Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

“Parable of the Great Banquet” – Liturgical Art?

August 24th, 2010, Promulgated by Bernie
(click on picture to see a larger image)

"The Great Banquet" by Cicely Mary Parker, 1935*

Cicely Mary Parker (1895-1973) is best known for her Flower Fairies books but she did paint other subjects, among them an unusual triptych for the Lady Chapel of her parish (Anglican) church of St. George near Croydon, England. “Unusual” because it is not, as far as I know, a subject often chosen by artists or patrons. It is a large painting illustrating a parable that Jesus told at a rather grand supper-party attended by people conscious of social status. The message of the parable is that just as it is easier to love those who love you, it is agreeable to throw a party for your friends who will repay your hospitality. He suggested the next party should be for people who could not repay the host: “the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind… You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:13-14). 

Parker used the townsfolk as her models for the painting. She placed her own mother in the picture and more than likely had the little children she taught in the Sunday school pose for her. Each of the characters illustrated may have had personal stories making them particularly appropriate for inclusion. All the figures look expectantly to Jesus. The gleaming white table cloth spread on a long table is, of course, suggestive of the last supper. In the right panel is shown St. George, after whom the church is named and, in the left panel, St. John the Baptist. 

I have some questions for you to ponder: Is this a liturgical work of art? Could it -should it– hang over the main altar of a church? Why or why not? 

Previous posts here and here related, somewhat, to these questions. 


Book suggestion: 

A Journey into Christian Art, Helen de Borchgrave, (Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 2000). 

*Picture source: Borchgrave, p. 192

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7 Responses to ““Parable of the Great Banquet” – Liturgical Art?”

  1. Gen says:

    I would sat that it’s religious, but not liturgical. It may very well deal with a Biblical story, a parable from the Gospels, but it seems to have fallen into the “whimsical” and “kitschy” category of art. It would be fine hanging on Grandma’s wall, but over the altar of sacrifice? I think there are other, more appropriate things that could be depicted.

  2. Mike says:


    When it comes to things like art and music I’m usually in over my head the moment I open my mouth and I suspect this time will be no exception. That said, I am of two minds as to whether this a liturgical work of art. The subject matter, what Revelation calls “the marriage supper of the Lamb,” is certainly our ultimate goal and one of the things the Mass should point us toward. The primary purpose of the Mass, however, is the worship of God through the representation of Jesus’ sacrifice on Calvary. That is why I believe that the most appropriate thing to have over the main altar is either a crucifix or a work of art portraying the crucifixion. I guess what I’m trying to say is, “Close, but no cigar.”

    I agree with Gen that the painting is certainly religious, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to call it whimsical. Seeing a biblical story portrayed by people in nearly contemporary dress does result in a bit of a jolt at first, but I suppose the same was true 400 years ago when Caravaggio first unveiled his Calling of St. Matthew.

  3. Bill B. says:

    There is a beautiful church (St. Mary in the Meadow) in Soest, Germany with the stained glass window (from the year 1500)behind the altar table depicting the Last Supper including a midievil style ham, beer and pumpernickle. The widows date back to when the church was built around. It took me aback; however, culture being what it is… The powers that be at the time didn’t remove it, just cultural art.
    Great countryside and city.

  4. Bill Benton says:

    Yes it is! With my own eyes. I guess when it was new, it was recent cultural art. Perhaps there was some infighting about it; however, I doubt too much because that is what they held dear and the bishop agreed.

  5. Mike says:

    Twelve Jewish men sitting down to a Passover Seder meal featuring … PORK???

    That little detail, all by itself, must have raised a few eyebrows.

  6. Bill Benton says:

    I was surprised when I saw it; however, I presumed it was in interpretation. The beer probably was a “ward off” of the bubonic playgue (sp?)

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