St John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher in the Jordan Valley at the start of the Christian era. He preached the coming of a savior in fulfillment of a prophesied end of days, and baptized people in preparation for it.
John the Baptist is revered in both Christianity and Islam. He is considered a historical figure (a real person). The Biblical Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell his stories. Some stories claim he baptized Jesus. The two contemporaries are often depicted in art as children together.
The Feast of St John celebrates his traditional birth on June 24. St John’s Eve celebrations combine pagan and Christian traditions in bonfire parties that are popular in parts of the Latin world.
The Meaning of St John the Baptist
Ancient writings were not meant to be taken literally. They were written as poetry. Like Zen stories, their power lies in interpreting their meaning in the context of your own life.
The core meaning of veneration of St John the Baptist is that good things are coming, but you have to let go of the past.
His association with running water is interesting. You don’t have to be baptized in a body of water. Water pouring from a cup or a hand is enough. Many ancient human philosophies recognize the importance of water (Yemayá and Oshun, Buddha learning the ways of the river). Our planet Earth is mostly water. Our bodies are mostly water. Amniotic fluid is basically your mother’s version of sea water because life comes from the sea. Water is the one thing we really can’t live without.
Ever notice how good you feel after taking a shower or bath? Indigenous runners in the Americas used to rest at waterfalls to refresh themselves.
Scientists say that all the water on Earth came from outer space through asteroid impacts. So both water and the Holy Spirit come from the heavens. How did the ancients know?
The idea of washing away sin through baptism is a letting go ritual that makes sense today. You let go of your past in order to create a better future. It’s therapy.
San Juan Puerto Rico is Named for St John
St John the Baptist in Spanish is “San Juan Bautista.” First the island and now the capital of Puerto Rico are named for him.
In the Colonial Period, Puerto Rico was the first reliable water stop on the passage from Africa. Columbus named and claimed the island on his second voyage in 1493. In doing so, he was recognizing the importance of water and implying that good things were coming to the island. (Please don’t tell us what a bad guy Columbus was. We know.)
The Last Da Vinci
One of the most unusual representations of Saint John the Baptist is Leonardo Da Vinci’s last painting. He painted it between 1513 and 1516. It’s currently in the Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
The image shows a smiling Saint John dressed rough as he is described in stories, holding a cross as a staff, and pointing up towards it. He has that same enigmatic smile as the Mona Lisa. He looks very modern like someone you could meet on the street. One of his eyes looks a little offset. That is probably part of the enigmatic effect.