Flagellation of Jesus

The series of Passion windows continue with the flagellation of Jesus. After finding Jesus guilty of blasphemy, the Jews send him to Pilate, the Roman prefect, for sentencing. The banderole at the top of the window explains the event, “Then therefore Pilate took Jesus and scourged him” (Matt. 27: 26; Mark 15:15, and John 19:1). Although the Sanhedrin controlled religious and secular affairs, they might not have been able to pass sentences of death. Scholars are undecided on this point. Only the Roman authority could order crucifixion. During the sentencing, Pilate presses Jesus about his claim to be the King of the Jews and the testimonies levied against him by the Jews. Unable to find him guilty, Pilate “washes his hands” of the matter and leaves the decision up to the crowd present in the praetorium, who answer resoundingly, “Crucify him, crucify him.” Before giving the victim up for crucifixion, Pilate has him scourged to confirm the sentence, as decreed by Roman law.
The window’s designer followed a traditional schema for the flagellation. None of the three Evangelists who record the scourging give details, but only note it in passing. The lack of a detailed textual account has allowed artists freedom in picturing the event. However, our artist, like most artists, relied on a standard schema. The window captures the moment when the soldiers first raise their weapons against Jesus, as no mark yet mars his body. On the left, a guard is about to hit him on the head with a bundle of reeds. The man’s muscular arm and gesture of raising the reeds high suggest that the blow will be a powerful one. On the right, another guard brandishes a flail, drawing it back so that it will unfurl fully—and forcefully—against Jesus’ body. Both men gaze upon the captive with faces full of anger and hatred. Seemingly unaware of his predicament, the prisoner stands relaxed against the column and calmly looks down upon the elderly man at his feet. Jesus’ pale face alone reveals his suffering. A dilapidated building stages the event; the city of Jerusalem appears in the distance to the right.
The addition of the kneeling man before Jesus is unique at St. John’s, for he is not mentioned in the Bible, nor usually included in flagellation scenes. The man’s advanced age and sword imply that he might be the leader of the men who torture Jesus. However, rather than overseeing his men, he falls in wonder before the victim; his open mouth indicates astonishment and the removal of his headdress—most likely the red cloth he holds in his hand—demonstrates respect. The man’s response echoes that of the centurion who, at the crucifixion, “having seen the earthquake, and the things that were done”, declared that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. One result of this coupling of Jesus and the centurion, if this is who he is, is a juxtaposition of those who believe in Christ as the Messiah and those who do not. On his knees in prayer, the centurion offers viewers a compelling role model for the Christian life.
The writing at the bottom of the window foretells another Passion event: the mocking of Christ, which took place immediately after the flagellation. The text says, "And the soldiers platting a crown of thorns put it upon his head.” (Matt. 27: 29) The words and the centurion expand the window’s composition beyond the central scene to point to later events in the Passion. The placement of the window in the nave also hints at future events: it is directly across from the crucifixion. The appearance of the Passion of Christ in five windows (agony in the garden, trial before the Sanhedrin, flagellation, crucifixion and resurrection) and the relief sculptures of the Stations of the Cross that line the nave below the windows make it a key theme at St. John’s and remind the visitor of the centrality of the Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection in salvation.