



The beginning of Advent, and we are called to be vigilant to watch and to be ready for the Lord of the house awaiting his return. A good image is William Hunt’s “The Light of the World”. It shows Christ arriving at a door at night. The picture is an allegory for Christ seeking entry at the door of the human heart. His way to the door is lit by a lantern, casting a soft light on the door to show that is overgrown with plants; it has not been opened in a while. The plants show that it is not only a late hour, but late in the year- they are dry, past harvest and ready to crumble as winter comes.

The colours show a warmth and gentleness, representing the deep love for us and the reason for his coming. Christ is crowned and robed, a symbol of his sovereign state. Christ the King ventures out into the darkness and the mess of brambles as he seeks to enter into our hearts. This King robed in majesty does not announce himself with fanfare but taps gently at the door requesting entry. Our humble King seeks conversion rather than our confinement to darkness.

The most striking symbol in this painting is the lantern which Christ holds in his left hand. It shows that Christ is the one that disperses darkness and illuminates the dead places in our hearts. On the ground we see fruit a symbol of our Original Sin, of our fall into the darkness of deception. Christ does not leave us out in the darkness but comes to us as our Light into the dead of night.

Finally, notice there is no handle on the door this is Hunt’s way of showing that the door (our heart) can only be opened from the inside, through a faithful response to Christ’s invitation.

Watching and waiting for his coming calls us to attentiveness encountering the Lord. Let us not be too busy and frantic as the season begins.