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A Gothic Sermon: Making a Contract with the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens

Stephen Murray
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: 1
Pages: 173
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  • Book Info
    A Gothic Sermon
    Book Description:

    In this groundbreaking work, Stephen Murray seizes a rare opportunity to explore the relationship between verbal and visual culture by presenting a sermon that may have been preached during the second half of the thirteenth century in or near the cathedral of Notre-Dame of Amiens, whose sculptural program was completed at about the same time. In addition to providing a complete transcription and translation of the text, Murray examines the historical context of the sermon and draws comparisons between its underlying structure and the Gothic portals of the cathedral. In the sermon, as in the cathedral, he finds a powerful motivational mechanism that invites the repentant sinner to enter into a new contract with the Virgin Mary. The correlation between elements of the sermon's text and the sculptural components of the cathedral leads to an exploration of the socioeconomic conditions in Picardy at the time and a vivid sketch of how the cathedral and its images were used by ordinary people. The author finds parallels in the rhetorical tools used in the sermon, on the one hand, and stylistic and compositional tools used in the sculpture, on the other. In addition to providing a fascinating and cogent consideration of medieval beliefs about salvation and redemption, this book also lays the groundwork for a long overdue examination of the performative and textual in relationship to sculpture.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-93007-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    More than twenty years ago, browsing in the printed catalogue of the collection of documents relating to Picardy (northeastern France) in the manuscript room of the Bibliothèque nationale, I came across an entry that promised the text of “a Picard sermon of the thirteenth century delivered, I believe, on the occasion of the construction of the cathedral of Amiens.”¹ Thinking that the text might provide exciting information about the life of a medieval cathedral and how it was actually used by ordinary folk, as well as a better understanding of the phenomenon we callGothic, I turned to the document...

  6. 1 Occasions and Audience
    (pp. 9-12)

    With all the caveats expressed in the Introduction, let us nonetheless assume that there was an intention to compose or to preach a sermon, and perhaps also that the sermon was preached on at least one occasion and that it was heard and transcribed. The preacher addresses a small group of people gathered in a church in honor of the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens (1).Marycan be understood in four ways: as a historic person, distant in time and place (the mother of Christ, or the “Mother of God”:Mère Dieu); as an institution (mother church,...

  7. 2 Structure and Content
    (pp. 13-25)

    Unlike most thirteenth-century sermons, which feature a clear organizing matrix with well-defined subdivisions, this repetitive and rambling piece has no readily discernible structure. Whereas contemporary sermons would explore a particular biblical text at various levels—historical, allegorical, anagogical, and tropological—our preacher remains almost entirely on the tropological, or moralizing, level, citing only fragmentary texts from the scriptures with references (insouciant, at times) to the Fathers. His principal illustrations are vivid vignettes and exempla. His “demonstrations” are lively stories.

    In a spectacular piece of revisionist scholarship, Michel Zink argued that the preacher’s apparently artless flow of consciousness is deceptive—that...

  8. 3 Rhetorical Strategies: The Art of Persuasion
    (pp. 26-32)

    Our sermon comes alive when read aloud. Of course, it is impossible to be certain about the correspondence of our text with the putative performance, and we can never recover the effects of the preacher’s cadences, pauses, gestures, grimaces, winks, or special emphasis on a word or syllable. One wonders, for example, how much the preacher played on the relationship betweenpardonnerandpar donner: you may have pardon by giving.¹ The rhymingrendre ou pendre(172 and 227) would, no doubt, have tripped off his tongue with particular force.

    The preacher resorts to several different strategies to secure the...

  9. 4 Portals and Preaching: Image and Word
    (pp. 33-47)

    As modern viewers, we really do not know how to look at the multiple elements of a Gothic sculptural program, which impose a massive image overload. Certainly, then, we have no idea how medieval people might have responded.¹ Now eroded, damaged, and stripped of polychromy, the sculptured images look dead—like fossils for us to arrange in “scientific” taxonomies. Recent conservation work has uncovered traces of the original paint applied to the sculpture at Amiens.² The column figures on the portals of the west facade, rendered only slightly larger than human scale in brightly colored, three-dimensional forms, might have once...

  10. Conclusion: Looking for “Reality”
    (pp. 48-58)

    The parallels between the rhetoric of the preacher and the persuasiveness of the portals show that much is to be learned from the interface between the two performances—oral and visual; sermon and sculpture. Each is part of a coherent and multisensory projection of Catholic dogma to the people of Amiens, as both diocese and city.¹

    More difficult, however, is understanding how the words of the preacher might relate to what was going on “out there.”² To consider the sermon a mirror of medieval society is obviously problematic. A successful preacher might have learned his métier from listening to others,...

  11. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  12. Sermon in Honor of the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens: Text and Translation
    (pp. 59-142)

    1 Bele douce gent, tant poi de vous comme il a repairié à sainte eglise en l’onner la glorieuse mere diu sainte Marie d’Amiens, qui est nostre mere eglise, dont vous tenés oile et cresme et bauptesme, noces et mariages, enoliement, enterrement, sains sacremens en est fais en sainte eglise.

    2 Il m’i convenra parler car à ciaus et à celes qui n’i sont ge n’i parlerai mie.

    3 Bele douce gent, me sire l’evesques d’Amiens, qui est nostre sire esperitueus et qui est ou lieu nostre segneur en terre, manda et commanda à vo segneur de prestre et à...

    (pp. 143-146)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 147-161)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 162-162)