September 2021

John 1:1-9

St Peter by Candlelight hangs in Cartwright Hall Gallery in Lister Park. If you haven’t been, the Gallery is well worth a visit. Or, you can check out this painting on

Godfried Schalken (1643-1706) painted it around 1700-6. Schalken trained with the Dutch masters who liked to play with the effects of light and dark in their work. He came to England after the coronation of William of Orange and produced lots of  paintings of the English court.

Dr Phillippa Flock tells us that this painting is typical with its candlelight in a darkened room. St Peter is recognised by the keys he is carrying following Jesus commission to him as the rock upon which the Church is built. Many believe that he holds the keys to the  big, shiny, ‘pearly gates’.

When you see the painting, you’ll notice that Schalken paints Peter as a common man, not in the shiny robes and ‘bling’ of a pope as was the earlier tradition. It hangs at one end of a long gallery. What I noticed as I walked towards it from a distance away was how it was the flame that draws your attention. Peter, in shadow with a faint red reflected glow on his face, can barely be seen until you get much closer.

He’s turning his head as if he’s just heard something (a still, small voice perhaps?) and he holds the large keys very securely in his right hand. He does not look like a great and powerful man, just an ordinary one going about his business, But oh, what business!

I was moved by the painting and went back to have another look on my monthly writing day with Gillian, a fellow Christian and writer. Contemplating the painting and what its possible meanings were (there is always more than one perspective and your response could be very different to mine. That’s OK!) I started to write. Here is the poem that emerged:

Master of shade and light

Schalken paints Peter.

No shiny Saint, just

an ordinary one

pulled constantly

left and right.

Walk towards him and

it’s not Peter you see.

It’s the light, shining

through darkness as

always, from the beginning.

Darkness cannot

overcome it.

Peter stands, keys to the

Kingdom of Light

in his right hand.

Seeing how huge are

The Keys

How wide must be

The Door!



Information about St Peter by Candlelight taken from: Dr Phillippa Flock 19/08/2021) and from information sheet beside painting in Cartwright Hall Gallery, Bradford Museums, Lister Park. (Free entry)