On his way to Jerusalem Saul fell from his horse blinded by the light of Jesus’ appearance
Year mention: 1617
Saul falls from his horse
Not corresponding to Scriptures
Visual tradition/Artistic model vs. written Tradition/History

Painters provide Saul with a horse, which is very probable, but the Scriptures do not mention that he travelled on a horse

Molanus, Johannes
Nicolas Beatrizet, after Michelangelo Buonarroti, Conversion of Saul, from Michelangelo's fresco in the Pauline Chapel at the Vatican, ca. 1545–60
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, www.metmuseum.org

In book 2, chapter 19, Molanus discusses how one should deal with artworks depicting matters from unestablished textual traditions. Foremost is that no false stories are depicted, but in the case of artworks based on uncertain stories, propriety and probability should prevail in the judgement and above all the common opinion of the whole Church.
The fifth example of such an iconographic tradition surrounded by uncertainty in the Scriptures is whether Saul on his way to Damascus was riding a horse the moment he fell when he was blinded by the light of Christ. Molanus emphasises that the Scriptures do not mention any horse at all, however, he does approve of the pictorial custom of depicting Saul on a horse since it is very unlikely that he would have made his trip on foot.

“As he approached Damascus, Saul, breathing only threat, fell to the ground, as we read in Luke. The painters provide him with a horse. Indeed, it is hardly probable that Paul was on foot, when, after having asked the high priest for a warrant, he was on his way to Damascus so that, if he found any men or women of the Christian way there, he might take them, prisoner, to Jerusalem.”

“Saulus adhuc spirans minarum cum appronquaret Damasco cadit in terram, habet Lucas, pictores addunt ei equum. Non enim verisimile est peditem fuisse Saulum, quando commissione accepta a principibus sacerdotum, in Damascum iter faciebat, ut si quosibi inveniret Christianae viae viros ac mulieres, eos vinctos perduceret in Ierusalem.”

Quoted Authorities

Acts 9, 1-4

Conversion of Saul, horse, Jesus Christ, Saul

Date mention

Historical Location

Iconclass Number

Molanus, De historia sanctarum imaginum et picturarum (1617), book 2, ch. 19, 82

Molanus 1996, 177.

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