Resurrection

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.

1. Nave, Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), Germany

1. Nave, Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), Germany

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!

Resurrected Christ, Elder Biblical Window, Cologne Cathedral, Germany

2. Resurrected Christ, Elder Biblical Window, Cologne Cathedral, Germany

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.

Church of the Gesu, Milwaukee, WI

3. Church of the Gesu, Milwaukee, WI

Resurrected Christ, Church of the Gesu, Milwaukee, WI

4. Resurrected Christ, Church of the Gesu, Milwaukee, WI

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.

Mary Magdalene Window, Chartres Cathedral, France

5. Mary Magdalene Window, Chartres Cathedral, France

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.

Resurrection Roundel, Mary Magdalene Window, Chartres Cathedral, France

6. Resurrection Roundel, Mary Magdalene Window, Chartres Cathedral, France

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?”

7. Mary Magdalene and the Angel, Elder Biblical Window, Cologne Cathedral, Germany

7. Mary Magdalene and the Angel, Elder Biblical Window, Cologne Cathedral, Germany

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.

7. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Denver, CO

8. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Denver, CO

Resurrection Window, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Denver, CO

9. Resurrection Window, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Denver, CO

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.

Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

10. Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

Resurrected Christ, Princeton University Chapel, New Jersey

11. Resurrected Christ, Princeton University Chapel, New Jersey

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, 4/20/14

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Sacred Symbols in the Easter Vigil

On the eve of Easter, Christians throughout the world attend an Easter Vigil that starts after nightfall and continues to midnight. The Easter Vigil liturgy is rich in symbols that transport worshipers back through the centuries to the sources of humanity’s first encounters with the sacred. The service typically begins outdoors with the congregation gathered around a cauldron or fire pit. The priest or minister blesses the fire and lights a paschal candle inscribed with a cross, the year, and alpha and omega, the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet.   An assistant then uses one of the coals from the fire with which to burn incense.

During the service, lectors read stories from the book of Genesis about the creation. They read about Abraham and Isaac, and the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt.  As the lectors conclude their readings from the Hebrew Bible, church bells and hand bells ring as the congregation sings Glory to God in the highest to mark Christ’s coming with the transition from Old Testament to New. A cantor then sings the tender Litany of Saints, naming Teresa, Francis and many others on a roster that starts with John the Baptist. The service continues with a baptism ceremony in which a cleric welcomes initiates to the faith by sprinkling (or dousing) them with water and anointing them with oil. The sense of solidarity with those who came before and continuity from past to present is powerful.

1. Lights in the Firmament, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC

1. Lights in the Firmament, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC

2. Let Us Make Man in Our Image, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC

2. Let Us Make Man in Our Image, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, NYC

Today, we’ll focus on the Easter Vigil theme of “Creation” (photos #1 & 2, above) as the first expression of God’s love for humanity.  I had hoped to write also about the story of Abraham and Isaac and how it “typifies” Christ in Christian thought about God’s plan for salvation (see “Types” post), but in the interest of joining my family to color Easter eggs I think it’s best to limit our scope today.  We’ll take a close look at photos of stained glass and sculpture at Cologne Cathedral in Germany and St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York City.

3. Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), Koln, Germany

3. Kolner Dom (Cologne Cathedral), Koln, Germany

12. St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York City

4. St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York City

The Medieval understanding of the created world drew heavily on Greek thinking. Plato and Aristotle wrote of four elements—fire, water, earth, and air—that comprised the world as they know it. These “classical elements,” along with the seven-day creation story in Genesis, have provided inspiration for artists throughout the centuries.  But it is probably less obvious that the Easter Vigil liturgy serves as a reminder that the four classical elements carry meaning for Christians today.

Fire, source of warmth and light, is a symbol for many concepts including Christ as the “light of salvation.” Photo #5 depicts an allegorical figure of Fire (Ignus in Latin) holding two flaming torches in modern stained glass at Cologne Cathedral. One of four sculpted corbels in the corners of the narthex at St. Thomas Church (photo #6, click to enlarge) shows flames surrounding a stylized scorpion (or dragon?) who evidently can withstand the heat! The sculpture at St. Thomas dates to the 1920’s.

Fire (In, Cologne Cathedral, Germany

5. Fire (Ignis), Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Fire and Scorpion, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

6. Fire and Scorpion, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

Water symbolically provides the renewing and cleansing power of Baptism (photos # 7, below). The stained glass at Cologne shows an allegorical figure for Water (Aqua, on the right) holding Neptune’s trident and pouring water from a large jug. The Water corbel at St. Thomas shows porpoises frolicking in the water (photo #8).

7. Earth (Terra) and Water (Aqua), Cologne Cathedral, Germany

7. Earth (Terra) and Water (Aqua), Cologne Cathedral, Germany

Water, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

8. Water, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

The earth produces oil, symbolizing the planet’s abundance and God’s sustaining love. Cologne Cathedral’s “Mother Earth” (Terra, photo #7 above, left) holds large sheaves of wheat in her hands. St. Thomas’ Earth corbel portrays a rabbit peering out of a wheat field (photo #9, below), a visual nod to the Norse fertility goddess Eostre whose name is the old English root of “Easter.”

9. Earth, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

9. Earth, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

The air lifts the aromatic smoke of incense heavenward, symbolizing both sacrifice and prayer offered in response to God’s love. Air (Aer) at Cologne Cathedral holds an eagle in each hand (photo #10, below). The Air sculpture at St. Thomas shows birds in flight (photo #11). In combination, the symbols of the four classical elements woven into the Easter Vigil liturgy subtly imply that our ancestors had a sincere sense of the sacred–as they contemplated the significance of fire, water, earth, and air–long before the first Holy Week.

Air (Aer), Cologne Cathedral, Germany

10. Air (Aer), Cologne Cathedral, Germany

11. Air, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

11. Air, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, (4/19/14)

 

Iconography 101: The Colors of the Cross

With Good Friday, our focus turns to the cross, the Roman instrument of Jesus Christ’s execution. As I’ve thought about “the cross” prior to writing this post, I realize that it is hard to imagine a more prevalent symbol of the Christian faith. The cross is embedded in the structure of the medieval Gothic cathedrals in Europe and many sacred structures in the United States and elsewhere (photos #1 and 2, below). Ministers and priests of many Christian denominations wear a cross as a matter of course during worship services. People wear them as jewelry on necklaces and earrings.

1. Crruciform Roof Line, Chartres Cathedral, France

1. Cruciform Roof Line, Chartres Cathedral, France

Floor Plan, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

2. Floor Plan, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

But the cross in our culture goes even deeper in ways we may overlook. A cathedral in Boston (photo #3, below) and at least two colleges in the U.S. are named for the “Holy Cross.”  Hundreds of churches of many Christian denominations—Assembly of God, Baptist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic—bear the name Calvary, the Latinized name for Golgotha where the crucifixion took place. Towns and cities in nine states are named Calvary!  The cross, specifically the tee-shaped Latin cross or references to it, seem to be everywhere.

North Transept, Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston

3. North Transept, Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston, MA

Over the past two millennia, the cross has held different meanings for Christians. To the persecuted faithful of the second and third centuries, it was perhaps more a sign of the times than a symbol. Historians report that early Christians shied away from the cross as subject matter for art and inscriptions. The cross eventually entered circulation as an oft-used symbol in the fourth century. That’s when the Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity after he reportedly saw a cross in the sky inscribed with the words, “By this sign, you shall conquer.”

In the Middle Ages, theologians and artists used representations of the cross symbolically to express certain beliefs.  One was the idea that Christ’s bloody sacrifice renewed a fallen world and came with the promise of eternal life. The stained glass crucifixion scene (photo #4, below) in the Passion Lancet at Chartres Cathedral uses color as an iconographic device to communicate this view of scripture. We see Mary and John standing on either side of the cross looking sad as Jesus “gives up the ghost.” On close inspection, you’ll see that the cross is colored green with a red border. Green signifies new life and red indicates sacrifice. Together, the red and green on this and other medieval crosses comprise the colors we associate with Christmas. So even at the “most wonderful time of the year,” green and red serve as reminders of the cross.

Crucifixion, Chartres Cathedral, France

4.Crucifixion Scene in Passion Lancet, Chartres Cathedral, France

Next, we’ll turn our attention to a unique, enameled, twelfth century reliquary cross (photo #5, click to enlarge) with origins in eastern Belgium. It’s not clear who originally possessed this fascinating cross, but it belongs now to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore (which has an outstanding medieval art collection). It was made it to hold a small piece of the “True Cross,” on which Jesus was crucified, in a small cavity at its base. Look for the + opening.

Belgian Reliquary Cross, Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore

5. Belgian (Mosan Style) Reliquary Cross, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

This cross also symbolically expresses medieval thinking about Christ. As with the window at Chartres, the cross is green and red. Note, however, that the artist added blue circles with small white crosses to the red border. These may symbolize the cross as “the way” to heaven since blue often marks the spiritual realm in medieval art. You’ll also see a half moon and red sun with eight points to the left and right of Jesus’ head. The sun and moon have multiple meanings in Christian iconography and it’s not clear what the designer intended here. The celestial bodies might refer to the notion that God is with us throughout the day and time, or since the sun and moon also represent the start and end of the day they could allude to the verse in the Book of Revelation that says, “I am the Alpha and Omega.” The two Greek letters sometimes show up on medieval crosses to convey the belief that God is with us at the beginning and end. A round loaf of bread and a chalice placed under Christ’s feet recall the Eucharist.

Next, observe the four female figures with Latin captions at the ends of the cross’ beams. They represent Hope (Spes), Faith (Fides), Obedience (Obedientia), and Innocence (Inocentia), four virtues associated with Christ. Virtue was a common theme for artists in the Gothic age. Sculpted figures representing the virtues often appear on medieval cathedrals (photo #6).

Fortitude, from St. Anselm's 10 Virtues, Chartres Cathedral, France

6. Fortitude, One of the Ten Virtues according to St. Anselm, Chartres Cathedral, France

It is significant in at least two symbolic senses that the reliquary cross connects Christ with “virtue.” The Greek philosopher, Plato, had a profound influence on medieval thinking about the purpose of life, and he wrote extensively about virtue in the Republic. Medieval theologians, wrote Emile Male in The Gothic Image, regarded virtue as “man’s goal.” Thus, the presence of the four virtues on the reliquary cross may imply that Jesus attained his purpose in life as a human being, along with completing his cosmic mission as the Son of God. Secondly, the four virtues may suggest that Jesus prevailed in his own inner struggle with virtue and vice that Prudentius wrote about in his fifth century allegorical poem, Psychomachia. Then again, the artist’s intent might simply have been to say that Jesus exhibited these four virtues in the final days of his life as an example for others.

Apse & Altar, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Davenport, IA

7. Apse & Altar, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Davenport, IA

Let’s take a quick look now at two other images of the cross that appear in cathedrals in Boston and Davenport, Iowa. At first glance, a nineteenth century window (photo #8, below) at the Holy Cross Cathedral appears to show Jesus carrying a cross up a set of stairs into a church. But the presence of a bishop wearing a mitered hat, a man holding a processional crucifix, and children in the foreground indicates that this is probably a scene from a “mystery play.” Mystery plays with reenactments of Christ’s story were popular during Holy Week in the medieval period. A cross-bearing procession led to the local cathedral.

Mystery Play, Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston

8. Mystery Play, Holy Cross Cathedral, Boston

Last, a window at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa (photo #9) shows the cross with other symbols that refer to events on Good Friday. A shield holds a wooden Latin cross along with the spikes that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet, the hammer used to pound in the spikes, the sponge on a hyssop stick that lifted vinegar (or wine) to Jesus’ lips, the spear that pierced his side, and the pliers that his friends used to remove the spikes before placing his body in the tomb.

Crucifixion Instruments, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Davenport, IA

9. Crucifixion Instruments, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Davenport, IA

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, 4/18/14

Iconography 101: Bottom’s Up

It may be said that a medieval stained glass window, such as the Passion of Christ lancet at Chartres Cathedral (photo #1, click to enlarge), is like a vast page on which the artists (and the clerics who hired them) “wrote” stories from the Bible and lives of the saints.  Instead of words, the artists used dozens of panels with colorful miniaturized images, similar to cartoons, to convey meaning and the essence of a story. For those who try to read a medieval stained glass “page” for the first time, one small challenge they face is trying to figure out where to start. Is the window like a page in a novel that we read from left to right, or do we read it from right to left like a Hebrew text?

1. Passion of Christ Lancet Window, Chartres Cathedral, France

1. Passion of Christ Lancet Window, Chartres Cathedral, France

The answer for most of the thirteenth century stained glass at Chartres and other Gothic Cathedrals is “bottom’s up.” We start at the bottom and work our way to the top, reading from left to right. It seems to be a convention that most medieval artists followed with some exceptions. I noticed one fascinating exception in a series of scenes from the life of Christ on an altarpiece at the Toledo Cathedral in Spain. Several panels appeared to be out of sequence until I noticed that they followed a figure eight pattern. I couldn’t help but smile. The artist had made a clever allusion to the symbol for infinity in the arrangement! But the main thing to keep in mind is that there’s a pattern to follow. Once you know that, it’s easier to “read” a medieval stained glass window.

Today’s photos deal with scenes from Christ’s Passion with an emphasis on the events of Maundy Thursday, including the Last Supper and Jesus’ agony in the Garden.  I confess that I’ve had a hard time deciding what to omit from today’s post. Images of Christ’s Passion were common in the Middle Ages just as they are now. I’ve decided to start with Chartres Cathedral because its glass provided an important model that influenced other medieval artists, and artists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries too. From Chartres, we’ll jump across the pond (and seven centuries) to visit a handful of American churches that are slightly off the beaten path in Albany, NY, Durham, NC and Grand Rapids, MI.

The “Passion of Christ Lancet” at Chartres comprises fourteen panels that lead off with scenes of Christ’s Transfiguration in the bottom row. The second row up (photo #2) portrays two Maundy Thursday events, the Last Supper and Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. We’ll dwell on this second row for a few moments, and return to some of the scenes above it in later posts.

2. Last Supper and Jesus Washing Feet, Chartres Cathedral, France

2. Last Supper and Jesus Washing Feet, Chartres Cathedral, France

The story of Jesus’ Last Supper with the disciples appears in all four canonical gospels, but the image at Chartres seems to derive from Luke’s gospel account. Look closely at the left panel in photo #2. You’ll see a man in the foreground with his arm on the table about to snatch a red fish from a plate. The fish is a symbol for Christ that has its origins in the acrostic the early Christians made by using ICHTHYS, the Greek word for fish. Loosely translated it means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” Luke’s gospel says nothing about fish being the main course for dinner at the Last Supper, but it does say this in chapter 22: “But behold the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table.”  The fish thief, of course, is Judas whose plot with local authorities will snare Jesus before the night is through.

John’s gospel is the source for the foot-washing scene on the right. The account reports that, “he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded.” Peter protested, asking why the Lord should wash his feet.  Jesus replied enigmatically, “What I am doing you do not understand, but afterward you will understand.” The foot-washing tradition continues. In some Christian churches, bishops and other clergy will wash parishioners’ feet today.

3. Last Supper, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, MI

3. Last Supper, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, MI

The stained glass image of the Last Supper (photo #3, above) at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan dates from the mid-twentieth century and communicates the Last Supper’s sacramental aspect by showing Jesus holding a white host, standing behind a chalice on the table, surrounded by his prayerful disciples.  The Last Supper window (photo #4, below) at Duke University Chapel takes a different approach by combining the last supper and foot washing scenes. Duke’s windows of Christ’s passion were designed with a unique monochrome style that, for some reason, reminds me of Spain.

Last Supper, Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC

4. Last Supper, Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC

After supper, Jesus went with his disciples to a garden called Gethsemane.   There, according to Luke’s gospel, while his friends drifted off to sleep, he knelt down and prayed, “Father, if thou art willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”   Shortly, a crowd led by Judas takes Jesus by force to the high priest for questioning.  The gospels all to imply that Jesus is resolved to his fate by the time he is taken into custody. A roundel window at Chartres (photo #5) captures the chaotic arrest scene (on the left) in which Peter offered armed resistance, earning a rebuke from Jesus.

Arrest in Gethsemane (left) & Flagellation, Chartres Cathedral, France

5. Arrest in Gethsemane (left) & Flagellation, Chartres Cathedral, France

The Gethsemane window (photos #6 and 7) at Albany’s Immaculate Conception Cathedral offers a marked contrast in its grand pictorial style to the condensed panels at Chartres. But it is typical of nineteenth and early twentieth century windows that portray Christ’s agony in the garden. The disciples are conked out in the foreground. Peter’s right hand holds the sword he will use shortly to cut off Malchus’ ear. As the disciples sleep, an angel delivers a goblet with a bitter draft that answers Jesus’ agonized prayer.

Gethsemane Window, Immaculate Conception Church, Albany, NY

6. Gethsemane Window, Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Albany, NY

Gethsemane Window Detail, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Albany, NY

7. Gethsemane Window Detail, Immaculate Conception Cathedral, Albany, NY

The Gethsemane window at Duke’s Chapel (photo #8) shows Jesus in prayer as the mob arrives in the background at the door to the garden. The modern Gethsemane window (photo #9) at St. Mark’s in Grand Rapids captures the garden scene in a tight composition that’s reminiscent of the medieval style. Observe that a thinly drawn almond shape outlines the scene. This symbol, called a mandorla, is the space made by two intersecting circles. It has various meanings. One is that the mandorla is the intersection of two circles representing Christ’s human and divine natures.

8. Gethsemane Window, Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC

8. Gethsemane Window, Duke University Chapel, Durham, NC

Gethsemane Window, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, MI

9. Gethsemane Window, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids, MI

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, 4/17/14

 

Iconography 101: Types

During the Middle Ages, Christian theologians thought of the Hebrew Bible (the books they and most Christians call the Old Testament) as the authoritative source on the world’s history up to Jesus’ birth. In Emile Male’s The Gothic Image, the eminent French art historian observed that medieval clerics also held “a conviction that both history and nature must be regarded as vast symbols.” Consequently, they perceived key figures in the Old Testament, men like Abraham and Moses, as symbols of Christ. Important events pointed to Christ’s advent in history. With Christ’s coming, Male wrote of the thirteenth century mindset, “we have reached the central point in history, for all leads up to Christ as all begins anew in Him.”

From this point of view, thirteenth century theologians wrote long commentaries on scripture, such as the Glossa Ordinaria, that describe how Abraham, Joseph and many others foreshadowed and “typified” Christ. These “Christ types” are prominent in medieval art and the type theme echoes today in many churches and cathedrals in the U.S. Our trans-Atlantic survey of Christ types will take us from Chartres in France and Canterbury in England to Philadelphia, New York City, Princeton, NJ, and Washington, DC. Along the way, we’ll rub shoulders with the likes of Melchizadek, Moses, Aaron, King David, Jonah, and Joseph and discuss each in turn.

The North Porch at Chartres Cathedral, France

The North Porch at Chartres Cathedral, France

The North Porch at Chartres Cathedral holds probably the finest examples of medieval sculpted Christ types still in existence. The group (photo #1, below; click to enlarge) which includes from left to right Melchizadek, Abraham and Issac, Moses, Aaron, and King David was exquisitely crafted and illustrates perfectly how medieval theologians thought about these historical figures as types for Christ.

Melchizadek, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David at Chartres Cathedral

1. Melchizadek, Abraham, Moses, Aaron, David at Chartres Cathedral

The book of Genesis tells how Melchizadek, king and high priest of Salem, brought bread and wine to Abraham and blessed the Most High God. Much later, the author of the New Testament’s letter to the Hebrews describes Jesus as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizadek.”  In this way Melchizadek came to typify Christ as both king and high priest given that Christ instituted the sacrament of Communion or Eucharist using bread and wine. Aaron, brother of Moses, was the Israelites’ first High Priest and like Melchizadek was thought to typify Christ’s priestly nature. Theologians held that Moses prefigured Christ in that both men led people to freedom. Moses led the Israelites out of bondage to pharaoh and Christ led his people out of bondage to sin. King David’s presence in the group signifies Christ’s dominion and kingship although Jesus said, according to John’s gospel, “My kingship is not of this world.”  We’ll bypass Abraham for now and return to his story on Saturday because it is a key element in the Easter Vigil liturgy.

Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

2. Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

You can see some fine modern stained glass representations of Melchizadek, Moses, and Aaron (photos #3-5) in the main Chapel on Princeton University’s campus. In photo #4, observe that Moses seems to have horns growing from his head. A mistaken Latin translation of the Hebrew word for “emitting rays” led Michelangelo and many others to perpetuate the “horn” mistake. The stained glass image of David, with the harp for his identifying attribute (photo #7), comes from St. Mark’s Episcopal church in Philadelphia. As a quick aside, I should mention that Montreal’s Notre Dame Basilica, built in the 1800’s, has a Christ type statuary ensemble that closely follows the pattern established at Chartres. I regret that I have no photo of it, but be sure to check it out if you visit Montreal.

2. Melchizadek (left) and Job at Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

3. Melchizadek (left) and Job at Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

3. Moses at Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

4. Moses. Princeton University Chapel, New Jersey

5. Jacon & Aaron (right) at Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

5. Jacob & Aaron (right) at Princeton Chapel, Princeton, NJ

St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia

6. St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia

King David at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Philadelphia

7. King David at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Philadelphia

Not surprisingly, Jonah also became a Christ type. The man who, according to scripture, emerged from the belly of a great fish after spending three days in utter darkness, foreshadowed the gospel of account of Christ in the tomb between his death on Good Friday and resurrection on Easter Sunday. Photo #8 shows a fourteenth century stained glass image of Jonah at England’s Canterbury Cathedral. Photo #9 offers a nice view of Canterbury’s imposing “Bell Harry” Tower. The sculpted whale (photo #10) alludes to Jonah’s story and appears near an archway at Washington’s National Cathedral.

Jonah at Canterbury Cathedral, England

8. Jonah at Canterbury Cathedral, England

Bell Harry Tower, Canterbury Cathedral, England

9. Bell Harry Tower, Canterbury Cathedral, England

Whale, National Cathedral, Washington, DC

10. Whale Sclupture, National Cathedral, Washington, DC

Finally, the patriarch Joseph was thought to foreshadow Christ because his brothers betrayed him by throwing him into a pit and then selling him into slavery. Christ, medieval theologians reasoned, was like Joseph because those close to him, including Judas and Peter, betrayed him too. Thirteenth century stained glass at Chartres (photo #11) depicts the brothers dropping Joseph into a pit. A twentieth century window (photo #13) at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York reminds us that Joseph, before he interpreted dreams and foresaw an impending famine in Egypt, started out as a shepherd and as such foreshadowed Christ as the “Good Shepherd.”

Joseph Thrown into a Pit, Chartres Cathedral, France

11. Joseph Thrown into a Pit, Chartres Cathedral, France

12. St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York City

12. St. Thomas Episcopal Church, New York City

Joseph the Shepherd, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

13. Joseph the Shepherd, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, NYC

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, 4/16/14

Pedestals as Footnotes

If iconography is the art of writing with images, then the pedestals beneath statues are one important means by which medieval artists formed iconographic sentences and paragraphs for us to “read.” Usually no names were inscribed on statues to help identify them. Instead, the sculptors used something familiar that we “attribute” to the person as a clue to his or her identity.  The attributes of some saints–as with Peter and the Keys to the Kingdom–make them easy to identify. Others are harder to recognize through their attributes or their attributes have been broken off or lost, and that’s where the sculpted pedestals step in to help. Today, we’ll look at some statues and pedestals at Reims Cathedrals in France and the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. It’s good to keep in mind that the artists who worked on cathedrals and churches in North America found inspiration in the sculpture adorning Europe’s Gothic cathedrals and, as you’ll see, they carried forward the medieval tradition of using pedestals as subtext with some great results.

Postcard of Reims Cathedral, France

Postcard of Reims Cathedral, France

Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC

Reims (or Rheims) Cathedral is located seventy-seven miles east of Paris in the heart of France’s Champagne region. The prosperity of Champagne’s vineyards enabled Reims’ citizens to build an outstanding Gothic cathedral with fine sculpture and stained glass. But much of its original sculpture was damaged or destroyed by German shelling in World War I (photo #1, below). Reportedly, the building became a target in that devastating conflagration partly because it held symbolic value as the traditional coronation site for French monarchs. Recall that Joan of Arc and her army accompanied Charles VII to Reims in 1429 to be crowned King of all France. When I visited Reims in 2010, extensive restoration work was underway in advance of the cathedral’s 800th anniversary in 2011.

Reims Cathedral as it looked in 1918 at the end of WWI.

1.Postcard of Reims Cathedral as it looked in 1918 at the end of WWI

Among the many pieces of statuary restored or replaced after World War I are the sets of figures that flank the cathedrals main doorways. Photo #2 shows six Biblical figures that stand near one of the cathedral’s portals. I can identify three of the six with certainty by using their main attributes.

2. Biblical figures at Reims Cathedral.

2. Biblical figures at Reims Cathedral.

John the Baptist stands second from left. Medieval artists often depicted him wearing rough garments and holding a “Lamb of God” medallion. Moses stands fourth from left. He holds one of the tablets of the law and a tall staff with a snake atop. The staff and snake refer to the book of Numbers where Moses placed a bronze serpent atop a standard so “that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”  The figure to the right of Moses is that of Abraham. He’s identified by the proximity of his son Isaac who stands with him. It’s likely that the figure on the far left is Simeon holding infant Jesus.

The pedestals beneath Moses and Abraham add the “footnotes” to their stories. Click on photo #2 for a close look. You’ll see a bull beneath Moses feet to suggest the incident in the book of Exodus where the ancient Israelites worshiped a golden calf. Similarly, the sculptors placed a ram beneath Abraham’s feet to recall the passage in Genesis that describes Abraham finding a ram tangled in a bush, and sacrificing it instead of his son.

Sculptors at Washington’s National Cathedral, constructed between 1907 and 1990, carved statues and pedestals in much the same way. A statue of Joan of Arc (photo #3) portrays her looking heavenward as she probably did before her English captors burned her at the stake in 1430.

3. Joan of Arc

3. Joan of Arc, Washington National Cathedral

In the elaborate pedestal, sculptors carved an image of the façade of Reims Cathedral, the coronation church where Joan crowned Charles VII King of France. On closer inspection (photo #4), you’ll also see that the pedestal contains a crown and fleurs-de-lis, emblems of the French monarchy. Joan’s shield at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans displays the royal emblems too (photo #5).

4. Joan of Arc Pedestal, Washington National Cathedral

4. Joan of Arc Pedestal with Fleurs-de-Lis, Washington National Cathedral

5. Joan of Arc, St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana

5. Joan of Arc Statue, St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, Louisiana

St. Peter’s statue and pedestal on the National Cathedral’s west exterior also merit a close look (photo #6). Sculptor Frederick Hart departed from a traditional representation of Peter as the first Bishop of Rome holding the Keys to the Kingdom and instead shows the saint holding a fish net, an attribute that reminds us of Peter’s original occupation as a fisherman.

St. Peter, Washington National Cathedral

6. St. Peter, Washington National Cathedral

The pedestal (photo #7) amplifies Peter’s story. Heraldic Keys of the Kingdom signify his leadership status in the early church, and an inverted cross alludes to his martyrdom and Peter’s legendary request to be crucified upside down.

6. St. Peter's Pedestal, Washington National Cathedral

7. St. Peter’s Pedestal, Washington National Cathedral

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, 4/15/14

Sacred Symbols: The Palm of Martyrdom

We’re taking the “palm branch” theme a step further today through the stories of two Christian martyrs as depicted in stained glass and sculpture at cathedrals in Chartres, France, New York City, and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

South Porch, Chartres Cathedral, France

South Porch, Chartres Cathedral, France

Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY

West Facade, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, New York, NY

Nave and Altar, All Saints Cathedral, Milwaukee, WI

Nave and Altar, All Saints Cathedral, Milwaukee, WI

As mentioned in my first post, the use of the palm branch as a sacred symbol in the Mediterranean world pre-dates Christianity. Early Christians borrowed one of the palm’s symbolic meanings–victory–directly from the Romans. The palm branch was the main attribute, or sign, of the goddess Victory. Christians applied the palm’s victory symbolism to help make meaning of the perilous situation they faced at the time. “The palm,” wrote Maurice Delasser in The Symbols of the Church, “is the emblem of the elect, and especially of the martyrs, who are victorious over death.”  Ever since, the palm branch has helped us identify martyred saints in the sculpture and stained glass of Europe’s cathedrals and many churches in the U.S. The martyrs’ stories are often the stuff of legend and have inspired many artists over the centuries. We’ll focus on two of them: Steven and Lawrence.

Saint Steven is said to be the first Christian martyr. As such, he sometimes appears in prominent places next to Jesus’ disciples and other great saints. At Notre Dame in Paris (photo #1, below), Steven’s right hand holds a palm branch to signify his martyrdom as he stands in good company between John the Baptist and Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris. The sculptures are 19th century reproductions that replaced originals lost, I believe, during the French Revolution.  The stained glass image of Steven (photo #2) comes from All Saints Episcopal Cathedral in Milwaukee. He holds a palm frond in his right hand and a large rock in his left hand that signifies his death by stoning.

#1. St. Steven between John the Baptist and Genevieve.

#1. St. Steven with palm frond between John the Baptist and St. Genevieve, Notre Dame, Paris.

2. St. Steven, All Saints Cathedral, Milwaukee

2. St. Steven, All Saints Cathedral, Milwaukee

Legend has it that Saint Lawrence, one of the deacons in the early church at Rome, died in 258 shortly after the emperor Valerian decreed that clerics should be executed and their wealth confiscated. His story, according to Jacob of Voragine’s The Golden Legend, written around 1266, goes like this.

Lawrence, as the head deacon, was responsible for the church treasury and distributing alms to the poor. When Decius, one of Valerian’s henchmen, demanded that Lawrence turn over the treasury’s contents to imperial authorities, Lawrence asked for three days to comply. Valerian himself granted the request. “During these three days,” Voragine wrote, “Lawrence gathered together all the poor, the lame and the blind and took them before Decius.” With the destitute crew standing beside him, Lawrence said to Decius, “Here you see the eternal treasure, treasure which never diminishes but grows and grows.” He refused to turn over the funds to the Romans.

Decius was irate and ordered his minions to punish Lawrence’s impertinence by roasting him alive over a bed of hot coals. Legend has it that when Lawrence’s backside was well done, he looked up at Decius and quipped, “Look, fool, you have roasted only one side of me. Turn me over and then eat.” Then he gave up the ghost. In time, Lawrence became the patron saint of cooks and chefs, and the grid iron on which he was roasted became his attribute.

A thirteenth century sculpture on Chartres Cathedral’s south porch (photo #3) shows Lawrence lying on a grid iron over coals and flames. The next two photos were taken at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Photo #4 shows a statue of Lawrence holding a small grid iron in his left hand and a pouch containing alms in his right hand. The pedestal below (photo #5) imaginatively portrays the saint’s execution with two men placing Lawrence on the grid iron while Valerian looks on. Cackling demons wait for the emperor to turn in their direction. Lastly, Lawrence appears in stained glass at Milwaukee’s All Saints’ Cathedral holding a palm frond and large grid iron (photo #6). He stands next to St. Giles.  The British firm of Lavers and Westlake made the saint windows for Milwaukee’s Episcopal Cathedral in the 1890’s.

3. St. Lawrence on Grid Iron, Chartres

3. St. Lawrence on Grid Iron, Sculpture at Chartres Cathedral, France

4. St. Lawrence, St. John the Divine, NYC

4. St. Lawrence, St. John the Divine, NYC

St. Lawrence Pedestal, St. John the Divine, NYC

5. St. Lawrence Pedestal, St. John the Divine, NYC

6. St. Lawrence with St. Giles, All Saints Cathedral, Milwaukee

6. St. Lawrence (right) with St. Giles, All Saints Cathedral, Milwaukee

Mike Klug, mikejklug@aol.com, 4/14/14