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The Allegory of the Church

The Allegory of the Church: Romanesque Portals and Their Verse Inscriptions

Calvin B. Kendall
with photographs by Ralph Lieberman
Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 457
  • Book Info
    The Allegory of the Church
    Book Description:

    The Allegory of the Church is the first full-length study of Romanesque verse inscriptions in the context of church portals and portal sculpture, and is the product of a twenty-year study.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8048-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations, Text Figures, and Maps
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Part One The Making of Meaning

    • 1 The Allegory of the Church
      (pp. 3-18)

      For more than a thousand years after the emergence of Christianity as an organized religion in the first century ad, the most powerful minds in Christendom focused on a single problem: how to read and interpret the word of God in the book of the Bible and the book of nature. The building in which Christians worshipped did not escape this scrutiny; it was interpreted by the same exegetical methods that were developed to interpret the Bible. The church was a multilevel allegory and every part of it was infused with meaning. It was read as the heavenly Jerusalem and...

  6. Part Two The Early History of Christian Verse Inscriptions

    • 2 Constantine and the Mosaics of Rome
      (pp. 21-32)

      The story of how verse inscriptions came to play an important role in the design and meaning of Romanesque portals and in the articulation of the allegory of the church can be said to begin with the Gospel accounts of Christ’s Passion.¹ According to Luke, the soldiers mocked Jesus and offered him vinegar and said: ‘“If thou be the king of the Jews, save thyself.” And there was also a superscription written over him in letters of Greek, and Latin, and Hebrew: “This is the King of the Jews.”’² The inscription was doubly ironic. Its putative authors would have meant...

    • 3 Portal Inscriptions, Liminal Transformation, and the Creation of Sacred Space
      (pp. 33-48)

      The practice of adding inscriptions to churches spread widely throughout western Europe. Verses accompanied apse mosaics, just as they did in Rome, but other parts of the church also received inscriptions. Most of these have long since disappeared, as have the buildings that displayed them. Nevertheless, enough evidence remains to show that verses were often displayed on exterior walls and with increasing frequency above the portals of churches and other buildings in monastic complexes, where they exhibited a new tone and focus. They concerned themselves with the spiritual well-being of worshippers, and they served to create and delineate sacred space....

  7. Part Three Visions and Voices:: Allegorizing the Romanesque Church

    • 4 ‘I am the door’: Typological Allegory and the Design of the Romanesque Portal
      (pp. 51-68)

      The allegory of the church concentrated the full power of Christological typology on the main portal through which the laity entered to worship and to venerate the relics of the saints. The portal was interpreted in light of the figure of speech that Jesus applied to himself: ‘I am the door. By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved’ (John 10:9). These words are inscribed around the rim of the early twelfth-century tympanum of Christ in Majesty above the west portal of Alpirsbach in Baden-Württemberg,¹ and on the open book in Christ’s hand in the mosaic Deesis...

    • 5 The Voice of Allegory: Language and Form in Romanesque Verse Inscriptions
      (pp. 69-79)

      The church addressed worshippers on the typological level of the allegory in the voice of Christ or the Church. This voice was given visible expression in the verses that were inscribed on the churches and their portals. Nearly all of these verses were composed in Latin in a single metre – the quantitative dactylic hexameter (including its dependent form, the pentameter of the elegiac couplet). There seems no obvious reason why this should be so. The choice of Latin is understandable. Latin was the sacred language of the Church. No vernacular language had yet acquired the prestige that would enable...

    • 6 The Portal as Christ: Personification or Real Presence?
      (pp. 80-91)

      A fine line separated the allegorical interpretation of the church as Christ from the idolatrous confusion of Christ’s image above the portal with the reality that it represented. The novel appearance of large-scale sculpted images of God and the saints generated anxiety. The seated figure of Christ at Regensburg is about three feet high. His feet rest on a stool, on the front of which is a donor bust. An inscription around the circular rim of the donor bust allows the sculptures to be assigned to the time of Abbot Regenward (1048–64). There are verses on the frame that...

    • 7 Portal Inscriptions as ‘Performatives’
      (pp. 92-98)

      When the Romanesque portal directly addressed the faithful, the voice of the portal was typically expressed as a command in the imperative or subjunctive mood, for example: ‘enter,’ ‘do not enter,’ ‘change your ways.’ Dante’s imitation at the beginning of Canto 3 of theInfernois exact, although demonically inverted. Over the gate of hell are inscribed the awful words:

      Per me si va ne la città dolente,

      Per me si va ne l’etterno dolore,

      Per me si va tra la perduta gente ...

      Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create

      Se non etterne, e io etterno duro.

      Lasciate ogne...

    • 8 Conditional Transcendence: Movement between the Literal and Spiritual Levels of the Allegory of the Church
      (pp. 99-108)

      When the church building was sacralized by the ceremony of dedication, it became the house of God, without ceasing to be a material structure in the temporal world. It existed on both levels at once. Its double nature might be differently experienced, depending on the individual worshipper’s state of mind or soul. The aesthetic perfection of the building’s structure was understood to have a transforming effect. The author of thePilgrim’s Guidepraises the cathedral of Santiago of Compostela in these terms: ‘In this church, in truth, one cannot find a single crack or defect: it is admirably built, large,...

    • 9 Anagogical Allegory and Imagery: Gate of Heaven, Gate of Life, Fountain of Life
      (pp. 109-121)

      The Romanesque church was, by anagogy, the heavenly city – the interpretation visually incorporated into the tympanum of Conques, where the heavenly city is represented by an image of the earthly church (fig. 2). Since the church was the heavenly city, its portal was the gate of heaven. Passage through the portal brought the worshipper into heaven itself. The interior of many of the larger basilicas, with their vaulted and/or painted ceilings, carved capitals, stained glass as that became fashionable, and other decoration, must have reinforced this interpretation – this moment of anagogical transcendence. But entrance into heaven was always...

    • 10 Moral Allegory: Admonitory and Pax Portals and the Tympanum of Jaca
      (pp. 122-138)

      The literal level of the allegory, the church as the temple of Solomon, allowed for the possibility of unspiritualized entry into the church. Liminal inscriptions warned worshippers and pilgrims in severe tones to purify themselves before entering; otherwise the sacred space might be sullied by the presence of the impenitent. The instruction was tropological, though the voice of the instruction was Christ or the Church (typology).¹ At the abbey church of Sainte-Marie of Cassan in southern France, these verses are inscribed on a square marble plaque above the north portal: ‘You, whoever you are – a man with a burden...

    • 11 Visions of Allegory: The Archivolts of Aquitaine
      (pp. 139-152)

      By virtue of its metaphysical assumptions and as an interpretative model, the allegory of the church profoundly influenced the architecture and decoration of Romanesque churches, but this almost never led to a systematic representation of all the different levels of the allegory in portal sculpture. Consequently, it is fascinating to find that artists visually projected a schematic idea of the multiple levels of the allegory of the church in the archivolts above the main portals of an important group of churches in the area of Aquitaine that includes Poitou, Vendée, and Saintonge.

      Archivolts enlarged and proliferated early in the twelfth...

  8. Part Four Secular Transformations

    • 12 The Search for the New: Politics, Pilgrimage, and Economics
      (pp. 155-170)

      The allegory of the church was not a doctrine, but a habit of mind, a mental framework, that manifested itself especially in the design of the Romanesque portal. To the extent that any particular church was perceived not merely to represent but to be Christ and his Church, it was natural for it to ‘speak’ in one voice or the other to the community of worshippers, and for that voice to be given visible expression in the Latin verses that were carved above (or below) the portal. But as time went on, the sense of ‘real presence’ diminished. Churches were...

    • 13 Artists and the Pursuit of Fame
      (pp. 171-184)

      The myth that artisans in the Middle Ages were content to labour humbly and anonymously for the glory of God on the construction of great churches and in the creation of magnificent art dies hard. In fact, many of them managed to inscribe their names, often prominently, somewhere on their work.¹ The desire for personal fame seems to have been just as deeply ingrained in men of the Romanesque period as at most other times in human history. It is true that artists were less likely to sign their names to large sculptural programs, particularly in monastic churches, than to...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 14 Allegory Undone: Patronage and the Shift to Representational Symbolism
      (pp. 185-196)

      The premises of the allegory of the church were fundamentally incompatible with the age-old tradition of patrons celebrating their patronage by means of prominently displayed inscriptions. The allegory of the church directed the self toward God and encouraged its absorption into Christ and the heavenly city; it would have worked to exclude almost all names outside those of the sacred persons. The display of a patron’s name would have had the contrary effect of reminding worshippers that the church was a material object external to the self and dominated by the human will. And yet, despite this evident distraction from...

  9. Catalogue of Romanesque Verse Inscriptions
    (pp. 197-300)

    The Catalogue is an inventory of Latin verses carved in stone on mural surfaces, including columns, of churches and monasteries in western Europe from ad 1000 to the thirteenth century. Epitaphs and verses on movable objects, such as altars and baptismal fonts, are not included, unless special circumstances dictate otherwise. Dedication inscriptions are admitted only if they are associated with other verse inscriptions or have some claim to being part of the façade decoration. The beginning limit of the temporal range is arbitrary; the terminal limit is set by the exhaustion of the tradition of verse inscriptions in the thirteenth...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 301-354)
  11. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 355-378)
  12. Index
    (pp. 379-401)