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Excited masses of people crowd the inside an elaborate church for a candle lighting ceremony

A tall, ornate shrine rises up in the center of an elaborate church with circular stone walls. Around the shrine, crowds of hundreds of people including members of religious clergy and people dressed in varying traditional middle eastern garb, gather on all sides. They fill the space, standing shoulder to shoulder, leaning out of balconies in the walls, or hanging onto pillars in order to see. A group emerging from inside the right side of the shrine are carrying lit candles, and holding them out to others to light their candles. Many people look on in astonishment, while others holding weapons attempt to direct the crowd.

Gallery Text

Hunt, a founding member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and a painter of religious subjects, made four trips to the Holy Land. This painting represents the annual “miracle of the sacred fire” at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Denounced as a fraud for centuries, the event continued to attract thousands of pilgrims, who eagerly awaited the rekindling of the flame over Christ’s purported tomb. Hunt found the scene, with its crush of bodies, to be distasteful and heretical, but was keen to capture its “dramatic, historic, and picturesque” qualities. When the painting was exhibited in London in 1899, he was obliged to provide a key to the complex array of figures. The flame, borne by a priest to the right of the shrine, is barely visible. An English woman at the lower right, protecting her children from the spectacle, serves as a surrogate for the curious viewer and a contrast to the expectant pilgrim family in the foreground.

Identification and Creation

Object Number
William Holman Hunt, British (London, England 1827 - 1910 London, England)
The Miracle of the Sacred Fire, Church of the Holy Sepulchre
Other Titles
Alternate Title: The Miracle of the Sacred Fire, Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem / The Miracle of the Holy Fire
Work Type
Creation Place: Europe, United Kingdom
Persistent Link


Level 2, Room 2120, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, The Lure of the East
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Physical Descriptions

Mixture of oil and resin on canvas
92.1 x 125.7 cm (36 1/4 x 49 1/2 in.)
framed: 114.5 x 148.3 x 7 cm (45 1/16 x 58 3/8 x 2 3/4 in.)
Inscriptions and Marks
  • inscription: Per Melissa Katz, Conservation, written on UL panel of the blind stretcher: The picture was relined by Mr Reeve May 1906/Varnished with amber varnish diluted with rectified/Turpentine./Henceforth let(not less than 30 years) let another coat of the same be used if necessary./The picture should always be under glass & pasted in behind./by direction of W. Holman Hunt. Written sideways at the center of the right stretcher bar: Painting not to be taken out of frame. Written across left stretcher bar, just below center, partially obscured: was not/taken/of frame.


Recorded Ownership History
From the artist to his wife Edith Holman Hunt, 1901, bequest; to her son Hilary at her death, 1931, sold; to Grenville L. Winthrop [via Martin Birnbaum], 1936, gift; to the Fogg Art Museum, 1942.

Acquisition and Rights

Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Grenville L. Winthrop, Class of 1886
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art


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Publication History

  • I. H. Donaldson, "Picture Frames", Journal of the Society of Arts (June 2 1899), XLVII, pp. 595-610, pp. 597-598
  • [Catalogue of the Twelfth Summer Exhibition], exh. cat., New Gallery (London, England, 1899), pp. 19-21
  • [Unidentfied article], The Spectator (April 29, 1899), p. 611, p. 611
  • [Unidentified article], Journal of the Society of Arts (June 2 1899), 47, pp. 597-598, pp. 597-598
  • [Unidentified article], Athenaeum (May 6 1899), p. 568, p. 568
  • [Unidentified article], The Illustrated London News (May 6 1899), 114, p. 649, p. 649
  • [Unidentified article], The London Times (April 22 1899), p. 4, p. 4
  • [Unidentified article], Saturday Review (April 29, 1899), 87, p. 523, p. 523
  • [Unidentified article], Magazine of Art (June 1899), p. 344, p. 344
  • [Unidentified article], The Academy (May 6, 1899), p. 510, p. 510
  • William Holman Hunt, The Miracle of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Sepulchre at Jerusalem, Painted by W. Holman Hunt, brochure (London, 1899), pp. 1-12
  • William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (New York, NY and London, England, 1905-1906), vol. II, pp. 5-6, 380-382, 385-386, repr. facing p. 385
  • Sir William B. Richmond, Catalogue of an exhibition of the collected works of W. Holman Hunt, exh. cat., Leicester Galleries and Ernest, Brown & Phillips (London, England, 1906), p. 11
  • [Reproduction only], [Reproduction only?], Sphere, (April 15 1911)., p. 58
  • Charles Rowley, Fifty Years of Work without Wages (Laborare est Orare), Hodder and Stoughton (London, England and New York, NY, 1911), p. 146
  • William Holman Hunt, Pre-Raphaelitism and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (London, 1913), vol. II, pp. 5-6, 316-317, 318, 322-323, 421-433, repr.
  • Edward Clodd, Memories, Chapman and Hall (London, 1916), p. 199
  • D. Banner, "Holman Hunt and Pre-Raphaelitism", Nineteenth Century (October 1927), CII, pp. 546-557, pp. 554-555
  • Joseph McCabe, Edward Clodd, John Lane (London, 1932), p. 193
  • Francis Lawrance Bickley, The Pre-Raphaelite Comedy (London, England, 1932), p. 243
  • Alfred Charles Gissing, "The Sacred Fire: Holman Hunt's Picture", The Times [London] (London, April 25 1935), pp. 15-16, pp. 15-16, repr.
  • Alfred Charles Gissing, William Holman Hunt, A Biography (London, England, 1936), pp. 205-216, ill opp. p. 214
  • William Gaunt, The Pre-Raphaelite Tragedy, J. Cape (London, England, 1942), p. 228
  • Paintings and Drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1946), no. 52, pps. 55-57
  • Diana Holman-Hunt, My Grandmothers and I, H. Hamilton (London, 1960), pp. 118-119
  • Samuel J. Wagstaff Jr., "Some Notes on Holman Hunt and the Lady of Shalott", Bulletin [Wadsworth Atheneum] (Hartford, CT, summer 1962), Fifth Series, no. 11, pp. 1-21, p. 20
  • Diana Holman-Hunt, My Grandfather, His Wives and Loves, H. Hamilton (London, 1969), p. 284 n. 2
  • Carol le Brun Danikian, "Early French Symbolists", Boston Herald American (January 28 1973)
  • Ann Philips, "When Women Were 'Blessed Damsels'", Cambridge Chronicle (January 25 1973)
  • Diane Johnson, The True History of the First Mrs. Meredith and Other Lesser Lives, William Heinemann, Ltd. (London, 1973), pp. 181, 219
  • Ira Horowitz, "The Picture Frame, 1848-1892: The Pre-Raphaelites, Whistler, Paris" (1974), p. 53
  • George P. Landow, William Holman Hunt and Typological Symbolism, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, England, 1979), repr. p. 54; text pp. 54-59
  • George P. Landow, "Shadows Cast by 'The Light of the World': William Holman Hunt's Religious Paintings, 1893-1905", The Art Bulletin (September 1983), 65, pp. 471-484, pp. 477-478, repr.
  • Katharine A. Lochnan, "The Walker Journals: Reminiscences of John Lavery and William Holman Hunt", RACAR, revue d'art canadienne (1983), IX, pp. 57-63, p. 61
  • Jeremy Maas, Holman Hunt and the Light of the World, Scolar Press (London, England, 1984), repr. in b/w p. 101; text p. 100 ff.
  • Lynn Roberts, "Victorian Picture Frames 1850-1890" (1984), pp. 51, 163 n. 27
  • Marc Rolnik, "Hunt's Pictorial Unity, 1870-1905", Ladies of Shalott: A Victorian Masterpiece and its Contents, Brown University Department of Art (Providence RI, 1985), repr. b/w fig. 27, p. 40 and text
  • Marcia R. Pointon, "The Artist as Ethnographer: Holman Hunt and the Holy Land", Pre-Raphaelites Re-viewed (Manchester, 1989), pp. 22-44, pp. 26-27, 28-29, repr., 39-40
  • Marcia R. Pointon, ed., Pre-Raphaelites Re-Viewed, Manchester University Press (Paris, France, 1989), repr. in b/w p. 28-29; text pp. 26, 30, 33, 38, 39, 44.
  • Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990), p. 94, color plate; pp. 111, 165, repr. b/w cat. no. 86
  • Bishop Auxentios of Photiki, The Paschal Fire in Jerusalem, St. John Chrysostom Press (Berkeley, CA, 1993), repr. in red monochrome on cover
  • Henry R. Harrington, "English Travelers and the Oriental Crowd: Kinglake, Curzon, and the Miracle of the Holy Fire", Harvard Library Bulletin (Cambridge, MA, Summer 1994), vol. V, no. 2, pp. 73 ff; repr. in b/w p. 74
  • Melissa Katz, "William Holman Hunt's Materials and Technique: A Study in Primary Sources Based on the Miracle of the Sacred Fire Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem" (thesis (certificate in conservation), Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, 1994), Unpublished, pp. 1-56 passim
  • Melissa Katz, "William Holman Hunt and the 'Pre-Raphaelite Technique: reprints of a symposium. Symposium held at University of Leiden, the Netherlands, June 26-29 1995.", Historical Painting Techniques, Materials, and Studio Practice, ed. Arie Wallert, Erma Hermens and Maria Peek, Getty Conservation Institute (Marina del Rey, CA, 1995), pp. 158-165, detail of IR repr. p. 163
  • Dr. Judith Bronkhurst, "Holman Hunt's Picture Frames, Sculpture, and Applied Art", Re-framing the Pre-Raphaelites: Historical and Theoretical Essays, ed. Ellen Harding, Scolar Press (Aldershot, England, 1996), pp. 231-251, p. 237
  • Erika Mayr-Oehring, ed., The Orient: Austrian Painting between 1848 and 1914, Residenzgalerie Salzburg (Salzburg, Germany, 1997), p. 85
  • Melissa Katz, "Holman Hunt on Himself: Textual Evidence in Aid of Technical Analysis", Looking Through Paintings, ed. Erma Hermens (Leiden, 1998), pp. 415-433, pp. 423-424, repr.; p. 442, n. 5
  • Tim Barringer, Reading the Pre-Raphaelites, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT and London, England, 1998), repr. in b/w pp. 126 - 127
  • Chikashi Kitazaki and Mina Oya, ed., Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art (Ueno, 2002), pp. 100-101, cat. #17, color repr.
  • Tatjana Jukic-Greguric, Zazor, Nadzor, Svidanje, Filozofskoga fakulteta Sveucilista u Zagrebu (Zagreb, 2002), p. 205; repr. in color p. 351 as pl. 15
  • Stephan Wolohojian, ed., A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Yale University Press (U.S.) (New York, 2003), no. 176, pp. 396-398, repr. in color
  • Christopher Riopelle, Harvard's Winthrop Collection: Nineteenth-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, exh. cat., National Gallery Company Limited (London, 2003), p. 17, cat. 4, ill.
  • Stephan Wolohojian, Ingres, Burne-Jones, Whistler, Renoir... La Collection Grenville L. Winthrop, exh. cat., Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon and Réunion des Musées Nationaux (Paris, France, 2003), no. 176, pp. 408-410, repr. in color
  • Erika Mayr-Oehring and Elke Doppler, Orientalische Reise: Malerei und Exotik im Späten 19. Jahrhundert, exh. cat., Wien Museum (Hermesvilla, Vienna, 2003), p. 88; repr. p. 89 as abb. 11
  • Dr. Judith Bronkhurst, William Holman Hunt: A Catalogue Raisonné, Yale University Press (New Haven CT and London, 2006), no. 151, pp. 275-279, repr. in color; p. 50, under 1893, 94, 97, and 98
  • Nicholas Tromans, ed., The Lure of the East: British Orientalist Painting, exh. cat., Tate Gallery Publishing Limited (London, 2008), pp. 56, 164; repr. in color on p. 164 as fig. 140
  • Sadiah Qureshi and Adelene Buckland, ed., Time Travelers, University of Chicago Press (Chicago; London, 2020), pp. 162-164; repr. as fig. 8.3 on p. 163
  • Camran Mani and Cecilia Zhou, ed., A Collection of Perspectives: Ho Family Student Guides at the Harvard Art Museums, Harvard Art Museums (Cambridge, 2023), pp. 40-41, repr. p. 41

Exhibition History

  • Twelfth Summer Exhibition, New Gallery, London, 04/24/1899 - 08/07/1899
  • Twenty-Ninth Autumn Exhibition of Modern Pictures in Oil and Water-Color, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Liverpool, 09/04/1899 - 01/06/1900
  • Exhibition of the Collected Works of W. Holman Hunt, O.M., D.C.L., Leicester Galleries, London, 10/06/1906 - 11/17/1906
  • The Collected Works of W. Holman Hunt, O.M., D.C.L., Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester, 12/03/1906 - 01/27/1907
  • Collective Exhibition of the Art of W. Holman Hunt, O.M., D.C.L., Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Liverpool, 02/02/1907 - 03/02/1907
  • Fifty-First Autumn Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, Liverpool, 10/20/1923 - 01/05/1924
  • Unidentified Exhibition, Athenaeum Club, 1936, Athenaeum Club, London, 01/01/1936 - 12/31/1936
  • Paintings and Drawings of the Pre-Raphaelites and their Circle, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/08/1946 - 06/01/1946
  • Pre-Raphaelite and Early French Symbolist Art in the Fogg Collections, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 01/16/1973 - 02/25/1973
  • Master Paintings from the Fogg Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/13/1977 - 08/31/1977
  • The Pre-Raphaelites: Selections from the Permanent Collection, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 06/04/1980 - 07/15/1980
  • Between Reality and Dreams: Nineteenth Century British and French Art from the Winthrop Collection of the Fogg Art Museum, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, 09/14/2002 - 12/08/2002
  • A Private Passion: 19th-Century Paintings and Drawings from the Grenville L. Winthrop Collection, Harvard University, Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, Lyon, 03/15/2003 - 05/26/2003; National Gallery, London, 06/25/2003 - 09/14/2003; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 10/23/2003 - 01/25/2004
  • For Students of Art and Lovers of Beauty: Highlights from the Collection of Grenville L. Winthrop, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/16/2004
  • 32Q: 2120 19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/16/2014 - 01/01/2050

Subjects and Contexts

  • Google Art Project

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Verification Level

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