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St. Augustine on the Walls

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Augustine and the boy with the sea shell

This picture describes events that only took place after Augustine left Italy.  However, the artist (who is Italian) suggests that they took place in Italy.  Augustine appears three times here, always wearing the robes of an Augustinian monk (of course, the Augustinian order didnít start until many centuries after Augustine's death).

On the left we see the famous story of Augustine and the seashell. When Augustine was writing his book The Trinity, he was trying to figure out the theology of Father-Son-Holy Spirit. He is supposed to have seen a small boy playing on the beach, trying to use a seashell to carry all of the water from the sea into a hole in the sand. Augustine reminded the boy that his task was impossible; the boy replied that it would be just as hard for Augustine to meld the three aspects of Christian divinity into one God. This inspired Augustine to think that the human mind cannot fully comprehend the mystery of the trinity and more than a seashell can contain the ocean.  The seashell is often depicted as a symbol of Augustine in Christian art, and Pope Benedict XVI has a seashell in his coat of arms, signifying his relationship to Augustine. On the right side of the picture, Augustine is shown giving his rule for religious life, which many priests and nuns still follow today.  The scene on the mountain seems to show to others in religious life; the location behind him looks a bit like San Gimignano and the church where the frescoes are. Although Augustine never mentions having been to San Gimignano, the town is very important to later Augustinians.

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Images are taken from: The Web Gallery of Art.  Quotations from St. Augustine's Confessions, translated by Maria Boulding, O.S.B., (Hyde Park, New York: New City Press) 1997.  Author: John Immerwahr, April 15, 2008.