Feast Day : June 24 (birth) and August 29 (martyrdom)
Patronage: baptism; conversion; farriers; monastic life; tailors
Also known as: “the man sent from God”
John’s story is told in the Gospels. He was born to Zachary, a priest of the temple at Jerusalem, and his wife Elizabeth, a kinswoman of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both Zachary and Elizabeth were advanced in years—and Elizabeth was barren—when Gabriel the Archangel announced that a son, John, was to be born to them. John was born about six months before Jesus. Nothing of John’s early years is known. He probably was about 32 when he began his spiritual mission by withdrawing into the desert near Jordan to fast and pray. He wore only a garment made of camel’s hair tied with a leather girdle, and he survived on locusts and wild honey. He then started preaching, and his intensity appealed to many, despite his disheveled appearance He baptized people in the River Jordan as they confessed their sins. Many thought him to be the Messiah who was prophesied to come, but he said he was not: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7–8). When Jesus came to be baptized, the heavens split, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove, and a voice said, “Thou art my beloved Son, with thee I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Jesus later said there was no greater prophet than John. John ran afoul of King Herod Antipas (r. 4 B.C.–A.D. 39), the provincial governor under Emperor Tiberius Caesar of Rome. John criticized Herod’s private affairs, including his marriage to his niece, Herodias, who had been married to Herod’s half-brother, Philip. Herod imprisoned John in the fortress of Machaerus on the Dead Sea. John continued to preach from prison. Herodias despised him and plotted against him. On Herod’s birthday, Herodias’s 14-year-old daughter by Philip, Salome, pleased the king with her dancing. He swore an oath promising her anything in return. Coached by her mother, Salome answered that she wanted the head of John the Baptist brought to her on a platter. Herod had no choice but to comply, and John was beheaded. Salome accepted it and presented it to her mother. Jesus’ disciples removed the body to a tomb, and Jesus and his followers went into the desert to mourn John’s death. According to Patristic tradition, John was freed from original sin and sanctified in his mother’s womb. In art, John is depicted as an ascetic hermit, sometimes holding a lamb. He carries a staff that ends in a cross. His baptism of Jesus has been painted often.