brotherhood of the holy sepulchre

The Miracle of the Holy Fire by William Holman Hunt, 1892-1899

Hunt, a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a painter of religious subjects, made four trips to the Holy Land. This painting represents the annual “miracle of the sacred fire” at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Denounced as a fraud for centuries, the event continued to attract thousands of pilgrims, who eagerly awaited the rekindling of the flame over Christ’s purported tomb. Hunt found the scene, with its crush of bodies, to be distasteful and heretical, but was keen to capture its “dramatic, historic, and picturesque” qualities. When the painting was exhibited in London in 1899, he was obliged to provide a key to the complex array of figures. The flame, borne by a priest to the right of the shrine, is barely visible. An English woman at the lower right, protecting her children from the spectacle, serves as a surrogate for the curious viewer and a contrast to the expectant pilgrim family in the foreground.