The Language And Symbolism Embedded In Medieval Stone Bibles

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Interior of a Gothic Cathedral by Paul Vredeman de Vries (1612) Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Public Domain)

The Language And Symbolism Embedded In Medieval Stone Bibles

In the Middle Ages, paintings and sculptures had a powerful educational function. The Church relied on the language of images to influence the illiterate masses. Popular education was nourished not only through the organ of hearing, with sermons, litanies and collective prayers, but also through the organ of sight. The illiterate masses were guided to recognize models to inspire the conduct of their lives by visually retracing the events in the lives of Jesus, the saints, the martyrs, the hermits, painted and sculpted in religious buildings. Medieval imagination was nourished by the sources of the sacred through instructive figures. Medieval art certainly did not only appeal to the humble, but proved to be a precious vehicle for teaching the truths of the faith to those who could not access written texts.

Exultet Scroll at Opera del Duomo di Pisa Museum(Federigo Federighi/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

In 1025, the Synod of Arras decreed that what the illiterate could not understand through writing should be taught through painting. Throughout the Middle Ages, the most commonly used technique was tempera, using pigments bound with egg yolks and water. The Exultet, scrolls made of strips of parchment sewn together, used during the Easter liturgy, are among the most interesting testimonies of Medieval art. These manuscripts, which were unrolled from the pulpit in the presence of the faithful, have the peculiarity of having the text and images placed in the opposite direction, that is the written part facing the reader, while the images face the observers. In this way, while a deacon recited the text, the faithful could see the images illustrating the words.

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