St. John the Baptist is usually depicted young and dressed in rough skins. He often points towards heaven. His emblem is a lamb and he is the patron of tailors and farriers.
As we celebrate at the end of the year. the birthday of Christ so also we celebrate in the middle of the year. the birthday of John the Baptist. From Christmas the days become longer: from St. John's day the days become shorter. "He must increase", said the Baptist, "and I must decrease"
These two feats also coincide with the pagan festivals at nature's turn of the sap. Fires were lit at the solstices in honour of the sun. The Church symbolised St. John as "a burning and brilliant lamp", hence the custom of kindling bonfires on hilltops on June 24-a direct Christian link with the pagan past.
Everything known about John the Baptist comes from the gospels. But Isaiah and Jeremiah foretold the whole fantastic story in poetic terms: "The Lord hath called me by my name from the womb of my mothers"-Zachary was visited by the archangel. Gabriel, with God's
message that the son which his wife, Elizabeth, was to conceive. must be called John.
"He hath made my mouth like a sharp sword"-John's exhortation to penance was hardly received with enthusiasm.
"I sanctified thee and made thee a prophet unto the nations . . . Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee and whatever I shall command thee thou shalt speak"it was John who announced the coming of the Messiah.
St. Augustine and the doctors of the Church believed that the invisible presence of Christ at the visit Mary paid to her cousin. Elizabeth. gave the unborn John the gift of sanctifying grace even before his birth. Indeed because he was the herald and the harbinger of the greatest news the world has ever heard, it was right that he should be endowed with all virtue to an heroic degree.