Resurrection stems from resurrectio, the past participle of resurgere, a Latin word that means “to rise or appear again.” It goes back a long way. But myths about resurrected god-men go back even further. The ancient Greeks had Dionysus whose mother was mortal and whose father was Zeus. The Phrygians had Attis who died and was reborn. His cult first appeared around 1250 BCE in what is now Turkey, and later spread to Greece. The Egyptians had Osiris, a god of regeneration and rebirth, whose recorded worship goes back even further to 2400 BCE. The Book of Kings in the Hebrew Bible tells how God raised a young boy from the dead through Elijah’s intercession. Resurrection, it seems, is an enduring theme in the myths and sacred texts of western civilization.
For Christians, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is a defining moment that colors our understanding of theological concepts like sin, redemption, sacrifice, reconciliation, atonement, hope, the love of God, and more.The Very Rev. Dean Gary Hall, the head pastor at the Washington National Cathedral, summed up Christian doctrine nicely in his sermon for Easter Sunday when he observed that Jesus’ resurrection liberates believers from “the power of sin” and “the power of death.” http://www.nationalcathedral.org/worship/sermonTexts/grh20140419.shtml?utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Easter%20Message%202014%20(1)&utm_cont
Perhaps because it was difficult for medieval artists to depict abstractions like “liberation from sin” without adding snarling dragons to their stained glass, or more likely because they were operating under strict orders from local clerics, they stuck close to the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. The stained glass in most Gothic cathedrals typically illustrates the resurrection entirely on the basis of the four canonical gospels. Deviation from the text is rare, with at least one notable exception.
The Elder Biblical Window at Cologne Cathedral, installed around 1260, contains the outlier. One scene shows Jesus emerging triumphantly from the tomb, wearing a regal red robe, holding a multicolored pennant, and standing over two cowering guards (photo #2, below; click to enlarge). All four gospels mention trembling or frightened guards, but none says a thing about Jesus striking a victorious pose and planting a flag pole in one of the guard’s belly!
This idea of Christ as a victor over death and evil has its origins in the writings of some early Church Fathers who I suspect were influenced by passages in St. Paul’s letters. Apparently, the artistic tradition of “Christus Victor” had come into its own by the thirteenth century and we can see that it continued through the Renaissance and well into the modern period. The nineteenth century Resurrection Window at the Church of the Gesu on Marquette University’s campus in Milwaukee (photos #3 & 4, below) portrays a radiant Christ raising his right hand in blessing as he holds a white banner with a red cross in his left. Look closely at the inscriptions on Jesus’ garment. They appear to be the IHS monogram for Jesus that’s associated with the Society of Jesus, commonly called the Jesuits. Marquette is a Jesuit university.
Let’s turn now to the gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection by moving on to Chartres Cathedral. It has a large thirteenth century window dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection (photo #5, click to enlarge; read bottom to top, L to R).The window contains several scenes from Magdalene’s life based on scripture and stories in Jacob of Voragine’s Golden Legend. As a point of interest, you’ll find small images of a potter and water carrier at the window’s bottom. Potters and water carriers donated the window most likely because Magdalene was their patron. The connection might have come through Luke’s account of a woman, thought to be Magdalene, who used perfume from a jar and poured out her tears to wash Jesus’ feet.
The window’s central roundel (photo #6, below) pictures Magdalene’s role in the Resurrection. It appears to be loosely based on Mark’s and John’s gospels. In the bottom left quadrant, a perplexed Magdalene finds an angel instead of Jesus in the tomb. The angel declares, “He is risen.” In the bottom right quadrant, she appears to reach out to Jesus. He raises his right hand as if to stop her, illustrating the verse in John’s gospel that says, “Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father….” In the roundel’s top half, Mary goes to the disciples and announces, “I have seen the Lord.” Mark’s gospel reports that the skeptical disciples “would not believe it.” Since many details vary in the gospels’ resurrection narratives, it seems significant that they are unanimous in identifying Mary Magdalene, a woman, as the first witness to Jesus’ resurrection.
Photo #7 shows Mary Magdalene with the angel in a scene that appears in the larger Elder Biblical Window at Cologne Cathedral. It illustrates either the angel’s proclamation in Mark, “He has Risen,” or the question in Luke, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?”
We’ll end today’s post with two windows in the U.S. The Resurrection Window (photo #9, below) at Denver’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception is apparently based on Matthew’s gospel where Mary Magdalene, with long curly hair, and “the other Mary,” possibly James’ mother wearing a blue cloak in the image, visited the tomb at dawn as an angel rolled away the boulder from the entrance. An earthquake then caused the guards to tremble and “become like dead men.” The window dates, I think, to the early twentieth century.
The last window (photo #11) is found at Princeton Chapel. Executed in rich blues and reds that call to mind Chartres Cathedral’s vibrant thirteenth century glass, this resurrection window offers an imaginative scene in which the risen Christ presents the crucifixion wounds in his hands and feet for all to see, as Mary his mother, and John, the disciple he loved, stand on either side. It is a mid to late twentieth century composition.
Mike Klug, email@example.com, 4/20/14