Inspired Through Art: The Rest on the Flight to Egypt— Caravaggio, 1597

Authored by Linus Meldrum in Issue #6.1 of The Catechetical Review

Journeying with the Holy Family

In the difficult journeys of human life, we must hope for a way to find consolation amid hardships. That means something different than a weekend away from the workplace or a summer vacation at the beach. The true rest we seek is that which is provided only from a source that transcends nature and suspends time and space, even if for a brief moment. That source is the supernatural grace of God.

In the earthly journey of Jesus, a particularly harsh event took place very early in life, which challenged Mary his mother and St. Joseph.

In 1597, Michelangelo da Merisi da Caravaggio, or simply Caravaggio, painted The Rest on the Flight to Egypt. Images that show events on the journey are non-canonical; the Scriptures do not recount specifics of the travels of the Holy Family prompted by Herod’s massacre of the Holy Innocents, the killing of those male children born near in time to the birth of Jesus. Matthew 2:14 simply recounts that they “..departed for Egypt.” In the Early Renaissance, apocryphal accounts appeared that told of an imagined setting with a variety of additional elements, like Joseph knocking down chestnuts, Mary breastfeeding Jesus, or date palms bending low to provide food for the travelers. Following the tradition for this type of image, we might expect some examples of something to eat in Caravaggio’s painting, but we see no nuts or fruit. Behind Mary, some shadowy brambles and thorns are a reminder of the harshness of the wilderness. However, in appreciation of God’s providence in nature, the artist has added something nutritious: the oak tree behind Mary contains a blooming array of mushrooms; but the subject of this image goes beyond food. Caravaggio took the story in a completely supernatural dimension by adding unique elements unlike any of his predecessors.

The rest of this online article is available for current subscribers.

Start your subscription today!

This article is from The Catechetical Review (Online Edition ISSN 2379-6324) and may be copied for catechetical purposes only. It may not be reprinted in another published work without the permission of The Catechetical Review by contacting

Articles from the Most Recent Issue

Editor’s Reflections: On Incarnational Coherence
By Dr. James Pauley
Free Beneath the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth is the place where tradition tells us the Angel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary. An altar stands in this grotto, inscribed with these words: “verbum caro hic factum est” (the Word became flesh here ). The Incarnation of God’s Son into human flesh is not a myth or fairy tale. It is an... Read more
Finding God in an Unexpected Place
By Sr. Carino Hodder, OP
Free When John Everett Millais’ Christ in the House of His Parents was first displayed at the Royal Academy, the public response was near-universal revulsion. At that time it bore no title but Zechariah 13:6: “And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then shall he answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my... Read more
Antiquum Ministerium: Instituting the Ministry of Catechist
By Monsignor John Pollard
On May 10, 2021, Pope Francis formally instituted the ministry of catechist with the apostolic letter Antiquum Ministerium , which he issued motu proprio , or on his own initiative and under his personal signature. An initial reaction to the formal institution of the role of catechist might be to wonder, “So what’s new?” The role of catechist has... Read more


Watch Tutorial Videos

We've put together several quick and easy tutorial videos to show you how to use this website.

Watch Now