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Comforting the troops

I’ve heard sermons about the Holy Spirit being our ‘Comforter’ (Paraclete) which mentions a king who rode behind his troops with a spear or something to goad them into battle…

I put this question to my Facebook friends:

Who was the General/King in a famous painting who rode horseback behind his soldiers with a lance, It’s titled something like ‘So-and-so comforts his troops’ ????

And got this from Murray:

1. William the Conqueror in the Bayeux Tapestry

2. Rowland: Just double checked the text of the tapestry and it turns out it wasn’t William, but Bishop Odo;


“Bishop Odo, holding a club, rallies the young troops”

See Fowke, Frank Rede, The Bayex Tapestry: A History and Description, (London: Bell and Sons, 1913), 128. <http://www.archive.org/details/bayeuxtapestryhi00fowk>

3. Rowland: I included the Latin in the above because I wanted to (1) illustrate where the notion of “comfort” in relation to the Tapestry came from; and (2) check whether there really a good linguistic connection here.

Rusty as my Latin is, my initial guess was that something a bit fishy is going on here and it turns out my suspicions were correct…

In Acts 9:31 where it speaks of the “comfort” of the Holy Spirit, the Latin Vulgate uses “consolatio” rather than the “conforto” of the Tapestry).

The Greek of Acts 9:31 uses a cognate of “paraclete” and, I have to say, although the meaning of “paraclete” is a thorny issue in Greek studies, I don’t get the sense that the Greek intends us to understand the Holy Spirit “driving us on” or anything of that sort.

Point being that it seems the appeal to the tapestry in support of the idea that the Holy Spirit “comforts” us in the same way a general (or bishop!) rallies troops in battle owes more to the similar spelling between “conforto” and “comfort” than to any credible linguistic association between the words – certainly it’s hard to draw a direct connection between the Latin “conforto” and the Greek “paraclete” EXCEPT by way of the English “comfort” – and that’s a very risky linguistic enterprise.

The upshot is that I’d want to be careful about the use of the Tapestry to illustrate the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer – if, indeed, that was what you had in mind.

4. Finally: here are a couple of images from the tapestry;

The broader scene: (Odo is at the extreme left)


And a detail of Odo with club (not lance!);


PS: Sorry for the overkill on this one – I just though it was interesting, and once I got started…

Another PS by way of clergy and warfare: did you know that Medieval bishops always used clubs in battle, as they weren’t allowed to spill blood. Hence the portrayal of Odo with club rather than lance.


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  1. I was also interested in this painting. I remember seeing it in an art or history book years ago and was surprised by the use of the word “comfort” in such a context. The painting I remember was not the Odo Tapestry. It was a much later style, closer to early national romanticism rather than the flat medieval style. The mounted figure definitely had a lance or sword which was being used to “encourage” the soldiers toward the battle.
    I have used this image in sermons, but have not seen the painting since my school days. I would love to know the proper title and artist!

    Posted by Hickman | February 9, 2011, 11:21 pm