Scala/Art Resource, NY

Equestrian or pedestrian? Blinded by a heavenly light while traveling to Damascus, the apostle Paul fell to the ground in anguish, according to the Acts of the Apostles. In “The Conversion of Paul,” by the Italian artist Caravaggio (c. 1570–1609), Paul’s horse rears in fright as Jesus descends from heaven to ask Paul, “Why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4). Three days later, the former persecutor of Christians regained his sight and proclaimed Jesus “Son of God” (Acts 9:20).

Schooled in a tradition that depicts great men on horseback, Caravaggio and other Renaissance masters consistently painted Paul falling from a horse—though the Bible does not specify how the apostle traveled to Damascus. In an informal survey, author Charles T. Dougherty finds that modern Catholics, raised in the presence of religious Renaissance art, believe that Paul fell off a horse during his conversion; Protestants, however, are more likely to adhere to the horseless biblical account.