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Category Archives: Iconography

Honorius-Chrismon WPWhile it largely disappeared from Western European Christian art of the medieval period, the Chrismon continued to be used in Spain and its near ubiquitous presence in Romanesque Aragonese sculpture arises from a specific set of circumstances.

The Chrismon was first and foremost an adaptation of a Roman military standard called the Labarum. This was a standard topped with a draped banner surmounted by a Chrismon. In Christian legend it would be associated with the account by the historian Eusebius of the Roman Emperor Constantine’s victory at the battle of the Milvian bridge. Later, at the battle of Adrianople Constantine ordered it to be deployed to whichever part of the field his troops were struggling, such was its talismanic value.

A second Constantinian connection with the Chrismon arose from its function as a symbol of the Trinity, Constantine having presided over the formulation of the Trinitarian Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325.

In Spain, however, the Visigoths maintained the Arian heresy, denying the Trinity long after it was outlawed in the rest of Christendom. It took a further two hundred and sixty years before the Nicene creed was adopted at the Council of Toledo in 589. Presided over by King Reccared, a contemporary chronicler declared that at the council the king, “Like Constantine among the bishops of Nicaea, anathemitsed Arius”.


This must goes some way in explaining why the Chrismon appears to have held particular meaning  for late period Visigoths before the Arab invasion, appearing in numerous instances all over the peninsula.

The use of the Chrismon began to enjoy a ressurgence once more in Spain in the ninth century coinciding with the first period of the Reconquista. A Chrismon is to be found in the apse of the church of San Salvador de Valdedios built by Alfonso III in 893.

This followed a tradition which began with the first Christian victory against the Saracens at Covadonga in 722, when it was said that the leader of the small Christian force, Pelayo went into to battle under the banner of the Chrismon, in clear imitation of Constantine.

Whether this is true or not, the association was perpetuated by his heirs who forged the kingdom of Asturias in the wake of Pelayo’s victory. In 908 a gem encrusted cross said to be the original wooden cross which Pelayo had carried to victory was donated to the cathedral of Oviedo by his descendant King Alfonso III. Crucially this cross bore the inscription “By this sign you shall conquer your enemies”, which intentionally echoed Constantine’s motto for the Chrismon. Alfonso’s Victory Cross also bore the Alpha and Omega of the Apocalypse at each end of the horizontal arms, as did the Romanesque Chrismons of northern Spain.

Jaca-Tymp-CU-2-WPThus, the Spanish kings of the Reconquest saw themselves as the natural heirs of Constantine, victorious Christian rulers and defenders of the true faith. By the eleventh century the Chrismon was prevalent in the sculptural decor of Navarrese and Aragonese churches, the two kingdoms most associated with the early Reconquista and were particularly associated with royal establishments.

Sources: Canellas-Lopez A.- San Vicente A.‎ · ‎Aragon Roman Edition Zodiaque 1971. Collection la nuit des temps 35

R. Bartal, The survival of early Christian symbols in 12th century Spain. Principe de Viana 48 (1987), S. 299-315

Tours-Rd-at-St-Savin-WPThe Tours Road to Compostela was especially redolent of the legend of Charlemagne and his Paladins. Book Four of the Liber Sancti Iacobi, the History of Charlemagne and Roland, relates the emperor’s long struggle against the Saracens of Spain  and vividly combined it with the legend of Saint James.

According to this epic narrative, the Franks had fought three great battles along this pilgrimage road; in the Saintonge, at Agen and most famously of all at Roncevaux in the Pyrenees.

The fallen heroes of these epic tales were also buried along the road. Roland was entombed at Blaye and his celebrated horn the Olifant was held at the monastery of Saint Seurin at Bordeaux.

At Belin, a single grave contained the bodies of other paladins of Charlemagne who had been killed at Roncevaux. Pilgrims were enjoined to visit these sites and venerate what were considered holy relics.

Parthenay-45These epic tales are reflected in the sculpted images of Imperial Riders which are found on church facades along this road.

At Parthenay-le-Vieux in the Poitou, on a variant of the Tours Road to Santiago, there is the best preserved of all the Romanesque Riders. Wearing crown and flowing cape, the mounted figure sits astride his prancing mount, a falcon perched on his arm as he tramples his vanquished enemy underfoot.

The church at Parthenay has been dated to the late eleventh or early twelfth century, therefore at the very height of the first wave of Crusading fervour which swept across Europe and led to the capture of Jerusalem in 1099.

Parthenay-40The Parthenay rider forms part of a particular group of such sculptures which are found in the Poitou and Saintonge regions. In a heavily arcaded church façade, the rider is placed in the north niche while another figure, usually a lion wrestler presents a complementary image in the southern niche.

Samson wrestling a lion was a frequent subject in Romanesque art, the subjugation of the beast was considered a prefiguration of Christ’s triumph over death.

The placement of these two sculpted reliefs on either side of the main doorway is suggestive of the complementary roles of church and state in the Crusading era following the Gregorian reform. Such symbolism encourages  identification of the rider with the emperor Constantine, the Roman ruler who first defended the authority of the Church.

Yet Romanesque iconography occasionally intends King David rather than Samson as the subject of the image of the lion wrestler, referring the imperial rider to Charlemagne who demanded to be named David by his court.

Both Constantine and Charlemagne, the idealised medieval Christian ruler propounding the notion of a single and universal Christendom.Persian-Rider-WP

The image of the rider of Parthenay derives certain stylistic traits from Islamic art found on Persian ceramic ware and carved ivory boxes from El-Andalus.  These would have found their way into Christian hands in the form of booty, ransom payments and diplomatic gifts. The falcon on the rider’s arm evokes an idea of an eastern or Andalusian potentate.

As with architectural spolia, the absorption of cultural and stylistic traits was often a way of appropriating and mitigating power.

The surrounding voussoirs feature representations of naked women in baskets. Similar captive women appear in other Islamic designs. The placement of imagery in the voussoirs is often reserved for apotropaic subjects such as Vices. Parthenay-Basket-Women-1-WPThe History of Charlemagne and Roland combines moralising passages among the tales of knightly bravery when dealing with the temptation presented to Frankish warriors by captive Saracen women.

The image of a warrior together with the evocation of vice recalls the large scale representations of the Vices and Virtues of Prudentius’ Psychomachia which are a particular trope of Romanesque sculpture in the region.

From the early eighth century, Aquitaine had been associated with Frankish victories over the Moors. The dukes of Aquitaine and the counts of Toulouse saw themselves as perpetuating a tradition that began with the Battle of Poitiers of 732 and the victory Eudes of Aquitaine at Toulouse. It was a long tradition which included that most popular hero of epic legend Guillaume d’Orange.

Parthenay-56The Parthenay rider combines myth and perceived historical fact to produce an image of a symbolic, generic Christian ruler whose ultimate meaning finds both expression and assumes Apocalyptic dimension in the legend of the Last Roman Emperor. This mythical sovereign would awaken after a profound sleep to defeat the Antichrist and then relinquish the attributes of his secular rule on the Mount of Olives. By this act, the Apocalypse would be initiated.

Biblio: R Crozet: Nouvelles Remarques sur les Cavaliers Sculptes. L Seidel :Constantine and Charlemagne 1976 Gesta 15 237-9, L. Seidel: Holy Warriors: The Romanesque Riders and the Fight Against Islam in  TP Murphy ed. Holy War. The Medieval Legend of the Last Roman Emperor and its Messianic Origin: Paul Alexander Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes 41 1978

Depictions of the Twenty-Four Elders are a recurrent feature of Romanesque sculpture of the twelfth century and unequivocally denoted Apocalyptic significance.
Biblical references to the Elders, all derive from that text which so preoccupied the Romanesque mentality, the Book of Revelation. They are identified and associated with a number of passages.
Prior to the Romanesque period, the Elders were mostly depicted standing in procession, as in the mosaic of  San Paolo Fuori le Mura at Rome. There they flank, along with the Apostles Peter and Paul, a central bust of Christ. Those Elders associated with each Apostle are either bare-headed or veiled and represent the Jews and Gentiles coming together in the Christian church. This depiction clearly identifies the Elders with the “priests of God and of Christ” of Revelation 20, 6 who were to live with Christ during the Millenial reign. A similar image can be seen on the tympanum of the church of Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe at Le Puy.

By the twelfth century however, they were shown, enthroned and crowned and carrying their attributes in each hand, a musical instrument and  a goblet or phial. Numerous examples are to be found along the pilgrimage roads, most notably at Aulnay de Saintonge, Oloron-Sainte-Marie, Saintes, Compostela itself and most striking of all at Moissac.

The Biblical reference for this representation is two verses of Revelation. Chapter 4.4 “And around the throne were four and twenty seats: and upon the seats I saw four and twenty elders sitting, clothed in white raiment; and they had on their heads crowns of gold”.

Along with the Four Beasts they surround in attitudes of worship and reverence an anonymous enthroned figure.

In Chapter 5.8 the Elders are described as: “having every one of them harps and golden vials”. This is the scene which is represented at Aulnay de Saintonge and Oloron-Sainte-Marie.

At Oloron the tympanum of the western porch features the Descent from the Cross surrounded on the outer arch by the assembly of the Elders, twelve on each side of an apex featuring the Lamb bearing the Cross.

The south porch at Aulnay has four registers of voussoirs. An outer one of a phantasmagorical bestiary, a second of prophets and saints and a third of enthroned and crowned figures with their appropriate attributes of vials and musical instruments identifying them clearly as the Elders. Their penetrating gaze seems fastened on the Apocalyptic scene before them. That they number thirty-one is explained by the conflation of the Elders with a number of passages from Revelation. The inner register bears saints and prophets. At the crown of the inner register is the Lamb.

It is worth considering also the symbolism of the number twenty-four in the Romanesque period. This number while more obviously suggesting the hours of the day, is also featured in the great portal sculptures by the inclusion of the twelve signs of the Zodiac with the twelve Labours of the Months. This pertinent association with earthly time is worth taking into account when considering that the figures on the south transept porch at Aulnay represent the millenial rule of the saints on earth.

Along the pilgrimage roads, the twelfth century depiction of the Elders was significant not only because they were emblematic of the Apocalyptic moment but also for what was contained in their vials, which Revelation 5,8 tells us were “full of odours which are the prayers of the saints”.

Biblio: Mélanges: Quelques aspects de l’iconographie des vingt-quatre Vieillards dans la sculpture française du XIIe s. N. Kenaan R. Bartal Cahiers de civilisation médièvale, 24:3-4 (1981), pp. 233-239

Y. Christe Jugements Derniers

Olivier Beigbeder Lexique des Symboles

This is a revised version of part of a previously posted article

The story of the Massacre of the Innocents is featured frequently in Romanesque sculpture. It was a typological representation of the of Cult of the Martyrs. Arles-Mass-Innoc-WP-2Depictions are to be found in the wall paintings of the Panteon at San Isidoro de Leon, on capitals at Moissac and Monreale and Arles and the sarcophagus of Doña Blanca at Najera among other examples.
A number of apocryphal and exegetical sources dating from as early as the second century propose the slaughtered children as the first Christian martyrs, receiving a baptism of blood. They were associated with the souls of the martyrs from the Book of Revelation.

St-Sernin-Mass-Inn-WP-1-Such a conflation derives directly from the account in Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist declaring that Herod’s massacre was a fulfillment of an Apocalyptic prophecy from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.

The prophecy concerns Rachel, weeping for the loss of her children and comforted by God, who tells her that “Her children shall come again from the land of the enemy”.

Rachel’s tomb was at Bethlehem and Romanesque depictions implicitly refer to her, as they feature the mothers of the children attempting to restrain Herod’s soldiers. St-Sernin-Mass-Inn-WP-2This is the image presented on the capital of the Porte Miègeville at Sernin de Toulouse.

According to Matthew’s account, Herod learnt from the Magi that they were come to venerate the new King of the Jews. In order to ensure that Jesus would be killed, Herod ordered the slaughter of all children under two years of age in Bethlehem and the surrounding area. Joseph, forewarned by an angel, had already fled into Egypt with Mary and the child.

It is the synthesis of the Massacre of the Innocents with the souls of the martyrs from the Book of Revelation which informs the sculptural programme on the porch of the Abbaye-aux-Dames at Saintes.

The sculpture of the arch above the central doorway, combines depictions of the victims of the Massacre with the Elders of the Apocalypse. On the voussoirs of the outer arch are ranged the Elders, while the inner arch presents the Massacre of the Innocents.

The Elders are identifiable from their iconographic attributes, the musical instrument in one hand and the phial in the other. This is a representation of Revelation 20.4 “And I saw thrones and they sat upon them and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls  of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the Word of God”.

Following exegetical traditions such as the writings of Ambrosius Autpertus, the Elders of Revelation 4.4 are identified as the occupants of the thrones.

Because of the typological reference of the Massacre of the Innocents to the Martyred Souls of Revelation, the emphasis is on decapitation and the adult proportions of the victims.

These figures represent the millenial rule of the saints on earth which follows from Satan being bound by an angel come down from heaven and cast into the bottomless pit for a thousand years

The whole is surmounted by the Apocalyptic Lamb.

Biblio: Y Christe, Jugements Derniers

This is a revised version of a piece included in an earlier posted article

The image of an ass playing a harp is a recurrent theme in Romanesque sculpture. Invariably restricted to marginal areas such as modillions and corbels or the outer archivolt of a porch entrance.

Such an emplacement would normally be reserved for cautionary and protective subjects implying a negative interpretation such as, in the case of the Ass and the Harp a symbol of Ignorance. Examples can be found on the southern transept doorway at Aulnay de Saintonge and among the numerous modillions at San Martin de Frómista.

 This interpretation seems complicated by the appearance of the same subject throughout history in different contexts.

The medieval world knew of the fable of the Ass and the Lyre primarily through the writings of the sixth century philosopher Boethius. Boethius himself had derived his account from Phaedrus who in the first century had translated Aesop’s fables into Latin.

In Phaedrus’ version a donkey sees a lyre lying in a field and tries to strum it with his hoof. When he hears the beautiful sound he says that if someone better equipped than himself had found the instrument he would have been able to enjoy the music.

This contrast between the ass’ attributes; large ears for listening, hooves instead of hands for playing and the dissonant sound of a donkey’s bray against the innate harmony of the instrument was particularly suggestive to medieval writers.

For Raban Maur with reference to Matthew 21 and Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, the ass represented paganism. The ass unable to benefit from the perfect harmony of the music which represented the presence of God in the universe opposed the image of King David playing the harp, so frequently displayed on Romanesque churches.

However the symbolism of the Ass and the Harp extends further back than Aesop to ancient Babylonia.  Perhaps not surprising when one considers that Aesop’s fables themselves, were derived from earlier stories which came to Greece from the east via the stories of the Assyrian sage Ashikar.

A Sumerian tomb dating back to 3,000 BC included a sacred harp used for accompanying the chanting of prayers and which itself featured an image of a harp playing ass carved onto it. In a curious  instance of self referentiality, the image of the harp is a rendering of the design of the actual harp which is distinguished by the bull’s head which surmounts its sound box. Significantly, the ass has fingered hands to play the instrument and  portrayed as the source of the sacred ceremonial music, the image is suggestive of a divine aspect.

Eastern cults of Apollo originating in Phrygia involved the god Marsyas, a divine ass. The Ass deity was flayed alive by Apollo in a sacrificial ritual, a pre-Christian example of deicide.

The association of the ass with the divine continued into Biblical texts notably with Balaam’s Ass which was able to recognise the angel blocking the way indicating connection between the ass and the divine. The extension towards sacrificial concepts occurs in Isaac’s journey into Moriah and Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem. All three were favourite subjects of Romanesque sculpture.

Moissac-portal-figureSculpted Atlants, crouched figures placed strategically inside and outside Romanesque churches, supporting parts of the structure of the building, are a common theme of  pilgrimage road sculpture.

They are derived from the classical mythological story of Atlas, son of the titan Lapetus and brother of Prometheus. Atlas was punished by Zeus and made to bear the weight of the heavens. According to Homer, Atlas was “one who knows the depths of the whole sea and keeps the tall pillars which hold heaven”.

In Romanesque art these figures are more often suffering punishment, but they can also be depictions of prefiguration or prophecy as in the case of the side jambs at Moissac.

The Roman historian Vitruvius had noted the use of Atlant figures in the portico at Sparta which had been built to celebrate the victory of the Spartans over the Persians, “In order to support the roof, they have erected statues of prisoners dressed barbarously in order to humiliate and intimidate them”. This added a political dimension to the meaning of Atlants which was used in Romanesque sculpture.

Aulnay-SP-MS-30At Aulnay de Saintonge two sets of Atlant figures are displayed on the undersides of the arches of the southern transept porch. Beneath those bearing the images of the Apostles spreading the Word they crouch with both hands raised supporting the structure above.

The oriental garb they are shown wearing is an indication of their association with the Saracen race and more generally with paganism. At a time of Holy War against Islam, the Saracens represented both political and spiritual enemies.

Their humiliating position serves to render their captive status  and the punishment which is meted out to them for the sin of paganism and thus by extension the triumph of the Christian Church. Aulnay-SP-MS-29

Above them are the twelve Apostles preaching the Word of God to twelve acolytes. The Atlants beneath are numbered twenty-four, the hours of the days, representative of terrestrial values but also prefiguring the Twenty-Four Elders of the Apocalypse who appear on the next arch.

The Elders oddly, are numbered thirty-one on the next arch and the corresponding Atlants the same, representing the days of the months. Combined with the Twelve Apostles and the twelve acolytes  below, these number include the hours of the days, the days of the months and the months of the year.

Aulnay-SP-MS-25The register of Apostles preaching  indicates the prerequisite of the  Apocalypse, which is the spreading of the Word to the furthest reaches of the earth.

The next register therefore is the Apocalypse, represented by the Elders.  Beneath, the Atlants are notably different from those supporting the Apostles in that they are on bended knee, having only one hand supporting the structure above. This anomaly may be explained by the fact that they are now within the celestial realm. These Atlants also seem to have a stronger oriental appearance which suggests a possible influence from Hindu and Persian motifs, specifically the lesser divinities of the Ahuras and Devas each of which was associated with opposing elements.

The most striking use of Atlants in Romanesque sculpture is at the cathedral of Oloron-Sainte Marie. Here a pair of giant Saracens prisoners are presented at the base of the trumeau of the western entrance. Their expressive faces and hunched shoulders indicate the agony of their suffering in bearing the weight of the structure, a tympanum depicting the Deposition from the Cross.Oloron-57-copy

These are Atlants supporting the weight of the heavens as punishment for their paganism, their heavy chains indicative of their captive status both spiritually and physcically.

Oloron was the gateway to the Somport Pass over the Pyrenees which was widely used by pilgrims and Crusaders entering Spanish territory. The church was built under  Gaston IV, the Viscount of Béarn in an intense atmosphere of Holy War against the Infidel.  Gaston was a celebrated Crusader and had been a major participant in the successful siege of Jerusalem in 1100. On his return to France, he had joined forces with the Aragonese ruler Alfonso el Batallador and together they had taken Zaragossa in 1118.

Like the Persian Atlants at Sparta, the Saracen Atlants at the cathedral of  Oloron are triumphal expressions of victory.


The church of Saint-Pierre-de-la-Tour at Aulnay de Saintonge lies along the Tours route to Santiago de Compostela. The capital reliefs both on the exterior and the interior of the church feature a series of disembodied heads or masks.

Their meaning is obscure but similar heads can be found at other churches in the area. These images are particular to the region of the southern Poitou and Saintonge and one can therefore suppose that there was some intention behind their presence at strategic points in the church structure which was once intelligible to the inhabitants of this part of western France.

On the exterior of the north side of the building there is perhaps some clue to their significance. There one can see a head which appears to be that of some devouring, possibly androphagous or man-eating semi human creature. It notably lacks a lower jaw.

Aulnay-Masks-8Olivier Beigbeder has drawn attention to a possible connection between this image and that of an ancient Chinese motif commonly found on bronze vessels which were used for ritual purposes going back to the Neolithic period.

Having a head but no body it was said that the creature ate people but could not swallow them. It is notable that this image is presented on the north side of the church, the shadow side.

A connection can be drawn with the Leviathan as described in the Book of Job and which is featured on the porch sculptures at Conques and Espalion devouring the Damned. In Job the question is put, who can “draw out Leviathan with an hook” and  medieval exegetical writings interpreted the answer to this riddle  to be Christ. As Honorius of Autun declared, Christ’s hook destroys Leviathan’s jaw.

Within the church, three other capitals featuring dismebodied heads begin to assume progressively more human features, although stylistically ressembling that on the exterior of the north side. Aulnay-Masks-2There is evidence to suggest that the four heads allude to the four elements. The first on the outside signifying the earth and more particularly the subterranean.

Inside, on the columns which line the south side of the nave is another with sightless eyes and pointed ears.  The twelve partitions of the hair suggest the phases of the moon  and the lack of a beard implies the feminine which corresponds also with the lunar aspect. The tidal currents determined by the moon, connoting water.

Further along towards the eastern end of the church is another capital with two heads.Aulnay-Masks-7 This time the faces are strikingly bearded and the eyes with clearly defined pupils created the impression of a strong gaze.

Just above the decoration of the laurel leaves containing rosettes convey the impression of mandorlas and the promise of election to Paradise.

These masculine faces, eyes wide open and contemplating the choices to be made indicate the indeterminate element of air.

Aulnay-Masks-1On the north side of the nave is to be found a fourth mask whose features no longer have the zoomorphic qualities of the others.

Another striking  face this time with a piercing direct gaze. The beard is seperated into six strands, the number associated with power.

The flame like hair gives the impression of a solar deity and the element of fire.

The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac appears frequently in Romanesque art. Examples can be seen on interior capitals at Autun, Conques and St Sernin de Toulouse and at the cloister of Moissac. It is also featured on the trumeau at Souillac.

This theme held a particular significance for the Christians of northern Spain during the time of the Reconquista. One of the earliest representations is at the Mozarabic church of San Pedro de la Nave. During the Romanesque period it was used most notably at Jaca and is the subject of the hemicycle above the Puerta del Corderon at León, a unique use of an Old Testament subject for a tympanum.

Jaca-SP--Isaac-15At the cathedral of San Pedro at Jaca the capital on the right side of the entrance to the south transept entrance is of Isaac and Abraham. Here it stands opposite the capital on the left side of the entrance of Balaam and the Ass.

Isaac was considered a precursor of Christ, not least because his birth was announced to his parents Sara and Abraham by an angel and the celebrated story of the Sacrifice of Isaac which is told in Genesis 22. Abraham  has two sons. Ishmael whom he had with his servant Hagar, believing his wife Sara to be barren and then Isaac when he is told by an angel that he can have a child with Sara.

Jaca-SP--Isaac-17In order to test Abraham’s faith God commands him to sacrifice his son and directs him to the land of Moriah. Along the journey, Isaac innocent of the intention of his father asks where the sacrificial lamb will be found. At the last moment, when Abraham has proved his willingness to carry out God’s demand he is granted a reprieve and a ram appears tangled in a thicket to be sacrificed in Isaac’s place.

The full significance of this theme for the Christians of northern Spain is borne out in the tympanum of the Door of the LambLeon-Corderon-9 at the palatine basilica of San Isidoro de León. Here the central image is Abraham grasping Isaac by the hair poised with a blade over his son.

Below to the right is Sara at the door of her tent and Ishmael on his way to Moriah. This is opposed on the left side by Hagar and Ishmael. Ishmael is represented as a mounted archer clearly intended to be identified as a Saracen cavalry fighter.

God’s Covenant with Abraham was cemented by this episode and as Genesis tells us that his “seed shall possess the gates of his enemies”. Leon-Corderon-30This was understood to mean the line of Isaac who as a prefiguration of Christ identified the Christians as God’s Chosen and the descendants of Ishmael were the Saracens who contemporary chronicles referred to as Ishmaelites. At the time the sculpture was created at León, in the early twelfth century the northern Christians of Spain had been suffering serious setbacks in their Crusade against the Moors. The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac was seen as a prophecy of Christian victory.

The depiction of the elect residing in the bosom of Abraham is an essential theme in Romanesque sculpture and occurs as part ofVez-Caps30 the large scale representations of Judgment at Moissac,  Conques and Arles.

The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke’s Gospel Chapter 16 is the only Biblical source for this vital component of the medieval conception of the eschatological scheme.

One of the capitals in the nave of the church of Sainte-Marie-Madeleine at Vézelay is of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

It is represented in its most detailed version on the left hand side of the porch of the Cluniac abbey of Saint-Pierre-de-Moissac.Moissac.psd13 The parable recounts the tale of a rich man who refused the crumbs of his table to a leprous beggar named Lazarus who is reduced to having his sores licked by a dog. Lazarus dies and is carried by angels into the bosom of Abraham.

When the rich man dies he is buried and is sent to hell where he can see Lazarus far above. He calls out to Abraham to send Lazarus to him to assuage the pain of his torments. Abraham responds that the gulf between them is too wide and cannot be crossed. The rich man then beseeches Abraham to send Lazarus to plead on behalf of his brother so that they might be spared the pain of hell, but again Abraham refuses.

There was a long exegetical tradition on the subject of the parable and each second Sunday after Pentecost it was selected as the Gospel passage when it was noted that Lazarus has been given a name because he appears in the Book of Life whereas the unnamed Rich Man does not. Furthermore, the dog who licks Lazarus’ leprous wounds is symbolic of the priestly caste.

Arles-FacadeIn Matthew’s Gospel 8, 11, Jesus proclaims that the elect would sit next to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is presented on the lintel beneath the Apocalyptic tympanum of the western facade of the cathedral of Saint Trophime at Arles.

At the Benedictine abbey of Conques there is a large detailed porch sculpture of the Last Judgment. It could be said to represent the whole of the twelfth century Benedictine view of the Afterlife. The sculpture is characterised by geometric lines which describe a hierarchical structure and bear inscriptions describing the scenes contained within.

Christ in Majesty is surrounded by Heaven and Hell. The Dead arise from their tombs and the Souls of the Dead are Weighed. The Saint of Conques, Sainte Foy is in an attitude of intercessory prayer while one manConques-Tymp21 is delivered into the Jaws of Hell and another is saved by the saint’s intercessory prayer. Paradise is divided in two. The higher register includes the Virgin Mary and Saint Peter as well as a number of saints and below is the Bosom of Abraham.

The Conques tympanum seems to present a telescoping of eschatological time so that the present and the future appear in the same image. Conques-Tymp54The Bosom of Abraham is an ante chamber to Paradise, where only the Saints are admitted before the End of Time. The inscription, “The chaste, the peacemakers, the meek, the friends of piety, thus they stand rejoicing, secure with no fear”.

This implies that their ultimate place in Paradise is assured.

Silos-Thomas-2The Apparition of Christ to Saint Thomas is rarely depicted in Romanesque sculpture. A short distance south of pilgrimage road near Burgos in Castile, the cloister piers of the Benedictine Abbey of Santo Domingo de Silos all feature large scale images of the Resurrected Christ.

On the north eastern corner the Journey to Emmaus is twinned with the Apparition of Christ to the Apostle Thomas. This story is told in only one of the gospel texts, the Gospel according to St John in Chapter 20, 24-9.

Silos-Thomas-4After the Crucifixion, and the subsequent Discovery of the Empty Tomb, the risen Christ appears to Mary Magdalene and then on the same day to an assembly of the disciples inside a house where they have collected for fear of persecution.

Only Thomas is absent and when told of the Resurrection he declares that only by placing his own hand inside the wound in Christ’s side will he be convinced of the Resurrection.Silos-Thomas-3

It is eight days later that Christ appears again before the assembled disciples and offers his wound to Thomas.

Christ then says to him that he can believe now he has seen for himself but that, “blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed”.

This episode is extolling the virtues of faith. At Santo Domingo de Silos the image, taken from a Byzantine original source, depicts the scene taking place before the other Apostles.