I wonder if you know where this work of art resides?
This is just one of many depictions of the Ascension of Jesus into heaven that exist throughout the world. They come in miniature format as well as in large frescoes. Jesus is usually represented in the center as he ascends into heaven. Below him are his mother, Mary and the gathered apostles piously gazing at his ascending body, saying goodbye while at the same time anticipating his return.
Some representations, especially those dating from the Middle Ages share a remarkable detail. In the place where Jesus’ feet last touched the earth, the artists have depicted Jesus’ right footprint or both footprints. Where does this custom come from and what does it mean?
According to the Scriptures and tradition, Jesus ascended into heaven from what is now known as the Mount of the Ascension in Jerusalem. Successive grand buildings have marked this site ever since Christianity was legalized by Emperor Constantine in 313 AD. Today, only a small chapel has survived the difficult and tumultuous history of this city. Nevertheless, one very important relic is still housed in the chapel: a large stone which is said to have the right footprint of Jesus on it.
Medieval pilgrims and crusaders brought the story of the miraculous footprint back to Europe and thus gave rise to the depiction of Jesus’ footprint(s) in paintings of the Ascension.
A priest friend recently made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Upon his return he spoke about the profoundly spiritual experience he had visiting all the Holy Sites. He found it very meaningful to connect with the physical reality of Jesus’ life on earth. One of the places he found most moving was the chapel of the Ascension. He described how he engaged in the ancient devotional practice and placed his right foot on the imprint of Jesus right foot. With his foot touching Jesus’ footprint my friend experienced a deep connection with Jesus and his mission. He described the footprint as a place where heaven and earth touch. Standing in Jesus footprint he very intentionally recommitted himself to continue walking in Jesus’ footsteps.
Not many of us are able to go to Jerusalem to literally connect with Jesus’ footprint. However, we have been given spiritual exercises and artistic renditions to help us do just the same. May the celebration of the feast of the Ascension renew in us a deep awareness of our own calling and strengthen our commitment to Jesus’ mission as we await His return.