Sunday, August 30, 2015

Cathedral of Our Lady, Amiens, Picardy, France

Cathedral of Our Lady, Amiens, Picardy, France.  West front.
Photo credit for exteriors and nave: Andrew Tallon
Lower west front with tympani, jamb sculptures, archivolt sculptures

Chevet (east) end of the cathedral with projecting chapels especially the Chapel of the Virgin.  Note the height of the  windows in the chapels.

Nave looking east.  The triforium of the nave is blind, that is there are no windows.  But the same level in the choir has windows that admit much light to the building.  Most of the stained glass has been lost. 

     So much has been written about the Cathedral of Our Lady at Amiens, Picardy, France, that there is nothing new that I can add. I will instead present a summary of what some art historians consider the finest and, during the Middle Ages, the largest Gothic church in France and Europe.

     Several churches existed on the site of the Amiens cathedral including a Romanesque church built between 1137 and 1152. It was at this cathedral that King Philip II Augustus married his second wife, Ingeborg of Sweden. This is the queen for whom the spectacular Ingeborg Psalter was commissioned that was discussed previously under the blog for the Soissons Cathedral.

     In 1206 the purported head (or more accurately the front facial bones of the skull without mandible) of John the Baptist was brought back to Amiens from the sacking of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. Wallo or Walon de Sarton, from Picardy, discovered a half-ball of transparent crystal that contained the facial section of a human skull resting on a silver plate. It was apparently one of two relics he acquired. The other was the head of Saint George. The Greek lettering around the plate said that the bones were from John the Baptist but he could not read the Greek and so went from monastery to monastery trying to get information. Walon gave the skull to the bishop at Amiens. This made the Cathedral of Our Lady a very prestigious site and soon a major pilgrimage site in France. The presence of the skull fragment brought in a substantial income to the cathedral. ( See these three books for more details: Alfred J Andrea Contemporary Sources for the Fourth Crusade: Revised Edition (2008) Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. David M. Perry. Sacred Plunder: Venice and the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade. (2015) University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. Charles Freeman Holy Bones, Holy Dust: How Relics Shaped the History of Medieval Europe (2012) New Haven: Yale University Press.)

     Thus, when the Romanesque church was severely damaged by fire in 1218, construction on a new cathedral in the new Gothic style began in 1220. The cathedral was mostly complete in a short period of time for medieval churches, about 50 years or about 1270 though some art historians give the date of 1288. The cathedral was not built from one end to the other. The crossing transept may have been built first since it seems to be central to the building’s proportions. There does seem to have continuous building once started. The lower nave was built in the 1220s and1230s. The upper nave was built in 1240s to 1260s. The upper part of the chevet with its double ambulatory and chapels was being built in 1260s. The date for the western front is far from certain but many of its elements point to an earlier period.

     The names of three of the master who built the cathedral are known-Robert de Luzarches, Thomas de Cormont, and his son, Renaud de Cormont. Thus, most of the church was built and decorated in the High Gothic style extending into the Rayonnant style in the choir and chevet. The two towers were built later. The south tower was constructed about 1366, and the north tower about 1401. Chapels in the nave were added later. These additions resulted in changes in the walls and buttresses that makes dating construction without period documentation more difficult.

     Much has been written about the cohesiveness of the cathedral because of its short construction period and the airy heights of the nave, aisles and choir. The cathedral is 476 feet or 145 meters long (exterior length) and the nave is 48 feet or 14.6 meters wide, and the overall width is 213 feet.. The height from the floor to the apex of the vault is 139 feet or 42.3 meters. The proportionality of the building is, “The plan is rigorously controlled by a central geometric matrix in the form of a great double square located in the crossing and contiguous bay. The diagonal of the great square gives the length of the nave and the half diagonal gives the choir.” (Stephen Murray) The plan of the church’s dimensions unfold from a center point in length, width, and height. (For an interesting discussion of the problems of going backward to try to figure out the intended proportions and measurements many centuries after a building was completed and often revised or repaired or rebuilt, see: Stephen Murray. Plotting Gothic: A Paradox. Architectural Histories: The open journal of the European Architectural History Network. 20 June 2014,

     Volumes have also been written about the elaborate sculptural schemes of the Cathedral that have been remarkably well preserved over the 8 centuries. Since that is not the point of this blog, I will skip over this.

     Once complete the Cathedral suffered its share of problems. Firstly, it was noted that the flying buttresses in the choir were placed too high to really support the stress on the walls. Cracks were appearing. Because of this a second set of buttresses were built lower down the wall of the choir. Then, in 1497, structural weaknesses was noted in the crossing piers as cracks appeared. This problem was remedied by the use of “Spanish iron” to anchor the piers at the height of the triforium. Wrought iron bar chains were installed while red hot so that they would cinch in the supporting structures as they cooled. The bar chairs are still in place and covered with centuries of corrosion. (S. Grassini, E. Angelini, M. Parvis, M. Bouchar, P. Dillman, D. Neff. An in situ corrosion study of Middle Ages wrought iron bar chains in the Amiens Cathedral. Applied Physics A: Materials Science and Processing (December 2013)113(4): 971-979)

    The Cathedral suffered some damage from the Huguenot iconoclasm of 1561. There was hurricane damage in 1627 and 1705. A near-by powder mill exploded in 1675 destroying much of the original stained glass. The cathedral apparently did not suffer much damage from the French Revolution, though its labyrinth built in the floor of the central crossing was destroyed. The architect and antiquarian Eugene Viollet-le- Duc worked on the restoration of the catherdral beginning in 1849. It was he who rebuilt the labyrinth and the elaborate patterning of the floor. The windows were removed before the onset of World War I and the building heavily sandbagged. Even so the cathedral was hit at least three times from bombs. The protection did save the vast numbers of sculptures, especially the elaborate west façade. The cathedral building was again heavily sandbagged in World War II, and so there was minimal damage to the walls and sculpture.

    As I already mentioned most of the period stained glass from Amiens has been lost.  The cathedral does have a Jesse Tree window but most of it was reconstructed in the 19th and 20th centuries.  After the colorful windows of Tours and Le Mans, one is struck by the blueness of the Amiens Jesse Tree window.  The Jesse Tree window was made about 1260 when the chevet at the east end of Amiens Cathedral was glazed.  There is red used as accents and in the glass around the prophets.  Still the overall impression is blue.  ( I will discuss making of glass in  the medieval period, at some point.  Because red glass tended to be so dark and opaque, it was usually flashed onto clear glass so that the red could be seen as light was transmitted through the glass.)

 The Jesse Tree window at Amiens is window #14 on the south side of the choir.  In this picture, it is window on the left.  The window is predominately blue.
Photo credits for stained glass: Painton Cowen

The Jesse window at Amiens is a tall single lancet window but it does not reach the height of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

There are 17 panels in the Jesse Tree window at Amiens.  Only 9 are substantially original containing 13th century glass.  Even the original panels have some old and some replacement glass as in the panel of the crowned and seated Virgin Mary.  The prophets that once flanked here are gone and replaced with some abstract flower designs in colored glass. This is shown in the two pictures below. An interesting note is that the colors that would come to be identifiable as those for the Virgin Mary, a blue cloak and red dress, are not yet standard in 13th century French stained glass windows. Today we may think of St. Mary as wearing pale blue and white but that color palette is modern.

 Red nimbed and crowned Virgin Mary seated in the blue glass mandorla with white Jesse vine with red accent.  She holds her right hand in blessing.

The whole panel of the Virgin Mary.  The prophets that used to flank her are replaced with abstract flower like designs of colored glass.

The next panel that is substantially original is the 6th panel below the Virgin Mary or 8th king above Jesse.  This panel has no identifying labels or symbols for the king or the prophets.

This is a generic king of Judah.  

This generic king of Judah is crowned but not otherwise identified.  He is flanked by two unidentified prophets.

The panel immediately below is also substantially original.  It is the 7th king below the Virgin Mary and the 7th king above Jesse.  Again this is a generic King of Judah accompanied by two prophets that are not named.
Another generic king with his right hand held up in blessing.
Most of this rich red glass was flashed, that is a thin layer of red glass was place to clear glass so the color was not too dark and could transmit light.

The prophets on each side of the king are not identified.

The next king down, that is the 8th king below the Virgin Mary and the 6th king above Jesse is also a generic king of Judah flanked by two prophets.  The king in this panel is very similar to the king above, wearing a red cloak and a green gown.  The kings hold his right hand up pointing to himself. The flanking prophets are not identified.

 Generic King of Judah, 8th below Virgin Mary and 6th above Jesse.  He appears to be pointing to himself.

Whole panel with flanking prophets..

Generic king of Judah holding a scepter.  This is the 9th king down from Virgin Mary and the 5th king above Jesse. His is pointing to himself.  He is seated and crowned.

The panel of the generic King of Judah holding a scepter and accompanied by two prophets.

The ninth king below Virgin Mary and the 5th king above Jesse hold a scepter but is otherwise not identified.  He is flanked by two prophets that carry banderoles but nothing is written on them to identify the prophets.

The tenth king down from St. Mary or the 4th king above Jesse is similar to the 8th king down or 6th king above Jesse.
Generic King of Judah. He is pointing to himself or holding a chain that hangs around his neck.

The whole panel of the 10th king below Virgin Mary and the 4th king above Jesse.  The drapery work of the cloak of the right prophets suggests a recent replacement of glass.

The third king above Jesse or the 11th king down from the Virgin Mary is holding a vielle in his lap. This is unusual since it if common to identify both Kings David and Solomon by the fact that they are holding or playing musical instruments.  But this is the same order of the windows as discussed previously for the Cathedral of Saint-Maruice in Angers.  It is not now possible to know if the order of the panels was rearranged at some point or if the iconography used to identify the Kings of Judah had not been established, except perhaps for King David with a harp or lyre.
Third king above Jesse holding a vielle in his lap.

Vielle playing king and two prophets in the third window above Jesse or the 11th king down from Virgin Mary.

The second king above the figure of Jesse is usually identified at King Solomon.  But in the Amiens window, King Solomon is shown as a  seated and crowned generic king holding a scepter in his left hand.  See below.

The center part of the second panel above Jesse.  This is traditionally identified as King Solomon but at Amiens, he is a red cloaked and green robed generic king with scepter similar to  the other kings in the  middle of the Jesse Tree window. (See above.)

The whole panel of the second king above Jesse.

In this window the reclining figure of Jesse is a modern replacement and is not included in the photographs taken by Painton Cowen and so will not be included in this blog. 

  In the panel above Jesse, King David is playing a peculiar instrument to be shown in a French Jesse Tree window.  The instrument shown is a bowed lyra that is a Byzantine instrument.  Apparently in medieval France, as well as much of northern and western Europe and Scandinavia, there were a number of stringed instruments played with a bow of varying shapes and sizes with varying numbers of strings.  Some used finger boards. Some did not.  So a stringed instrument in the lute and violin family would be a common site at a medieval court and where music was played.  Certainly crusaders could have seen such instruments, especially during the Fourth Crusade when the European troops captured and sacked Constantinople establishing the Latin Empire of Constantinople from 1204 to 1261.  Perhaps some of these exotic instruments were brought back to France, even to Picardy.  The Bishop of Soissons, Nivelon de Chérisy, returned to France in 1206 with a large collection of relics that were distributed to churches. Today, King David's instrument is  rare to see but perhaps not so to the glass makers of the Amiens stained glass windows.

King David playing an instrument.  A musical instrument played by King David was a reminded that to him is ascribed the composition of the Book of Psalms or 73 psalms. 

King David playing a lyra with two flanking and unidentified prophets.

      In summary, the Jesse Tree window  in the Cathedral of Our Lady in Amiens is a mixture of 13th century and more modern replacement glass.  It is a predominately blue window with seated forward facing kings with flanking unidentified prophets.  By the date of this window, 1260, showing King David above Jesse with a musical instrument, in this case a lyra, makes King David readily identifiable.  The same cannot be said for the king above David, usually King Solomon. The Blessed Virgin is seated and crowned.  In this window she has a hand held in blessing.  In other window already discussed she sometimes hold a prayer book and at other times a palm frond.  So the images used for the identification of Mary are still variable.  She is always seated below Jesus Christ and is not shone with an infant Jesus.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Typology and Typological Reasoning

     The early Christian church searched the Old Testament to find passages that seem to tell of the Messiah, or Redeemer or Savior or King that was to come to Israel’s aid.  And, by analogy, come to the aid of the early Church during periods of persecution and suppression.  The Christian church was not always persecuted during its first 300 or so years.  It was generally tolerated except when it came into conflict with the Roman understanding of social order that required sacrifice to the Emperor, though exemption certificates could at times be purchased.

     Pliny the Younger wrote to Emperor Trajan about 112 asking how to deal with Christians while he was governor of Bithynia, now Turkey.  Pliny found though Christians seemed to lead good lives, Christianity was a “bad and…extravagant superstition… spread like a contagion, not only into cities and towns, but into country villages also, which yet there is reason to hope may be stopped and corrected.”  Trajan’s reply has been preserved.  In part it reads, “These people are not to be sought for; but if they be accused and convicted, they are to be punished; but with this caution, that he who denies himself to be a Christian, and makes it plain that he is not so by supplicating to our gods, although he had been so formerly, may be allowed pardon, upon his repentance.” (Pliny the Younger, Epistolae, Book X, letters 97, 98.)  
      The periods of persecution and suppression of the early Church include:
1.     Nero (c. 64-68)
2.     Domitian (r. 81-96).
3.     Trajan (112-117). Christianity is outlawed but Christians are not sought out.
4.     Marcus Aurelius (r. 161-180).
5.     Septimus Severus (202-210).
6.     Decius (250-251). Christians are actively sought out by requiring public sacrifice
7.     Valerian (257-59).
8.     Maximinus the Thracian (235-38).
9.     Aurelian (r. 270–275).
10.  Diocletian and Galerius (303-324).

     The persecution of Christians in the western Roman Empire ended for the most part in 313 with the Edict of Milan. This document has never been found and the only reference to it in the Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica Book X  (Chapter 5, Copies of Imperial Laws <> ) written about the end of persecution:

When I, Constantine Augustus, and I, Licinius Augustus, came under favorable auspices to Milan and took under consideration everything which pertained to the common good and prosperity, we resolved among other things, or rather first of all, to make such decrees as seemed in many respects for the benefit of every one; namely, such as should preserve reverence and piety toward the deity. We resolved, that is, to grant both to the Christians and to all men freedom to follow the religion which they choose, that whatever heavenly divinity exists may be propitious to us and to all that live under our government.

     Given this long history of intermittent suppression, it is not surprising that the early Church turned to the Hebrew scriptures to look for hope to sustain their faith in Jesus Christ.  They turned to the books of the Former Prophets (the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings).  Samuel was included in many Jesse Tree renderings because Samuel spoke of the attributes of a king chosen by God, who would rule over Israel; protect the people from their enemies (1 Samuel 10:1) and who would be attentive to the will of God.  (1 Samuel 16)  

     They read the books of the four major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel  and Ezekiel.  All twelve of the minor prophets show up in Jesse Tree because of references to the hoped for Messiah.  Habakkuk is the most common.  Habakkuk’s prayer was popular with its vision of the wrath, majesty, and salvation of the Lord (Habakkuk 3:1-19).   Zechariah, another popular figure, is included because of the passage:  “Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he” (Zechariah 9:9). Another popular passage was from Hosea 14:57: “I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily, he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon...they shall flourish as a garden, they shall blossom like the vine...”

     Looking at the Old Testament as a text that foreshadows the conception, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and even Mary, his mother, is not a mindset that is easily understood in the 21st century.  But it was the usual method of thinking about the Old Testament in the Middle Ages and is called typology

     The medieval monks, clergy, and artists looked for passages in the Old Testament that they thought prefigured events in the life of Jesus and of his mother, Mary.  For example, the darkness at noon on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion was foreseen in a passage from Amos.  “I will make the sun go down at noon, and darken the earth in broad daylight.”  (Amos 8:9)  Using typology, one looks at one event as revealing or prefiguring another event, or an event as fulfilling a prior prophesy, or two or more events that imitate each other in some providential way.  Here are several more example of typological reasoning to help illustrate this way of thinking. The birth of Eve from the rib of Adam was seen as paralleling the birth of the Church from the pierced side of Jesus.  Cain leading Abel out to slay him was a foreshadowing of the Jews taking Jesus from Jerusalem before the crucifixion.  The laughter of Ham was seen as prefiguring the taunting of Jesus during his passion. During the Middle Ages, it was assumed that every event in the Old Testament had its typological twin in the New Testament.

     This sort of reasoning becomes especially prominent in the Biblia Pauperum, a type of picture Bible that became popular toward the end of the medieval period. 
This page from a Biblia Pauperum shows the three frequently linked stories of the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, the raising up of the bronze serpent by Moses and the Passion of Our Lord.

British Library King’s 5 f.17. Netherland (The Hugue) 1405.

The text on the left reads:
According to Genesis xii, 7-18, when Abraham has raised his sword to sacrifice his son, an angel of the Lord prevented him from heaven, saying: 'Do not lift your hand against the boy'. Abraham signifies the heavenly Father, who sacrificed his son (that is, Christ) on the cross for us all, so that in this way he might give an indication of the Father's love.         
The text on the right reads:   
 According to Numbers xxi, 4-8, when the Lord wanted to free from serpents the people whom the serpents had bitten he instructed Moses to make a brass serpent and hang upon it a stake so that whoever looked at it would be rid of serpents. The serpent hung up and stared at by the people signifies Christ on the cross, which every believing person who wishes to be rid of the serpent (that is, the devil) should gaze upon.

David’s scroll reads, “They have pierced my hands and my feet.”  The scroll from Isaiah is a reference to Isaiah 53 and the suffering servant poem.  The verse on the scroll is a paraphrase, “He was sacrificed because he himself wished it, and he bore our sins.”  Job’s scroll is Job 40.20 in the Vulgate, “Canst thou draw out the leviathan with a hook?”  The bottom line reads, “The suffering of Christ snatches us from the gloomy abyss.” Habakkuk’s scroll says, “There are horns on his hands: there his strength is hidden.”(Habakkuk 3.4b.) 

     To illustrate the linking of Old Testament with New Testament, here are a few examples of well-known Old Testament writings that tell the coming of Jesus, his life, and his death, and medieval understanding of Mary:  (A few of these references will be familiar to most modern Christians since they are read during Advent and sometimes at other times of the liturgical church year.)

1.               Numbers 17.24a. “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near-a star shall come out of Jacob and a scepter shall rise out of Israel …”  This passage was linked to the genealogy in Luke 3.24: “son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham, son of Terah, son of Nahor…”  This is also linked with references to the star of the Magi.(Matthew 2.2)

2.               Isaiah 40.3: “A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.’”  The verse from Isaiah prefigured the preaching of John the Baptist as written in Matthew 3, Mark 1.1-14, Luke 3.2-18, John 1.6-18.

3.               Isaiah 53.3.  “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”  This verse foretold the rejection of Jesus by his family, especially the verse John 7.5:  “For not even his brothers believed in him.”

4.               Jeremiah 31. 15:  “Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”  This verse foreshadowed the killing of infant and toddler children by Herod as written in Matthew 2.18.

5.               Hosea 11.1: “Out of Egypt I call my son.”  This verse was thought to refer to the time that Jesus and his family spent in Egypt as told in Matthew.

6.               Micah 5.2:  “O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.”  Even the gospel writers understood this verse to foretell the birthplace of Jesus Christ though Mark seemed to assume that Jesus was born in Nazareth.

7.               Zechariah 13.6: “And if anyone asks them, ‘What are these wounds on your chest?’ the answer will be ‘The wounds I received in the house of my friends.’”  The verse from Zechariah was linked to John 19.1: “Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.  A similar verse is found in Matthew 20.19 when Jesus foretells the manner of his death.  “[T]hey will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified; and on the third day he will be raised.”  Luke 23.22 is part of the speech that Pontius Pilate has with the crowd.  “A third time he said to them, ‘Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no ground for the sentence of death; I will therefore have him flogged and then release him.’”

8.               Malachi 4.5: “I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes.”  Jesus identified John as Elijah in Matthew 11.14: “and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.

9.               Noah was saved by the wooden ark (Genesis 6-9) as the wood of the cross became an instrument of salvation with the death and resurrection of Jesus.

10.            Isaac carried the wood for his sacrifice (Genesis 22:6), and this was linked symbolically with Jesus carrying his cross before the crucifixion (John 19:17).

11.            The passage from Zechariah 12.10, “when they look on me whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn.”  This foreshadowed the piercing of the side of the crucified Jesus as described in John 19.34, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water.”

12.            Linked to this verse about blood and water are two sacraments of the Christian church, namely the Eucharist and Baptism.

13.            Jacob’s ladder (Genesis 28:10-22) has been linked to both Jesus and Mary.  Jacob’s ladder was seen as the reference in Jesus’ comment to his newly recruited disciples that they will see “the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1.51).  The ladder image is again referenced both to Jesus’ statement that he was the gate or door to heaven (John 10:9), and the Ascension. 

14.            In addition, the ladder symbol is applied to Mary as the ladder or mediator between earth and her Son, the Redeemer. 

15.            The ladder was a symbol for the Cross when applied to humankind.  Believers will ascend by the ladder of faith to Heaven and unbelievers will descend to Hell.

16.            Joseph being thrown into the pit in the wilderness by his brothers (Genesis 37:23-4), and Jonah being swallowed by the fish (Jonah 1:17) were two stories that looked forward to laying the body of Jesus in a tomb.  (Matthew 27:60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:42)

17.            Moses beheld the burning bush and God spoke to him from the bush.  (Exodus 3:1-6).  This was seen as a parallel to Angel Gabriel appearing to Mary and revealing to her the significance of the child she was to carry. 

18.            Moreover, as the bush held fire but was not consumed by it, so Mary held within her God manifested as Jesus, and she was not harmed by his birth and remained a Virgin.

19.            The three days that the three young men were in the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:13-30), and Jonah was in the belly of the big fish (Jonah 1: 17), were thought to presage the time between Jesus’ crucifixion, death, and resurrection.

20.            Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel 6:10-24) was compared with the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

21.            Besides, the Daniel in the lion’s den story has been interpreted as symbolizing Mary’s virginity.  Just as Daniel was protected by an angel of God without the seal being broken, so Mary was kept a virgin.

22.            The anointing of David by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13) paralleled the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1.9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:31-34).  Thus both the Old Testament Samuel and the New Testament John the Baptist appear in Jesse Trees.  Yet, John the Baptist appears in Jesse Trees quite rarely when compared to Samuel.

23.            The phrase from Hosea 11.1 “out of Egypt I called my son” was seen as an allusion to Matthew 2.19-21 when Joseph brought Mary and the child Jesus from Egypt to Israel.

24.            A staff alluded to the Virgin.  In Latin this is a word play between virgo (virgin) and virga (rod or stem).  The oldest example may be the letter of Jerome (c. 347-420) to Eustochium (Letter XXII) using Isaiah 11.1.  In the letter, Jerome wrote, “The rod is the mother of the Lord—simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but fruitful in singleness like God Himself.  The flower of the rod is Christ.”

25.            Jesus as the “righteous branch” of David (Jeremiah 23.5) appeared in a sermon of Pope Leo I the Great (reigned from 440-460) wrote for Christmas.[1]  “David’s Lord was made David’s Son, and from the fruit of the promised branch sprang One without fault, the twofold nature joining together into one Person, that by one and the same conception and birth might spring our Lord Jesus Christ.”
26.            The rod of Jesse image of Isaiah 11.1 was blended with the rod of Aaron described in Numbers.  Aaron’s staff became a snake before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:9), and then sprouted, producing buds and blossoms, and ripe almonds. (Numbers 17:8).  Just as a rod without a root produced fruit so Mary without marriage brought forth a son.  The rod of Aaron was probably the source for the apocryphal story about how Joseph was chosen to the guardian of the Virgin Mary as her husband. (See previously mentioned references to the Infancy Gospel of James and Pseudo-Matthew.) The figure of Aaron’s rod was then linked to images from Isaiah of the virgin who will give birth to a son. (Isaiah 7.14) The figure became more dense by the Middle Ages.  Mary was the vine and Jesus the flower or fruit of the vine.  This was yoked to the image of Jesus as the true vine from John 15.1-4.
This typological reasoning resulted in considerable complexity in the various meanings that could be placed on the figures of a Jesse Tree no matter where it appeared, window, manuscript, carving in wood and stone.  In fact, the name typological window is given to stained glass windows made especially to link Old Testament stories with New Testament events.  But that is a separate subject that I cannot begin to discuss now.
In summary, the Old Testament references in the Jesse Tree was meant to link together the Old and New Testaments.  The Old Testament was not viewed as a free standing compilation of Jewish history, law, poetry, wisdom and stories.  The Old Testament was seen as the prelude, the forerunner of the New Testament, even to the point that everything in the Old Testament had a parallel in the New.

[1] Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers-2.  Vol. XII, Sermon XXVIII, On the Festival of the Nativity, VIII, iii. <>

Cathedral of Saint-Gatien at Tours, France

     The Cathedral of Saint-Gatien in Tours is named for the founding bishop of Tours who in the 3rd century was sent to Christianize the pagans of Gaul along with six other men.  According to the Ecclesiastical History of the Franks written by Gregory of Tours in the 6th century, Gatianus was sent to Tours, along with Trophimus to Arles, Paul to Narbonne, Saturninus to Toulouse, Dionysis (Denis) to Paris, Stremonius to Clermont, and Martial to Limoges. There were sent year 250/251 from Rome.  Gatien preached and worked in the area of Tours until his death in 301.  Christianity was not well established at the time of his death. There was a 36 year gap before the next bishop was chosen.  It was not until Martin of Tours was acclaimed bishop in 371 that Tours and its vicinity could be said to be Christian.  Even Martin spent much of his time converting people from their old religions, and placing them in groups under the supervision of priests and monks.  This method of organization eventually became the parish.

The west front of the Cathedral of Saint-Gatien.

Nave of Saint-Gatien looking east

East end of choir, looking through the ambulatory to the chapels beyong and showing the three lancet windows with tracery above in the choir clerestory
Photo credit for all Jesse Tree stained glass(unless otherwise noted): Dr. Stuart Whatling

Stained glass windows of the east end of cathedral.  Jesse Tree window is in the center of the right window.

     The present Cathedral of Saint Gatien was started in 1170 after the the previous cathedral was damaged by fire in 1166. The Cathedral was not completed until the mid 16th century when the west facade and towers were built. The cathedral was built in many different stages and the work from the 1170s was in the Romanesque style.  The east end of the church including the chancel, choir, ambulatory and projecting chapels seems to have been built during 1236 to 1279 under the architect (or maitre de l'oeuvre), Etienne de Mortagne.  The building of the chevet was undoubtedly interrupted by the Crusade tax that was imposed from 1248-1252. Apparently the upper part of the chancel was redesigned during the hiatus to more resemble Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.  The nave was not finished until about 1450 and thus it was built in the Flamboyant Gothic style. The end date for the construction is usually given as 1547 when the south tower of the west face was finally finished.

     At the east end of the choir in Bay 202, there is a Jesse Tree stained glass window.  It is the center lancet of three lancet window.  The other two lancets tell the stories of the infancy of Christ, from biblical sources including the Annunciation, the Visitation, Nativity, the visit from the Magi, the killing of the children of Bethlehem (Holy Innocents), the Presentation at the Temple, and the Flight into Egypt.  Perhaps it is because the flanking windows tell the early life of Jesus, there are no flanking prophets in the Jesse Tree window.  What is the need to include reminders that the prophets seem to foretell the coming of a Messiah, when the stories of the Messiah are already part of the window?  In the next blog, I am going to step away from discussing single lancet French Jesse Tree stained glass windows and write about typology and the medieval mindset when it came to reading the Bible.

    In the meantime, back to the central panel Jesse Tree in the clerestory of the Choir at the Cathedral in Tours. There are only five figures in the Jesse Tree. The bottom panel in split in half horizontally and shows the occupation of the donors of the window, drapers. More on this below.  The five figures are sleeping Jesse, two generic Kings of Judah without iconography to identify them as Kings David and Solomon, Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ seated with three doves.

 Whole window in bay 202.  The outside lancets are referred to as the Infancy of Christ.  The center lancet is a five figure Jesse Tree.  The Three bottom panels are the donors, Matthew, his wife Dionisia or Denise and furriers and drapers in the central panel.

 Jesus Christ seated with right hand held up in blessing and brown book in the left hand.  Note that there are three doves, the symbol of the Trinity.

 Virgin Mary holding a green palm branch in her right hand.  Her left hand is held in blessing and not grasping to the Jesse Tree vine.

 Unidentified King of Judah grasping the Jesse Tree vine.  This is normally the position of King Solomon.

Unidentified King of Judah grasping Jesse Tree vine with both hands.  This would normally be King David.
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Sleeping Jesse with tree trunk growing from his body.
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     The windows in the clerestory of the choir of St. Gatien at Le Mans are usually dated to the 1260s. In the archives of Tours, there is a book entitled Liber statutorum Ecclesiae Turonensis that gives the name of Richard le Vitrier who lived nearby or was a neighbor to Etienne de Mortagne, the master of works for the cathedral. It is to Richard that the glass of the choir is attributed. It was made after the Jesse window in Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and some art historians see the influence of Sainte-Chapelle on Tours, though, I really do not (but then I would be considered an untrained eye.).  The stained glass windows at Sainte-Chapelle were very influential in the development of stained glass elsewhere in France.  Yet the Jesse Tree window at Tours does not bear much resemblance to the very tall Jesse Tree window at Sainte-Chapelle.  The window at Tours is much less dominated by the theme of kingship.  It is smaller and simpler in design than the Jesse Tree in Paris. There is much more yellow and green glass in the Tours window than is used in Paris.  Moreover the Tours window has more resemblance to the Jesse Tree window at Saint-Julien, Le Mans, which was made perhaps a decade before the Jesse window at Tours. Both the Jesse windows at Le Mans and Tours may have been made after Sainte-Chapelle was glazed.   Both windows at Le Mans and Tours are different from the Jesse Tree at Saint Maurice, Angers, another relatively close cathedral to Le Mans and Tours, and made about the same time. Angers is a red and blue glass window primarily.  It appears to me that the Jesse Tree windows of Le Mans and Tours represent a regional variation in the Jesse Tree that is distinct from Paris.

     At the bottom of the Infancy of Christ and Jesse Tree windows at Tours are three panels showing the donors.  At the bottom left is a panel with a knelling man who is identified at Matthew.  In abbreviated text it says that Matthew gave [this window] to the Holy Mary.  On the right panel is a woman knelling who is identified as Dionisia (Denise) his wife.  One can infer that he is a wealthy man since the sleeve of his cloak appears to be furred lined.

The donor, Matthew
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The donor's wife, Denise.

    The center panel is divided horizontally.  The upper panel depicts a man showing a fur-lined cloak to two women.  The pattern of the fur lining is called vair because it is made from the dark back fur and white belly fur the Sciurus vulgaris or red squirrel that is sown together.  In the bottom panel a man measures out yardage of a striped fabric for two men, one of whom is wearing a green hooded cloak.  Thus it is assumed that the two donors were well-to-do drapers or clothiers and furriers from Tours.  This Jesse Tree window is the first surviving window that has its donors identified.  It is the gift of a merchant and not a noble or senior clergy member.  The window is remarkable for its simplicity of design and colorful use of primary and secondary colors.

Center donor panel with vair cloak and stripped fabric representing furrier and drapers.


Linda M. Papanicolaou. Stained Glass from the Cathedral of Tours:The Impact of the Sainte-Chapelle in the 1240s .(1981) Metropolitan Museum of Art Journal. 15:53-66.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Cathedral of Saint Maurice, Angers, Maine-et-Loire (in the former province of Anjou), France

     The city of Angers used to be the capital of the province of Anjou ruled by counts.  In 1127, Count Geoffrey married the widowed daughter of Henry I of England, Matilda or Maud.  Their eldest son, Henry became Henry II of England, the first of the Plantagenet kings.   As such it was the home town of the Plantagenet family though Geoffrey was born and buried at nearby Le Mans.

     The story of the building of the cathedral at Angers is one that is familiar by now.  A Romanesque cathedral was built to replace a much smaller church.  The new Romanesque church burnt to the ground in 1032.  The same bishop, Hubert de Vendome, who oversaw the consecration of the Romanesque church started the rebuilding some time after the fire.  This Romanesque church was consecrated in 1096.  The retrofitting and rebuilding of the church in the Gothic style was begun under Bishop Ulger (1123-1149) and continued under his successor Bishop Normand de Doue (1149-1153). The west front of the Cathedral retains the darker stone of the older Romanesque church at the lowest level.  The church took centuries to build and the tower and west facade were not finished until the Renaissance.

West front of the Cathedral of Saint Maurice, Angers, France.  The present cathedral was built over centuries.  The darker stone at the lowest level is from the 12th century Romanesque church.

The lower half of the walls of the nave are retained from the Romanesque church as can be seen in the photograph below.  The walls were reinforced to accommodate the weight of the vaulting covering the nave,  The cathedral has no aisles.  So the windows that light the church are at the clerestory level.
Looking east down the nave.  The lower half of the wall was retained from the older Romanesque church and retrofitted.

West entrance to the cathedral with large tympanum of Jesus Christ seated in majesty and the four living creatures that surround the throne of God in the Revelation of John. It was St. Jerome writing about 398 in his preface to the Commentary on Matthew when he established the symbols as we know them today: Matthew-human or angel, Mark-lion, Luke-ox, and John-eagle. This entrance was built about 1170-1180.
The remains of the Gothic porch as be seen in the stone work but it was demolished in 1807.

     The rounded east end of the choir, the chevet, required that the old town wall be demolished to make room for the addition.  This addition was built in the period of 1225-1240 during the time Guillaume de Beaumont was bishop (1202-1240).  The windows in the chevet are doubled lancet windows with an oculus at the top.  The Cathedral of Saint Maurice had the advantage of many other cathedrals in that it was much less dependent of money from pilgrims to make additions and repairs. Boulanger is her analysis of the windows at Saint Maurice notes a unity of iconography among the windows that is not found in many other cathedrals dependent on the money from pilgrims and gifts from wealthy donors.  Donors did pay for window repairs, and this is documented by the inclusion of the arms of the donor family in the window.  David King noted in a article for Vidimus, "The St John the Baptist window in the choir, for example, given in the thirteenth century by Richard de Tosny, the cathedral treasurer, was restored in the early fourteenth century by the Chaumont family, whose arms were inserted in the border"
The east end of St. Maurice with the double windows and oculus at the top.

Bay 103 on the north side of the choir has a Jesse Tree window on the right and the martyrdom of St. Lawrence on the left.
     The Jesse Tree window in Bay 103 at Angers is a few years earlier that the Jesse Tree window of Saint-Chapelle in Paris. The window at the Cathedral of Saint Maurice has more in common with lower clerestory window at Cathedral of St. Julian at Le Mans or the Cathedral of St. Stephen in Auxerre, than with Sainte-Chapelle. The Jesse window is one of eleven windows in the chevet that were glazed during the period 1230-1235 that still exist.  A couple of the lost windows are known from fragments.  So the chevet retains a remarkably complete set of 13th century windows made with a  cohesive scheme, the lives of saintz and Virgin Mary.  The windows did undergo restoration at a intervals and some of the windows have been moved.  Replacements for lost windows has continued into the 20th century to repair damage done during the bombardment of World War II.  Unfortunately the Jesse Tree window at Angers needs cleaning since the detail has been lost and many of the colors have been muted by grime and perhaps glass corrosion.

The whole Jesse Tree window in Bay 103.
Photo credit for Jesse Tree windows (unless noted): Painton Cowen

Jesus Christ seated with seven doves.  Right hand is held in blessing. In his left hand is a blue book There are two flanking unidentified prophets. 
Photo credit: Dr. Stuart Whatling

 Crowned Virgin Mary with a scepter in her right hand.  She is flanked by two prophets and a knelling figure who is presumably the donor of the window.  The prophet on the right is wearing a blue cap. 

Unidentified King of Judah.  He is flanked by two unidentified prophets.  Note that the head of the right prophet is a obvious later repair.

Unindentified King of Judah holding a scepter in the left hand, flanked with two prophets.  Note that the prophet on the right is wearing a pointed Jew's cap in green.

King playing a vielle on his left shoulder.  He is flanked by two prophets. Note that the prophet on the king's right is the same design as the prophet on king's right immediately above.

 First King of Judah above King David.  In the usual iconography, this is King Solomon. The king is holding a scepter in his right hand.  He is flanked by a prophet on his left hand that is wearing a pointed green Jew's cap, as is the prophet to Virgin Mary's left.

King David playing a celtic style harp. The prophet on the right is the same as the prophet above on the right of Virgin Mary.  He is wearing a blue cap.  The prophet on the left is wearing a pointed Jew's cap in red.
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Reposing Jesse as seen through a protective grille.  There is a large white trunk arising from the body of Jesse.  He is flanked by two prophets that appear to be much later replacements.
Photo credit: Dr. Stuart Whatling

   Hopefully the reader has noticed the standardization of the colors for the background on the Jesse Tree windows.  It is either red or blue or a mixture with red or blue glass within the mandorlas that surround the figures and blue or red outside the mandorlas.

      There is the beginning of a standardized iconography that allows the identification of at least two of the kings that come after Jesse, namely Kings David and Solomon.  King David is playing a harp, a symbols associated with the David as the composer of the Psalms.  Also there are frequent references to harps or lyres in the story of David including his playing the harp for King Saul (1 Samuel 16.23) and  the frequent references to music made to honor God including harps (and lyres). 

     It is curious then that the king above David, Solomon, is only holding a scepter and not playing an instrument as is the third king above Jesse. Solomon is associated with the composition of the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs.  The stained glass windows of Saint Maurice suffered through periods of neglect followed by restoration and repair, and again long centuries of neglect or destruction as a result of iconoclasm or war.  It is possible to speculate that during one of these restorations the panel of Solomon and a generic king of Judah with scepter were reversed.  This argument is not sustained because the same pattern of king with scepter for King Solomon and generic king playing an instrument appears in another stained glass window from the same period.  The very large Jesse Tree window at the Cathedral of Our Lady at Amiens, Picardy, France, was made about 1260, with restoration in the 19th and 20th centuries.  In this window, King David is playing the bowed lyra, a Byzantine instrument.  The king above him and therefore Solomon is a sceptered king and the third generic king is playing a vielle in his lap.  So perhaps the iconography of Solomon also playing a instrument was not yet firm.

     Another curious feature of the Jesse Tree window at Angers is the kneeling donor dressed in purple petitioning the Blessed Virgin Mary. This seems to be the first Jesse Tree window that has survived in which the donor is shown beseeching the Virgin Mary. This portrayal of Mary as the Mediatrix between humans and Jesus was being developed as part of the cult of Mary.  A Jesse Tree window at the  choir of Cathedral of Saint Julien in Le Mans also has a kneeling donor.  This kneeling donor is placed in the choir Jesse window next to the reclining Jesse in the Le Mans cathedral.  Thus it seems as though the donor's petition isaddressed to all the figures above, not just the Virgin Mary.

    This Jesse Tree window has two blue capped prophets and three prophets wearing the pilleus cornutus,or Jew's hat ordered at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.  Similarly hatted prophets are found in the Jesse Tree window of the relatively near Cathedral of Saint Julian at LeMans.


Karine Boulanger, Les Vitraux de la cathédrale d’Angers,((2010) Paris, Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques (CTHS), coll. « Corpus Vitrearum-France », vol. III,

David King. Angers Cathedral Vidimus Vol. 48. February 2011.  <>

Angers, Cathédrale Saint-Maurice.  Mapping Gothic Europe <>

Monuments historique: Inventaire général du patrimoine culturel <>