Many of you would have seen the picture of “The Praying Hands”, which is present in many Christian homes, but would almost certainly not have heard the moving story behind this popular picture. Here is the story.
THE STORY BEHIND THE PICTURE OF THE PRAYING HANDS
a family with eighteen children. Eighteen! In order merely to keep food
on the table for this mob, the father and head of the household, a
goldsmith by profession, worked almost eighteen hours a day at his trade
and any other paying chore he could find in the neighborhood.
Despite their seemingly hopeless condition, two of the elder children,
Albrecht and Albert, had a dream. They both wanted to pursue their
talent for art, but they knew full well that their father would never be
financially able to send either of them to Nuremberg to study at the
After many long discussions at night in their crowded bed, the two
boys finally worked out a pact. They would toss a coin. The loser would
go down into the nearby mines and, with his earnings, support his
brother while he attended the academy. Then, when that brother who won
the toss completed his studies, in four years, he would support the
other brother at the academy, either with sales of his artwork or,
if necessary, also by laboring in the mines.
They tossed a coin on a Sunday morning after church. Albrecht Durer
won the toss and went off to Nuremberg.
Albert went down into the dangerous mines and, for the next four
years, financed his brother, whose work at the academy was almost an
immediate sensation. Albrecht’s etchings, his woodcuts, and his oils
were far better than those of most of his professors, and by the time he
graduated, he was beginning to earn considerable fees for his
When the young artist returned to his village, the Durer family held
a festive dinner on their lawn to celebrate Albrecht’s triumphant
homecoming. After a long and memorable meal, punctuated with music and laughter, Albrecht rose from his honored position at the head of the
table to drink a toast to his beloved brother for the years of sacrifice
that had enabled Albrecht to fulfill his ambition. His closing words
were, “And now, Albert, blessed brother of mine, now it is your turn.
Now you can go to Nuremberg to pursue your dream, and I will take care
All heads turned in eager expectation to the far end of the table where
Albert sat, tears streaming down his pale face, shaking his lowered head
from side to side while he sobbed and repeated, over and over, “No ..no
Finally, Albert rose and wiped the tears from his cheeks. He glanced
down the long table at the faces he loved, and then, holding his hands
close to his right cheek, he said softly, “No, brother. I cannot go to
Nuremberg. It is too late for me. Look … look what four years in the
mines have done to my hands! The bones in every finger have been smashed
at least once, and lately I have been suffering from arthritis so badly
in my right hand that I cannot even hold a glass to return your toast,
much less make delicate lines on parchment or canvas with a pen or a
brush. No, brother …for me it is too late.”
More than 450 years have passed. By now, Albrecht Durer’s hundreds of
masterful portraits, pen and silver-point sketches, watercolors,
charcoals, woodcuts, and copper engravings hang in every great
museum in the world, but the odds are great that you, like most people,
are familiar with only one of Albrecht Durer’s works. More than merely
being familiar with it, you very well may have a reproduction hanging in
your home or office.
One day, to pay homage to Albert for all that he had sacrificed,
Albrecht Durer painstakingly drew his brother’s abused hands with palms
together and thin fingers stretched skyward. He called his powerful
drawing simply “Hands,” but the entire world almost immediately opened
their hearts to his great masterpiece and renamed his tribute of love
“The Praying Hands.”
The next time you see a copy of that touching creation, take a second
look. Let it be your reminder, if you still need one, that no one – no
one – – ever makes it alone!
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