This late medieval Anglo-Norman Bible depicts the Calming of the Storm at the top of the page and the healing of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1–20) below. The image of the Calming underscores the subtle intervention of the incarnate God-made-man.
The illumination can be read as a ‘moving picture’ (in Art History, a ‘synoptic narrative’), the story progressing from left to right. First, at left, Christ enters the boat in blue and red garments accompanied by two disciples. Christ is barefoot and bent forward, climbing into the vessel. His head is graced by a cruciform halo, underscoring his divinity.
The first scene blends fluidly into the second, united by the boat occupying the bulk of the composition. Within the boat (in the second scene) Christ appears again, sleeping in the midst of his disciples. The ship is reminiscent of William the Conqueror’s eleventh-century kingly vessel the Mora (seen in the Bayeux Tapestry), built in the style of Viking longships, with striped sails and lion-like carved figureheads. Christ reclines at the stern surrounded by eight men, three of whom struggle to control the vessel. The large sail strains against the wind, ropes billowing as waves jostle below. Two sailors look towards the storm; the rest look to Jesus for deliverance. Jesus rests with his eyes closed and his arm folded under his head.
Blinded by fear, the disciples consider their Saviour indifferent (Mark 4:38–40). One disciple attempts to wake Jesus. It seems that Jesus slumbers on, but look closely: Christ intervenes, extending his left hand toward the waves below, in a gesture of benediction. The gentle hand of the God-man calms the turbulent seas.
Jesus hears the pleas of his terrified disciples and acts. He is not indifferent. When it may seem the Messiah sleeps, in fact, God speaks: ‘Peace, be still’ (Mark 4:39).
23 And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. 24And behold, there arose a great storm on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. 25And they went and woke him, saying, “Save, Lord; we are perishing.” 26And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O men of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm. 27And the men marveled, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even winds and sea obey him?”
35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” 36And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. 37And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. 38But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” 39And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. 40He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” 41And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”
22 One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, 23and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. 24And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. 25He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?”