Images of the Crucifixion are rare in large scale Romanesque sculptural ensembles. In the Church’s militant period of the Crusading era, a more triumphalist symbol was to be preferred. At many locations along the pilgrimage roads this was rendered by depictions of the Apocalyptic Christ in Majesty taken from the Book of Revelation.
In northern Spain, this was conveyed in the form of the Chrismon and is frequently found, most particularly in Aragon and to a lesser degree in Navarre.
At the monastery of San Pedro el Viejo in Huesca, there are two large scale Chrismons. In each case the Chrismon is flanked by angels. The tympanum above the north door features the most striking and well executed of the two, featuring the Lamb of the Apocalypse in the centre. Above the south door which leading to the cloister, a second Chrismon, once more held aloft by a pair of angels is carved over a lintel depicting the Adoration of the Magi.
This arrangement echoed Roman funerary apotheosis imagery. The reuse of classical sarcophagi for medieval burial goes some way to explaining the repeated instances of such this form in Romanesque art.
A variation of this design was conceived whereby the flanking angels were replaced by lions producing new symbolic connotations. Such a scene is to be found on the central spandrel of the Puerta de la Platerias at Compostela.
In Aragon this arrangement was developed to a significant degree. On the tympanum of the bell tower porch at San Martin de Uncastillo a lion to the right rears above a prostate human form and while the lion to the left dominates a serpent. The church of Navasa also has a tympanum with a Chrismon flanked by beasts, however the design is quite different. To the right an animal that resembles a wild boar has a bird perched on its back while to the left a man stands over a crouching lion.
On the pilgrimage road itself, a short distance beyond Jaca, the royal convent church of Santa Cruz de la Seros also has tympanum made up of a Chrismon flanked by two lions. The letters of the monogram on the are not in their usual arrangement. The right hand lion stands over an eleven petalled marigold, while on the left the lion, tongue extended to lick its raised paw. Both lions are characterised by a ferocious demeanour.
The theme of lions is repeated in the capitals on either side of the porch with a depiction of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel was an antetype of Christ in medieval exegesis and the episode of the Lion’s Den an allegorical reference to the Resurrection. The single marigold beneath the right hand lion alludes to the Eucharist, an association first proposed by the sixth century Poitevin writer Ventantius Fortunatus. Such an interpretation corresponds to the narrative of Daniel in the Lion’s Den wherein the prophet is aided by the Archangel Gabriel who sends Habbakuk to supply him with a loaf of bread. This also was considered an Old Testament antetype of the Eucharist and the separate elements of the story are present in one of the capitals of the west tympanum of the cathedral of San Pedro at Jaca where the most comprehensive representation of the theme of the Chrismon flanked by lions, is to be found and is very likely the original source for all the others.
Biblio: DL Simon, L’art Roman, source de l’art Roman, Cahiers de St Michel de Cuxa 11 (1980) pp 249-67.
S.H. Caldwell, Penance, Baptism, Apocalypse: The Easter Context of Jaca’s west tympanum. Art History .3/1 (1980), 25-40