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A Study q/YA j Poetry and 
Art of the C!ai<)lic Church 


This is the first American edition of the 
classic analysis of the aesthetics of Catholic 
ritual and liturgy, long considered an essen- 
tial book for students of the philosophy of 
art and of religion,, and long unavailable 
in English. Except for a Swedish edition, 
it has been out of print for many years; 
hence it has been intimately known only 
to specialists,, and rare copies have brought 
very high prices. Beacon brings it back 
to English readers as a basic piece of 
scholarship that should never have been 
permitted to disappear. Writing in 1909, 
Him brings out dozens of scholarly insights 
of fact and interpretation which most 
readers today attribute to the newer work 
of the scholars responsible for the Revised 
Standard Version of the Bible (1952) or 
of those working with the Dead Sea Scrolls. 
Him was half a century ahead of the 
scholarship of his day. 

The author examines in rich detail the 
complicated mythology of Catholicism. He 
discusses the dogma and the legends with 
an inexhaustible wealth of learning, and 
relates this information to the art of the 
Church. Tn many ways, this study can be 
thought of as a combination of cultural 
anthropology and mythology as expressed 
in various art forms. Even the most literate 
layman will find fascinating new facts on 
almost every pagefor example, in the 
details and variations of the Mary Legend. 

Tt is important to emphasize that Hirn's 
point of view is that of the scholar and 
(Continued on back flap) 

w ocr i i 

4 1976 

246 H66 


The sacred, shrine 



Yrjo Him (1870-1952) was professor of aesthetics and 
modern literature at the University of Finland from 1910 
to 1937. He was the author of The Origins of Art: A Psy- 
chological and Sociological Inquiry (published in English 
in 1900) and of studies of Johnson, Boswell, and Swift 
(published in Swedish). 






BEACON PRESS Beacon Hill Boston 

First published in Swedish in 1909. First published in English 
in 1912 by Macmillan and Co., London. 

First Beacon edition published 1957. 
Printed in the United States of America 


IT has not been possible to indicate the aim of the 
present work by means of an unequivocal title. Some 
introductory explanation as to the purpose of the 
following investigations should not, therefore, be super- 
fluous. The reader has a claim to know for what end 
his attention is demanded ; the author, again, has the 
right to defend himself against the misapprehensions 
to which the name of his book may give rise. 

The subject I propose to treat is connected with 
the theory of Art, and the questions dealt with in the 
following pages have all been apprehended as aesthetic 
problems ; but in the treatment of these problems other 
methods have been used than those of purely aesthetic 
inquiry. The further the work proceeded, the more 
evident became the necessity of taking into considera- 
tion phenomena connected only indirectly with man's 
artistic activity. Thus an investigation which was in- 
tended to move within only a limited department, has 
spread itself little by little over a far wider field of 

According to the original design, this book was to 


serve as a commentary on the pictorial representations 
of religious subjects. It seemed to the author that the 
painting and sculpture of the Church would gain addi- 
tional interest if they were displayed in relation to the 
Church's poetry. In the case of highly developed art, 
such a literary interpretation is doubtless superfluous. 
The work of the Renaissance, and especially of the High 
Renaissance, certainly does not require any textual com- 
mentary in order to be immediately appreciated. In 
Mediaeval art, however, there are many features which 
seem strange to any one who has not been initiated into 
the mediaeval conception of life ; and if here, too, the 
purely artistic element can be understood and explained 
only with the help of a criticism which, in the first place, 
pays attention to the technical qualities, yet that element 
is often hidden from the superficial view. Therefore the 
study of the literary motive, which in modern art is 
rightly considered to be of secondary importance, may, 
in the case of the older painting, serve as a help to the 
attention and an aid to the memory. For the present 
writer, at any rate, the old pictures gained an additional 
attraction after he had learned to recognise all the ideas 
to which they gave expression ; and it seemed as if even 
the religious sculptures and pictures would have more to 
tell, from a purely artistic point of view, if one tried to 
look at tkem as they were looked at by the faithful. 
Thus, religious art led on to the study of the Christian 
mythology; that is to say, to the legends and poems 
which are illustrated in mediaeval works of art. 


This study, however, proved so attractive that it 
soon engrossed attention for its own sake. Mediaeval 
poetry opened a new and fascinating field of investiga- 
tion, which it was not easy to abandon before at least 
a general knowledge of the subject had been acquired. 
When the time during which I had the opportunity of 
devoting myself to the study of religious painting in the 
native lands of art was finished, I thus directed my 
chief interest instead to religious poetry. Here the 
poets of the Early Christian period were the subject of 
inquiry, no less than those of the Middle Ages proper. 
In the subtleties of Ephraim Syrus, the mild unction 
of Ambrosius, the decadent rhetoric of Hieronymus, 
and in the late classic diction of Hilarius and Fortunatus, 
I sought the characteristics of the literary production 
of the older Church. Among the later authors were 
examined especially Adam de S. Victor, Bernard of 
Clairvaux, and the great poet who is called by modern 
literary historians Bernard of Morlas. According to 
my intention at that time, my work was to be an 
aesthetic and literary description of the influence of 
the works of art and the poems upon each other ; but 
this scheme also had before long to be subjected to 

Mediaeval poetry cannot, indeed, any more than 
mediaeval art, be explained as an isolated phenomenon. 
The old poets remain strange to us so long as we know 
only their works. On the other hand, these works do 
not, like most modern literary productions, stand in any 


indissoluble connection with historical conditions and 
social environment. The poetry of the Church has 
germinated, irrespective of the geographical milieu and 
the historical moment, from that doctrine which, in its 
essential characteristics, has remained unaltered in all 
ages and in all lands. It is, therefore, to the field of 
theological speculation that we must turn, if we are to 
carry out the old rule that bids the critic " in Dichters 
Lande gehen." 

Eeligious conceptions, however, have claimed a far 
more detailed study than the author originally antici- 
pated. In the following chapters, indeed, this subject 
occupies more space than may perhaps seem suitable in 
an aesthetic investigation. During the progress of the 
work it became *clear not only that the dogmas afford 
explanations of particular works of art or poetry, but 
also that in them we have to look for the innermost 
principle of the leading qualities of Catholic Art. 
What the artists have represented and the poets sung 
has, in many cases, shown itself as a working-out of 
aesthetic motives lying hidden in the theological system 
of thought. Catholic doctrine is rich in poetic possi- 
bilities ; and it has even occurred to the author that 
the doctrine itself results from a speculation which in 
great measure was directed by aesthetic aspirations. In 
the purely theological writings of the Fathers of the 
Church and of the Ascetics, one seems able continually 
to trace effects of an artistic creation, which is none the 
less significant although it is unconscious and uninten- 


tional. Thus from some great and common principles it 
should be possible to explain a production which remains 
homogeneous in its character, notwithstanding that it 
expresses itself in such heterogeneous forms as dogmas, 
poems, and pictures. This is what has been attempted 
in the present work, which, having begun as a de- 
scription purely of aesthetic and literary history, has 
developed into a synthetic treatment of the aesthetic 
characteristics of Catholic mentality. 

In .so far as the subject has been widened, the 
method has also necessarily been changed. The indi- 
vidual works of art and poetry which, in accordance with 
the original plan, were to be commented upon by the 
help of the dogmatic conceptions, have, instead, been 
brought forward simply as illustrations of the great 
anonymous and collective poem decipherable in the 
whole of the Church's doctrine. In order to preserve the 
symmetry of the work, the number of examples drawn 
from aesthetic and literary history has been reduced to 
the farthest degree possible ; but in order, on the other 
hand, that the bearing of the inquiry on the artistic 
production may stand out with foil distinctness, 
additional references have been introduced in supple- 
mentary notes, which are not necessary for a compre- 
hension of the text and which can be read independently 
of it. 

It ought to be mentioned, however, that in these 
notes I have by no means attempted to attain com- 
pleteness. Such an endeavour would have involved 


the extension of the work far beyond the limits I 
intended to set for it. The gaps which the reader will 
observe in the lists of pictures and poems are there- 
fore due to the fact that the aim of the investigation 
is not descriptive. In the questions we have tried to 
settle, nothing would have been gained by an augmenta- 
tion of the number of examples. 

The plan of the book also explains why the chrono- 
logical order has not been observed with the same 
exactitude that is necessary in a purely historical 
account. It is not any particular phase in aesthetic 
development that has here been the object of study, 
nor is it any special poetical or art forms that I have 
tried to explain. The subject of this inquiry is rather 
that state of mind which, unaltered in its main features 
through the ages, has lain at the foundation of the 
aesthetic life of believing Catholics. In the citation of 
examples I have, indeed, striven to take into account 
the influence exercised by religious currents in various 
times on the life of faith and on artistic production. 
Nevertheless, it is primarily that which is common to 
all periods, rather than that by which they differ, which 
has been emphasised in the study. Such a method of 
treatment is surely quite justifiable when we are deal- 
ing with that Church which has, throughout its whole 
development, sought to preserve the continuity of 
tradition. In many cases we may explain the ideas 
of modern Catholics by referring to dogmatists of the 
thirteenth century, and in books of the present time we 


may find a direct continuation of arguments set forth 
by the ancient writers. The Catholic Church is a 
Middle Age which has survived into the twentieth 
century. Periods of time and geographical differences 
signify little for the system of belief which claims 
recognition semper, et ubique, et ab omnibus. 

We have now indicated briefly what is not to be 
looked for in the present work. What it attempts to 
explain will appear in the first chapters. Here it only 
remains to make clear the point of view adopted with 
reference to the religious ideas which will be so fre- 
quently touched upon and discussed. 

It hardly needs to be specially mentioned that the 
detailed accounts of religious customs and beliefs are 
not intended to serve as an apology, still less as a 
propaganda for Roman doctrine. The author has felt 
himself quite at liberty to apply to all religious 
conceptions a strictly scientific method of investiga- 
tion ; but it has not seemed advisable to engage in 
any examination of the rationality of Catholic dogmas. 
By putting aside all objections for the time the inquiry 
lasts, the argument is allowed to proceed without dis- 
turbing interruptions. Such a method, which would 
be improper in a philosophic or an ethical appreciation, 
cannot but be advantageous in an aesthetic interpreta- 
tion of the art-life of the Church. 

It is a critic's duty to strive, to the best of his 
power, to make his own the state of mind which 
expresses itself in art and poetry. One must put one- 


self in the mentality of the believer in order rightly to 
estimate his aesthetic life. Looked at from the point 
of view of an outsider, the manifestations of Catholic 
Art appear in many cases meaningless and uninteresting ; 
but the confusion becomes order, and the seemingly 
unimportant becomes interesting, if one makes oneself 
familiar with the world-philosophy which lies at the 
basis of the aesthetic production. Such a familiarity is 
by no means easy of attainment for one who is himself 
a stranger to the religious way of looking at things ; 
but the difficulties make the task attractive, and the 
knowledge of the purport of the Art and Poetry which 
one gains through such an experiment of thought 
affords compensation for the effort. Therefore it has 
seemed to me that an attempt to explain the art-life 
of the Catholic Church from an inner point of view 
ought not to be altogether vain. It is for the reader 
to decide whether this belief has not been one of those 
illusions which one is so prone to cherish at the com- 
mencement of a long and laborious work. 




CATHOLIC ART ....... 1 

THE ALTAR ....... 13 

THE RELICS ....... 31 


THE RELIQUARY. ...... 48 

THE MASS ....... 66 




THE HOST . . . . . . .111 





THE MONSTRANCE . . . . . .137 

THE TABERNACLE . . . . . .151 


THE DOGMA OF MARY . . . . . .171 

THE GOSPEL OF MART . . . . . .194 





THE ANNUNCIATION . . . . . .271 

THE INCARNATION . . . . . .294 


THE VISITATION . . . . . .317 




THE VIBGINAL BIRTH . . . . . .331 

THE HOLT MANGER . . . . . . . 350 






THE SACRED SHRINE . . . . . .471 

NOTES ........ 481 




L'ame des jours anciens a traverse la pierre 
De sa douleur, de son encens, de sa priere 
Et resplendit dans les soleils des ostensoirs. 

Et tel, avec ses toits lustres comme un pennage, 
Le temple entier parait surgir, au fond des soirs, 
Comme une chasse enorme, ou dort le moyen age. 

EMILE VERHAEKEN, Soir religieux. 

IT is well known that Art, at the lowest stages of 
aesthetic development, is closely connected with Eeli- 
gion. Some eminent ethnologists have even asserted 
that among savage peoples all Art is religious in its 
innermost meaning. In order to establish this theory, 
however, they have been compelled to apply the con- 
ception of Eeligion in a very wide sense. They have 
ranged under this heading all superstitious ideas and 
magical customs, and have seen something religious 
in the very reverence with which the inheritance of 
ancestors whether consisting of implements or of 
customs has been preserved by their descendants. By 
means of such a use of terms they have been able to 
maintain that for primitive man dramas, dances, and 
poems, no less than pictures and ornaments, always 
serve an end that is more religious than aesthetic. 
.Against this conception many just objections have 


been raised. Eidicule has been cast on the learned 
bias which has led earnest investigators to grope after 
some hidden and sacred meaning in carvings and 
paintings that may well have their sole origin in some 
casual impulse of an idle hand ; and it has been 
advanced that at any rate the simplest songs and 
dances are most easily explained as outbursts of 
emotional pressure which in itself has no connection at 
all with religious feeling. However sound in principle, 
this reaction from a fantastic zeal for interpretation 
may nevertheless lead to a too radical scepticism. On a 
more careful examination it has in many separate cases 
appeared that primitive works of art, which seemed to 
be entirely devoid of any deeper meaning, are, in reality, 
full of symbolic and religious import. It is therefore 
impossible to determine with exactitude to what degree 
Keligion plays a part in the aesthetic life of savage 
peoples. A priori discussion can have no weight in a 
problem which can only be settled after all the known 
races of men have been the subject of a thorough study 
by both folk-lorists and psychologists. 1 

In tins work, however, it is by no means necessary 
to pronounce any judgment as to the exact measure 
of the influence exercised by Eeligion on art-production. 
Without being compelled to embark on any examination 
of the facts advanced on both sides, we can draw from 
the mere discussion of the difficult question two con- 
clusions which are quite decisive for our purpose. The 
one conclusion, now recognised by all parties, is that 
the aesthetic manifestations of the lower races of men 
stand, on the whole, in a much closer relation to 
Eeligion, than does the art of civilised peoples. The 
other conclusion is that the religious element in 
primitive productions is often concealed from the 


uninitiated observer that is to say, as repeated discus- 
sions have proved, we can only with difficulty form 
any idea as to the religious or non-religious character 
of the particular art-forms from the concrete works 
and manifestations themselves. 

The close connection between Eeligion and Art has 
its basis in a circumstance which can be unfailingly 
observed in lower peoples. The " Eeligion " of primitive 
man dominates the whole of both his individual and 
his social life. He traces the influence of the unknown 
divine powers everywhere, and, in consequence, even 
his most ordinary activities become associated with 
religious feelings and ideas. But if his conception of 
the material world is thus consistently spiritualistic, or 
perhaps rather animistic, his conception of the soul 
and the divine is, on the other hand, as consistently 
materialistic. Although Eeligion penetrates his entire 
being, and confers its grave dignity on even the least 
important actions, yet it is not capable of raising 
itself perceptibly above everyday existence. When the 
religious life expresses itself in artistic production, it is 
consequently difficult for the uninitiated to distinguish 
this expression from profane art. 

Such, characterised generally, appears to be the 
relation between Art and Eeligion at the lowest 
stages of development. For the clearness of the 
argument it is best to pass by all intermediate 
phases, and proceed immediately to the highest forms 
of belief. 

In the degree that ideas of the divine are spiritualised, 
the difference between religious and profane art is more 
firmly established; but in the same degree, also, the 
field of religious art becomes limited. The terrestrial 
and the celestial no longer blend with one another, but 


stand as opposites. Little by little the unknown powers 
lose the anthropomorphic or zoomorphic form in which 
they revealed themselves to primitive imagination. 
Consequently pictorial art entirely loses its importance 
as a means of effecting a union between mankind and 
the Supreme Being, Dancing, the drama, and decora- 
tion are looked upon as unworthy forms of homage 
to a Power which is conceived of as raised above the 
world of sense ; and poetry and music, the least material 
of all the arts, become the only expressions which are 
permitted to serve the aims of religious life. Even 
poetry occupies a relatively insignificant place in the 
ritual system of those religions which are intellectually 
and morally the most severe. 

In fortunate cases a rich secular production may 
develop by the side of a poor religious art ; but where 
a stern religion maintains its hold over the mind, 
it easily tends to stifle, or at least seriously to limit, 
aesthetic life. Thus among the most thoroughgoing 
Lutherans, as among the Jansenists and Puritans, Art 
leads a languishing life. This general assertion is not con- 
tradicted by the fact, so frequently adduced, that some 
individual kinds of aesthetic production are directly 
promoted by these intellectualist forms of Religion. 
The psychological and the moral novel, the depicting 
of nature and realistic portraiture those specifically 
Protestant art-forms cannot outweigh the loss of all 
the aesthetic manifestations which have been suppressed 
in many Protestant societies. Whether it be ultimately 
due to a racial characteristic of the peoples who carried 
through and adopted the Reformation, or to peculiarities 
in the Protestant creed itself, it is an indisputable fact 
that the very form of the Christian religion which for 
us stands as intellectually the purest of all, has only in 


a small degree allowed its aims to be served by aesthetic 
production. 2 

By means of these hasty indications, the contrast 
between the lowest and the highest doctrines ought 
already to appear with sufficient distinctness. Where 
religion is undeveloped, as among primitive peoples, it 
has given rise to a considerable aesthetic production; 
where its manifestation is intellectually and morally 
purest, the corresponding religious art is poor. This 
is the one antithesis. The other one is no less 
significant. The ideas of divinity which lie at the 
foundation of the rich religious art of primitive and 
barbaric man, are not sufficiently lofty to give this art 
a specifically religious character ; the ideas, on the other 
hand, which lie at the foundation of the most intellectual 
Christianity, are too lofty to allow of their being united 
with the sensuous element in aesthetic production. If 
we want to study the psychological connection between 
religious and aesthetic life, neither of these extreme 
forms can afford us the material we require. Were it 
here our task to treat of general emotional states 
without reference to corresponding positive doctrines 
of faith it would not be difficult to find near at hand 
an intermediate form between the two contrasted types 
of religion. The philosophy of life which is adopted 
by the majority of modern agnostics is often uncon- 
sciously religious, so far as its emotional tone is con- 
cerned. Again, the ideas of the unknowable that enter 
into such a pantheistic or monistic world-philosophy 
attach themselves as closely to all the manifestations of 
earthly life as is the case even with a primitive religion. 
They do not give rise to any irreconcilable opposition 
between the sensuous and the non-sensuous^ the natural 
and the supernatural, but, on the other hand, they are 


not so materialistic and anthropomorphic as the world- 
view of lower man. Thus if that use of terms be 
recognised, according to which all severe and lofty art 
is characterised as being in its essence religious, it will 
perhaps be found that the most elevated religious works 
of art have no connection whatever with positive 
doctrines of faith. In this work, however, it is only 
the historical religions which are to be considered. 

After all the explanation that has been given, it is 
not necessary to advance further reasons for the fact 
that the material for the following inquiry has been 
derived from that form of Religion which unites in 
itself elements from the lowest and the highest forms 
of belief, that is to say, Roman Catholic Christianity. 
That the Catholic belief has exercised a powerful in- 
fluence on aesthetic development cannot be gainsaid 
by any impartial observer. During long and glori- 
ous periods of Art-history, aesthetic production worked 
obediently in the service of religion. The Church was 
the Maecenas which, with its moral and financial support, 
assisted the masters of the early Renaissance in nearly 
all their work. Since these times, indeed, purely Church 
art has sunk it would seem, hopelessly from its lofty 
position ; but that the creed itself continues to possess 
a strong attraction for artistic minds is evident from the 
great number of converts obtained by Catholicism from 
among poets and painters. 

Many reasons can easily be given to account for the 
power of the Roman Church over men who possess a 
pronounced aesthetic temperament. The external pomp 
of its ceremonies is the attraction which is most frequently 
adduced when the question of the successful propaganda 
of Catholicism arises ; but this pomp, as it is found in 
modern churches, is as a rule too barbaric to appeal 


to a "cultivated taste. Far greater weight should, we 
think, be attached to the circumstance that the Catholic 
Church, through its ceremonies, connects itself so nearly 
with the existence of its individual members. Every 
event in their lives is distinguished and sanctified by 
a special sacrament The believer feels bound to the 
Church, and in all his troubles is aware of the support 
of its authority. The fact that the ceremonies thus 
push their way into life with Baptism in the Church, 
public Confirmation and Marriage, Confession and 
Absolution, Extreme Unction and Communion on the 
death -bed must naturally give rich nourishment to 
the religious -aesthetic feelings. It is not only the 
advocates of Catholicism who have had eyes for this 
power in the Roman Community. No less convincingly 
than Chateaubriand in Genie du christianisme? Goethe 
in Dichtung und Wahrheit has enlarged upon the signi- 
ficance to religion of the many sacraments. 4 One can 
assert quite literally that for pious Catholics the whole 
of life takes the form of an external visible service of 
God. 5 In this, as in so many other respects, the cere- 
monial system of the Roman Church resembles the cults 
of primitive and barbaric peoples. 

The similarity, however, should not lead to identifica- 
tion. On the ground of the magical features in its ritual 
the Roman religion has often, especially in Protestant 
polemic, been represented as a materialistic heathendom ; 
but in doing so, the fact has been overlooked that the 
material and the visible comprises only one side of a 
Catholic ceremony. However closely this religion may 
connect itself with what is earthly, yet it does not 
become absorbed in the phenomena of sense. The 
divine is not subjected, as is the case to a certain extent 
among savage peoples, to being jumbled together with 


the natural ; on the contrary, the transcendence of the 
Supreme Being is insisted upon in the Catholic dogmas 
as emphatically as in the most iiitellectualistic of the 
Protestant confessions. But this Supreme Being, which 
in itself is raised above the world of sense, is not entirely 
beyond the reach of the perception of sense. Through 
the religious miracle it enters into connection with earthly 
elements, and through this connection it allows itself to 
be appropriated not only by the thought but also by 
the senses. It is by this doctrine of a mystic union 
between the visible and the invisible that the Catholic 
cult achieves its characteristic quality ; and it is by 
reason of the same doctrine that Catholic art is more 
aesthetic than Protestant art, and more religious than 
heathen art 

In order to learn to know the distinctive qualities 
of Catholic art we must, therefore, direct our attention 
to those dogmas which express the thought of the 
connection of the Supreme Being with the world of 
sense. It is in two conceptions, especially, that this 
thought asserts itself: in the doctrine of the Presence 
of the Divinity in the Sacrament of the Altar, and in 
the doctrine of the Incarnation of the Divinity in the 
human mother. These two doctrines determine the 
titles and the contents of the parts into which this 
work falls the Mass and the Cult of the Madonna. 
The most important of the aesthetic manifestations which 
serve the end of the Catholic religion arrange themselves 
naturally under one or the other of those headings. 

The material for the following investigations will 
thus be grouped according to dogmatic principles ; but 
at the same time an attempt will be made to treat 
the different art -forms separately, as far as possible. 
Such a twofold division can be carried out easily 


and without prejudice to the plan of the work. 
Indeed, from the nature of the subject itself, archi- 
tecture, decorative art, and religious pantomime form 
the principal contents of the chapters dealing with 
the Mass ritual. lir the account of the Cult of the 
Madonna, again, sculpture, painting, and poetry will 
be the primary subjects of treatment. From art- 
forms, which, if not the oldest, are at any rate the 
simplest, the investigation will thus proceed to higher 
and freer lines of aesthetic production. And the begin- 
ning is made with that art which presents the most 
concrete subjects of study the art of decoration, or, 
more properly, artistic handicraft. The first things 
to be examined, therefore, will be the forms and orna- 
mentation of the furniture and instruments directly 
or indirectly connected with the Mass ritual. 

Before proceeding to an inquiry into all the 
numerous objects which together make up the depart- 
ment of Catholic applied art, we should first ascertain, 
however, whether among them there is no particular 
implement which has before all others been favoured 
with adornment. Such typical objects, around which 
decoration concentrates, and in which one may read off, 
so to say, the dominating characters in an art-style, are, 
as a rule, to be found in the production of most periods 
and nations. The water-jar of the Pueblo Indians if 
I may refer to some earlier studies of my own is such 
a typical object, which represents its nation and which, 
better than any other implement, gives us information 
about the ways and ideas of this people. The shields 
of the Dyaks painted with ghastly ornaments, and 
hung with tufts of human hair give in monstrous 
summary a picture of the wild ways and the highly 
developed art of these savage head-hunters. And, to 


quote a more celebrated example, how much do not the 
vases tell us about old Grecian life those vases which 
have served so many varying purposes; from which 
mirth has been drawn at banquets ; in which gifts have 
been offered in the temples ; which enclose the ashes of 
the deceased; and in which pious survivors have collected 
the tears they have wept over their beloved dead ? It- 
would seem, therefore, as if much would be gained 
towards a clear conception of Catholic art if we could 
lay hold of some typical object which, not with regard 
to form and purpose, but with regard to its dominating 
and representative r61e, corresponded in a sense to the 
Grecian vase. 

If this work fulfils its purpose, it will demonstrate 
that such a typical and representative object of 
Catholic art can indeed be pointed out. What the 
following chapters attempt to prove can, however, be 
put forward here only as a proposition. Catholic 
art does not form and embellish a vase, but it 
ornaments a shrine. Chests, cases, or small boxes 
in a word, closed coverings which conceal valuable 
contents are the most holy, and therefore the most 
beautifully formed and most expensively decorated 
of all the objects met with in ritualistic art. So 
dominating is the place which the shrine occupies 
among religious objects, that the idea of a shrine 
is continually meeting us even in the art which is 
not formative. A sealed case is the centre of Catholic 
poetry, as it is the centre of Catholic ceremonial. 
One might even risk the assertion that Catholic art 
as a whole, in all its manifestations, decorates a sacred 
shrine. Such a thesis could easily be defended, if the 
word were used figuratively ; but it holds good to a 
certain degree even in a purely literal meaning. It is 


the author's hope that it will appear from the following 
inquiry that Catholic imagination, by means of a 
number of, to us, bizarre associations of ideas, has 
succeeded in bringing an ever -increasing part of the 
religious ideas into the image of a Sacred Shrine. 

The detailed exposition of these associations of ideas 
cannot be presented until the last chapter of this book. 
Here, after the object of the work has been indicated, 
nothing remains to be done except to proceed to the 
inquiry, in which the reader will find according 
to his opinion of the demonstration a proof or a 
refutation of the author's idea. The inquiry, again, 
ought naturally to begin at that place round which 
the cult -system of the Church concentrates itself; 
and this place cannot be other than the altar, at 
which is celebrated the Mass, the supreme sacrament. 

The altar is not, indeed, in a strict sense, the 
middle point of a church; but none the less does 
it mark its constructive, if not its geometrical centre. 
The chief altar is, as a rule, situate immediately below 
the keystone of the cupola or of the choir-vault. 6 In 
many cases it is underneath its place that the founda- 
tion stone of the Church has been laid. 7 The table 
for the Mass is, therefore, not a piece of furniture 
which has been placed in the building, but it is rather 
the kernel round which the building itself has been 
raised. Certainly in the Roman Catholic churches 
this circumstance does not stand out with full dis- 
tinctness, because in them there have been set up 
not one but several altars. But the many side-chapels 
which, it may be said in parenthesis, are met with 
even in the earlier Middle Ages 8 cannot, however, 
conceal the importance of the one chief altar, which 
in virtue of its position dominates the entire plan 


of the church. And if it is thus towards an altar 
that all lines of the building converge, it is also at 
the chief and at the small altars that the holiest 
objects have been collected. Pictures, sculptures, and 
decorative art combine to make the place round the 
Mass -table more beautiful and more venerable than 
any other in the church. 

Among all the works of art and ritual instru- 
ments to be found here, we ought, if the presump- 
tions of this inquiry are correct, to find some 
decorated shrines. And, indeed, we stand in front 
of the chief of the typical objects before we have 
time even to begin any proper search. For the Mass- 
table in itself is a covering for sacred contents, and 
it formerly even bore a name which indicated this 
characteristic. Gregory of Tours, when speaking of the 
altar, makes use not of the words "ara" or "altare," 
but of the word "area," that is to say, box or ark. 9 
That which in the Protestant Church is nothing but 
a table for the holy meal, in the Catholic Church is 
also a chest, which guards in its interior the precious 
relics of a saint. 

How it has come about that the Mass-table thus 
fulfils a double object is a question which cannot be 
answered without entering into a detailed inquiry 
into the history of the Christian altar. The following 
chapter will be devoted, therefore, to the treatment 
of this, the first of the holy shrines of Catholic art. 



If a star were confined into a tomb, 
Her captive flame must needs burn there ; 

But when the hand that locked her up gave room, 
She'd shine through all the sphere. 

HENRY VAUGHA.N, Sacred Poems, 

WHEN, under the guidance of the courteous Trappist 
monks, one wanders through the dark sepulchral 
chambers of San Callisto's Catacombs outside Rome, 
some time is always passed in one of the small under- 
ground chapels. The cicerone, who with evident satis- 
faction has made the utmost use of his release from 
his Order's seal of silence, here becomes more talk- 
ative than ever. If the least interest is shown in 
his narration, it becomes a whole lecture. A simple 
grave, let into the wall, whose flat lid is said to have 
been used as a Mass-table, forms the starting-point 
for a long discourse on the history of the ancient 
Basilica ; and it is with triumphant satisfaction that 
the Trappist ends his lecture with the assertion that 
only in the Catacombs, in his Catacombs, can one learn 
to understand the architecture of the great churches 

This theory, which in a very popularised version 
is expounded to the tourists in S. Callisto, has not been 



without advocates among experts who possess greater 
authority than the simple monk. From the very begin- 
ning of last century attempts have often been made 
to trace the origin of the peculiaxities in the plans of 
Christian churches back to the arrangements in the crypts 
of the Catacombs. The cult received its character, it has 
been said, during the time the assembly was persecuted. 
The first fully -developed ceremonies were performed 
in the small subterranean chapels. When peace ulti- 
mately supervened and Christian worship was officially 
recognised, all the arrangements to which people had 
become accustomed during the persecutions of the 
heroic age are said to have been maintained. Accord- 
ing to this theory the Altar preserved in its coffin-like 
shape the memory of that grave -table an arcosol- 
tomb or a ce sepolcro a znensa" 1 at which holy Mass 
is said to have been performed in the Catacombs, 
and the church itself became in its ground plan an 
enlarged copy of the subterranean chapel The Basilica, 
the official house of assembly overground, would thus 
have repeated on a larger and grander scale the leading 
architectural ideas of the hidden meeting-places. 2 

To the imagination there is something fascinating 
in the conception of a Church which had thus risen 
out of the interior of the earth and which, as soon 
as it had been freed from coercion, unfolded in the full 
light of day the same forms which it had of necessity 
adopted in the narrow and dark sepulchral chambers. 
Unfortunately, however, later and more critical research 
has led to results which make it impossible to support 
this tempting theory to the extent maintained by the 
older archaeologists and, following their example, by so 
many popular writers. Modern art historians have 
shown that the Catacomb chambers were much too 

ii THE ALTAB 15 

narrow to allow of space for public worship. 3 Besides 
this, they have even pointed out that the community 
had no cause to conceal its services underground. With 
the exception perhaps of the worst persecutions, the 
Christians were able during the time before Constantine, 
as well as after, to celebrate their worship overground, 
within certain fixed boundaries allotted to them. 
There is therefore, it is said, no reason to appeal to the 
Catacombs if we wish to explain the architectural plan 
of the Basilica. Although the question of the origin of 
the Christian type of church building has not hitherto 
been settled by any generally recognised theory, yet the 
majority of investigators are now agreed that this origin 
is not to be sought for in the subterranean chapel. 4 The 
idea again that the sepulchral chambers were used as 
churches is considered as a delusion which writers do not 
even give themselves the trouble of seriously opposing. 
Those who have derived most of their knowledge of 
the earliest Christian architecture out of books, have no 
right to combat the professional verdict. It is therefore 
impossible to do other than sacrifice the romantic 
idea of a Church preparing in obscurity underground 
the forms it was to adopt when it had won a recognised 
position ; but it does not follow from this that there 
is no justification for the contention of the older 
archaeologists as to the importance of the grave to 
Christian architecture. The possibility is not excluded 
that the architectural arrangements in the church were 
influenced by sepulchral models in some other way than 
was formerly supposed. Indeed, it appears, on a closer 
examination, that there is after all something worthy of 
consideration in the lecture of the enthusiastic Tra.ppist. 
Without studying the dwelling-places of the dead, it is 
impossible to understand fully that house which is an 


abode for the Divinity and a meeting-place for His 
community; and what is still more important in this 
connection is that only by referring to an influence from 
the sepulchral buildings can we explain how the Altar 
has received its characteristic form. 

It must not be supposed that the type of altar, which 
is now to be found in nearly all churches, whether old 
or new, was prevalent during the early Christian period. 
Just as the primitive community possessed no special 
places of worship, but was content to celebrate its 
services in private houses, so there was no special 
liturgical furniture or implements. " Cur nullas aras 
habent, templa nulla, nulla nota simulacra ? " so with 
reproachful surprise the heathen interlocutor asks in the 
dialogue of Minucius Felix. 5 The table at which the 
holy meal was distributed was, like the first com- 
munion table, a simple everyday object. No symboli- 
cal thoughts attached themselves to its form, and 
no decoration embellished its surfaces. During the 
first centuries it was considered that even wood was 
a perfectly satisfactory material for the manufacture 
of altars. When, later, the use of stone tables became 
more and more common, the old type was maintained, 
i.e. that of a smooth table-top supported by legs, 
between which the space was empty. It is true that 
there have not been preserved to our own day many of 
these altars which literally give a reason for the name 
communion table ; but a sufficiently clear knowledge 
of their form can be derived from the descriptions 
to be found in the literature of the Fathers, and from 
the representations to be found on old mosaics. 7 

Parallel with the development by which the church 
building separates itself from the profane house, there 


occurs, however, another development by which the 
Mass-table separates itself in its form and its symbolic 
meaning from an ordinary table. In the fifth century, 
at about the time when the Christian church stood out 
as an independent type of architecture, the old table was 
replaced by an altar proper, that is, a box-shaped piece 
of furniture, whose top is supported by solid walls, and 
not by free legs. 8 And according to some theories, the 
new forms of both the church and the Mass-table can 
be attributed partly to the same causes. 

That the church received the type of a Basilica was 
probably due to the influence of various heathen models, 
which it is not necessary to enumerate here, all the less 
as their relative importance is still a matter for dispute 
among archaeologists. In this connection we need 
adduce only that hypothesis according to which a 
part of the Basilica, the so-called apse, was developed 
from some small chapels which the Christians had erected 
at their burial-places as early as the pre-Constantine 
times. During the period when the new belief was not 
yet recognised as a religion on a level with others, the 
Christians preferred to meet at the tombs. They were 
sheltered from persecution within the radius sanctified 
by the presence of the dead. It has even been 
supposed that the community had from time to time 
been tolerated as a burial college. 9 After the heathen 
model, it was possible to erect in the neighbourhood of 
the graves small memorial " cellae " most often placed 
right over one of the most important graves in which 
service was celebrated without disturbance on the 
Saint's day. 10 After the persecutions had ceased, the 
meetings continued to be held at the old burial-places, 
from habit and respect for the dead; but as the 
original building soon proved insufficient to hold all the 


faithful, a nave was added to the "cella," which now 
became the apse of the church. According to Kraus, it 
is in such an arrangement that the origin of the Roman 
Basilica is to be sought. 11 It is indeed significant, that 
so many of the greatest and most famous churches of the 
fourth and fifth centuries are situated outside the towns, 
" extra muros," i.e. on the very space which had origin- 
ally been set apart for the burial of the dead. 12 Thus, 
according to Kraus's theory, the church had grown out 
of a grave chapel yet from a chapel above ground, 
and not, as was earlier believed, from the sacred 
chambers of the Catacombs. A dead-house had been 
the determining factor in the situation and arrangement 
of the Basilica, even if it had not been the model for its 

No attempt will be made here to test the correctness 
of Kraus's theory, against which a number of weighty 
objections have been raised. The unsolved problem of 
the origin of the Basilica has been touched on only 
for the reason that the various, and more or less 
disputed, hypotheses have been supported by a number 
of indisputable facts which all demonstrate the close 
connection of the early Christian Church with the 
burial-place. This connection must have had its in- 
fluence on the form and symbolism of the Altar. It 
may be taken for granted, a priori, that the Mass- 
table In a church which rises among graves and over 
graves has gathered round itself some of the ideas 
which were earlier associated with the graves. To 
explain in detail the course of this transference of 
ideas and of the accompanying transformation of the 
Altar, we must first of all examine the worship cele- 
brated at the burial-places during the fourth and fifth 

ii THE ALTAE 19 

When Christianity became recognised under Con- 
stantine as the State religion, its cult was no longer so 
simple and pure as during the Apostolic period. How- 
ever bravely the community had withstood the per- 
secutions, it had nevertheless often found itself compelled 
to conceal its inner life under outer forms which offered 
a protective resemblance to heathen customs ; and how- 
ever unconscious and unintentional this mimicry may 
have been, yet it must in any case, like every other 
artifice, have gradually influenced nature itself. The 
circumstance that a Christian service was celebrated in 
burial-chapels had given the Church a kind of inviolable 
existence under the protection of the dead ; but it had 
at the same time reacted on the purity of the Church's 
teaching. It is easy to imagine what conclusion would 
arise from the local connection between burial-place and 
temple. To the heathen onlookers it appeared obvious 
that the Christians worshipped their dead inside the 
chapels ; and even for new converts it must have often 
been difficult to draw a strict distinction between the 
invisible God, to whom the worship was directed, and 
all the human presences around, which in their old 
religion they had been taught to reverence with the 
dutiful " pietas " of the survivor. 

An external circumstance, such as the situation of 
the church building, would not, however, have alone 
sufficed to lead to any far-reaching results, if the grave 
had not in itself assumed an important place in the 
Christian's world of ideas. From death and the grave, 
so it ran, should the convert through baptism go forward 
to his new life (Rom. vL 3-4 ; Col. ii 12). By reason of 
these Pauline utterances, the symbolism of the grave has 
influenced both the ritual of baptism and the form of the 
ancient baptismal churches. 13 Still more obvious effects 


must have sprung from ail the ideas and customs con- 
nected, not with the symbolical grave to which Paul 
refers in his poetic word -picture, but with the actual 
house of the dead. 

In this connection it must be remembered that 
the new religion, however sharply it opposed heathen 
ancestor-worship, was nevertheless of a nature directly 
to encourage reverence for burial-places. The Christian 
doctrine of immortality involved an increased devotion 
in approaching the rooms which were no longer looked 
upon as the abode of bloodless ghosts, but out of which, 
instead, the flesh itself would one day arise. 14 The 
pictures and inscriptions in subterranean Rome demon- 
strate clearly enough that the survivors' relation to the 
dead had won an increased intimacy through Christianity. 
When the dead, through various merits, had earned the 
gratitude of the community, tender recollection was 
soon changed to reverence and entreaty, and thus there 
arose on Christian soil a kind of cult of the dead, which 
approached in its expression the ancestor-worship of the 

The times through which the Church had passed 
were to an unusual degree favourable for the de- 
velopment of such a cult. During the persecutions 
Christianity had acquired its heroic tales, which could 
well compare with the traditions of the heathen nations ; 
and the new heroes, the martyrs, no less than the old 
demi-gods, became the object of the pious worship of 
their devotees. That this worship often took grossly 
superstitious forms appears from the generally prevalent 
custom of burying a dead body in the closest possible 
proximity to the bones of the martyrs, which were 
considered to afford by their propinquity special advan- 
tages to the later dead during the coming life. 15 But 

ii THE ALTAR 21 

the reverence for witnesses to the faith gave rise on 
the other hand to some peculiar ceremonies, which, 
although they were heathen In their origin, were none 
the less impressed with a Christian character. It was 
indeed nothing but pure ancestor-worship which lived 
on in the custom of offering wine and bread at the 
martyrs' graves that custom for which even the pious 
Monica had to sustain the reproaches of Ambrosius ; 16 
and heathen, too, were the pilgrimages which were 
arranged at certain times to the memorial chapels in 
the cemeteries. 17 But there is something of the new 
religion's conception of Immortality in the custom of 
laying small birthday tables, with festal decorations 
of palm leaves and red roses, on the martyr's grave, 
on the anniversary of the day when the witness, as 
with conscious paradox it was expressed, through his 
sacrificial death had been bom into the new life. And 
Christianity set its seal on the ancient customs when 
it began to distribute the Sacrament to the pious 
pilgrims who collected round the graves at these 
memorial festivals. 18 

At this distribution of the Sacrament there had 
perhaps originally been used some special altars which 
had the old form of a movable table supported by 
legs, but the use of the grave itself as an altar-table 
must easily have suggested itself. Eeference has already 
been made to the generally prevalent idea that the 
community down in the Catacombs celebrated its com- 
munion by the graves, which had their place under the 
arcosol-vaults, or by the so-called " sepolcri a mensa." 
It has also been stated that the latest investigations 
do not appear to strengthen this theory. But even 
if it were true, as Schultze categorically says, that 
during the persecutions not even any private cele- 


bration of the "missa ad corpus" (i.e. any mass by 
a grave) ever took place, 19 yet it seems more than 
probable that the communion was distributed from 
that kind of great "martyr graves" erected under the 
open sky, which are still to be met with in many 
places in the East and in Africa. 20 And there is an 
indubitable proof that, at any rate during the post- 
Gonstantine period, a Roman catacomb-grave was used 
as a communion table. When Prudentius in his Pen- 
stephanon sings of S. Hippolitus's life, he also describes 
the grave in which the martyr's body had been laid : 

Talibus Hlppolyti corpus mandatur opertis 
propter ubi apposita est ara dicata Deo. 
Ilia sacrament! donatriz inensa, eademque 
ctistos fida sui martyris apposita 
servat ad aeterni spem judicis ossa sepulcro, 
pascit item sanctis Tibricolas dapibus. 

"This table which offers the Sacrament, covers the 
faithful martyr's bones that were laid here to await 
the Eternal Judge, and at the same time gives to the 
people by the Tiber spiritual food at the holy meals." 21 
It ought now to be evident why it was necessary 
to give an account of the graves and burial customs 
of the early Christians. However incomplete our 
knowledge of the oldest cult may be, and however 
much the decisions of specialists may contradict each 
other, yet from the material at hand it is possible 
to deduce one irrefutable conclusion. Although we 
are compelled to refrain from any opinion as to the 
services which were possibly celebrated during the 
first century in the subterranean chapels, still we 
can venture to assert that, at the time when the 
great public churches arose, the sacrament of the 
altar was often distributed from a table surface cover- 


Ing a grave. No long explanations are necessary to 
demonstrate how Important to the feelings of the 
faithful must have been the fact that two objects of 
worship were thus united In one place. The same 
stone that served to protect a sacred body afforded 
room for something still more sacred, the great 
sacrificial mystery. The "area," i.e. the chest which 
contained the martyr's bones, became an " ara," i.e. a 
table bearing the flesh and blood of the divine man. 
As soon as these two ideas were once, perhaps from 
accidental reasons, associated, a conscious effort was 
made In all churches to bring the altar into the closest 
possible connection with the grave. 

It is this effort which lay at the root of the 
development of the altar- type. The different forms 
which the Mass-table has received have been determined 
by the attempt to connect this table with the grave 
of a saint. When the definite form appears, the 
connection has been replaced by complete identity ; 
but this final development was preceded by a number 
of transitional types, which show clearly how the 
table and the grave -chest gradually approximated. 
In order to give a clear idea of the symbolism of the 
altar, it is necessary to describe shortly these inter- 
mediate forms. We may, however, be excused for 
avoiding the difficult task of fixing the dates for the 
first appearances of the respective types. No attempt 
will be made In this connection to determine even their 
mutual order. The logical relation between simple 
and complex will be kept in view, rather than the 
chronological relation between earlier and later forms. 

In those cases-' where the church was erected over 
subterranean graves, pains had probably been taken 
as far back as the first century to place the altar right 


above the principal grave. When later it was desired 
to connect further these two sacred objects, it was 
easy to open a path from the floor of the church to 
the lower sanctuary. Such "aditus ad sanctos" have 
been found in a large number of the old Roman 
churches. This arrangement is very important for 
the history of ecclesiastical architecture. It may be 
regarded as the first model for the stairs which, in so 
many of both the older and the more recent churches, 
connect the apse with the subterranean crypt, that 
curious equivalent to the old catacomb chapel. 22 On the 
actual form of the Mass -table, however, the " aditus ad 
sanctos" could in itself have no influence. It can 
easily be imagined that the altars, which were con- 
nected by a stair-path with the grave, continued to 
retain their form of a table, between the legs of which 
the space was free. 

The case was quite different in churches which 
were erected around a sarcophagus above ground. If 
in them the altar was placed close to the grave, there 
was naturally no need to open any path from the one 
holy place to the other. The table raised its surface, 
it may be imagined, a little in front of and above the 
sarcophagus-chest, which was thus enclosed between its 
legs. That is to say, an arrangement had been reached 
which corresponded to the description of the heavenly 
altar seen by the author of the Apocalypse : 

" Et cum aperuisset sigillum quintum, vidi subtus altare animas inter- 
fectomm propter verbum Dei, et propter testimonium quod babebant." 
" And when He (the Lamb) had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the 
altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the 
testimony which they held" (Apocalypse, vi 9).~ 3 

The grave, or to use the ecclesiastical expression, the 
" confessio," stood like a little cabinet under the table. 


Its gable afforded room for rich decorations, for 
which the heathen " clppa " must have served as model. 
As this ancient type of grave always had In its 
front an opening, through which the funeral urn 
was introduced into the little chamber of the dead, 
so too the Christian " confessio " was furnished with a 
door or a window which made it possible to look in 
upon the sacred relics. 24 

There has been preserved no small n amber of 
altar-tables enclosing between their supports a little 
martyr-cabinet. 25 It must not, however, be taken for 
granted that the " confessio " would in all these cases 
be a sarcophagus which was originally situated under 
the open sky and over which the church was later 
erected. It is only on theoretic grounds that we can 
suppose that old graves were enclosed by the altar- 
table without being subjected to any alteration. And 
it must further be recognised that the hypothesis of 
such a development is not indispensable to the ex- 
planation of the history of the altar. Judging from 
the dimensions and form of the martyr -cabinet, it Is 
probable that the sacred relics were in most cases 
specially transferred to their position under the altar, 
and that on the model of the " cippa" a new repository 
was there set up for them. 

Such a transference of the bodies of martyrs was 
the most practical of all means for bringing the altar 
and the grave into connection with one another. 26 And 
when this expedient had sometimes been made use of, 
the ultimate solution of the problem must sug- 
gested itself spontaneously : the body of the martyr 
was placed between the legs of the altar-table, and 
these legs were connected by solid walls ; or the table 
surface was supported not by separate legs, but by 


four walls, and the lioly relics were enclosed within 
these walls. 27 Thus the Mass-table was merged in the 
grave-chest, i.e. it was now the "ara" which became 
an "area," and the place from which the sacrament 
was distributed coincided with the place at which the 
remains of saints were worshipped. 

Hitherto our concern has been only with church 
buildings erected in the neighbourhood of cemeteries. 
One might therefore imagine that the whole of the 
development here sketched has had no general im- 
portance for Christian architecture. So great, however, 
was the influence exercised on Christian ritual by the 
grave cult, that the arrangements of the sepulchral 
churches were, before long, imitated even in the Basilicas 
situated within the town walls. The chest form gradu- 
ally became the dominant one among Christian altars, 
and what is more important, the Mass-table became a 
reliquary, not only in its outer shape, but also in its 
idea. It was considered, perhaps on the basis of the 
passage from the Apocalypse quoted above, that an 
altar was not complete unless it concealed under its 
surface some sacred bones. This claim, again, was not 
difficult to satisfy after people had begun to divide the 
bones of martyrs into small pieces in order to fulfil the 
growing needs of saint-worship. Some such fragments 
were introduced under the surface of the altar in a 
square space which received the name of " sepulcrum," 
and which was covered by a little marble slab the so- 
called " sigillum." The grave and its seal thus became 
marked out on the Mass -table, and the custom of 
enclosing relics in the altar became so general that 
to-day it would be difficult to find many altars in the 
whole of Catholic Christendom that do not conceal 
some sacred bones. 28 The Mass-liturgy itself refers to 


the presence of these hidden sanctuaries. Before the 
priest begins his celebration he kisses the altar, and 
beseeches God's mercy u in the name of the holy men 
who rest here-under." 29 

After the altar had once received the form and 
meaning of a grave-chest, the type underwent no more 
important variations. Only two kinds still claim special 
attention. The one kind is the great " ciborium " altar, 
the other is the small "travelling" or "portable" altar. 

The " ciborium " altar, as it is met with in a number 
of Italian churches, is not so much a piece of liturgical 
furniture as a special building within the great temple. 30 
The altar is surrounded by four columns, one at each 
corner, which support a flat or vaulted roof. This 
canopy again is crowned by a pyramidal superstructure, 
the so-called " tegurium." The columns are often covered 
with inscriptions and ornamentation, the architraves or 
the arches which connect them are richly decorated, 
and the outer roof is embellished with small colonnades. 
From the inner roof, lamps and golden wreaths hang 
down over the altar. In the " ciboria" that are seen in 
churches to-day, the space between the columns is free, 
but it appears from certain old pictures and from marks 
on the columns of some of the " ciboria" preserved, that 
the altar space had earlier been closed in by movable 
curtains. 31 It was thus a complete little house sur- 
rounding the place for the altar sacrament. 

It is not difficult to discover some purely liturgical 
ideas which may be considered to a certain extent to have 
supplied the motive for these peculiar arrangements. 
The roof of the " ciborium" serves, as has often been 
pointed out, to protect the Holy of holies from defile- 
ment, and the miraculous element in the sacramental 
transformation is set forth all the more impressively if 


the miracle is performed behind drawn curtains. These 
points of view have certainly had their importance, but 
it is incredible that they should by themselves have 
given rise to so complicated and imposing an edifice. 
One is inclined to think, therefore, that older archi- 
tectural types must have offered some model which was 
imitated in the "ciborium" altar; and such a model is 
easily found as soon as we fix our attention on the 
fact that the altar is a grave-chest at the same time as 
it is a Mass-table. 

There are, in fact, some Christian forms of grave 
which in their essentials correspond with the " ciboria." 
When a grave was erected under the open sky it was 
usually given the form of an antique sarcophagus 
containing the body of a dead man. Probably these 
sarcophagi were placed by preference in the shadow of 
trees encircling the holy place; 32 but when no such 
natural shade was available, a special roof might be 
raised over the grave, i.e. a saddle-shaped or pyramidal 
superstructure was erected, supported by four columns 
connected with each other by architraves or arches. 33 
This form of grave, which was especially common in 
North Africa, seems to have been used very often in 
heathen times, and the type is familiar to those who 
have seen the tombs of the Scaligeri at Verona and of 
the Professors at Bologna. If these edifice's erected 
under the open sky are compared with the great 
" ciboria," it must indeed be admitted that there are 
differences in their proportions and embellishment, 
but none the less the two forms resemble one another 
as two expressions of the same idea. The pointed- 
saddle or tent-roof of the " ciborium," which by its 
shape is peculiarly fitted to carry off rain, suggests, so 
it appears, a place in the open air where it had been 

ii THE ALTAE 29 

necessary to raise a shelter against rough weather. We 
seem to see how the tomb had been removed from the 
open air into the church, to form there a little temple 
of its own within the larger one. 

But there is yet more to see in an old " ciborium." A 
grave, which is sheltered by a roof and at which holy 
meals are set forth, is something that we may find in 
other religions beside the Christian. The primitive 
temple, consisting often of nothing but a simple roof 
rising over a grave, lives on in the " ciborium " within 
the walls of a Christian church. The original ritual con- 
nected with ancestor-worship has been developed and 
transformed in the course of religious progress; but, 
none the less, it has left its architectural forms as an 
inheritance to the new religion, which should, according 
to its theory, make an end of all worship of the dead. 

If the " ciborium" altar recalls by its dimensions a 
house rather than a table, the travelling altar, on the 
other hand, is much too small to be characterised as an 
article of furniture. 34 As the name denotes, its purpose 
is to render possible the celebration of Mass for those 
who reside at a great distance from churches. It is an 
altar made portable and compressed into the smallest 
possible shape ; but, however small it is, it lacks none 
of the qualities essential to a complete Mass -table. 
The surface of the table is represented by a small 
and specially consecrated stone slab, which is fitted into 
a frame of expensive and richly-decorated metal work. 
This slab again forms the lid of a box in which sacred 
relics have been enclosed, often selected from among 
the bones of the guardian saint who is at rest in 
the home -church of the traveller. When the first 
missionaries in heathen lands, or the Crusaders far 
away in Syria, celebrated their Mass over a travelling 


altar of this kind, their ceremony was as complete as 
if it had been performed within a church. They had 
brought with them the church, or at any rate the 
essential part of the church, in the shape of this little 
article, which could be held in a man's hand or fixed 
to his saddle ; and in front of these small shrines, just 
as in front of the imposing altar - buildings, homage 
was done to a grave containing the earthly remains 
of saints. Whether small or great, the Catholic Mass- 
tables are always, therefore, to the mind if not to the 
eye, a kind of case for precious contents ; and the ideas 
connected with the abode of the dead remain for all 
time bound up with the Church's principal place of 



Et c'est pourquoi je dis que de cliaque contour 
Emaneat des reflets, des pelHcules freles, 
Feuilles sans epaisseur, decalques si fideles 
Qu'ils gardent a jamais 1'apparence des corps 
Doat leur yolage ccorce abandonna les bords. 

E, De la nature des choses, trans. ANDE& LEFEVRE. 

FROM the development of the altar it has become clear 
that saint-worship, little by little, mingled with the Mass 
ritual, and that the Mass-table itself was finally trans- 
formed into a saint's shrine. This result, however, does 
not represent the whole of the influence exercised on 
the furnishing of the Catholic Church by the worship 
of the remains of the dead. The altar, which is itself a 
preserver of relics, supports or is surrounded by a 
number of other reliquaries, chests, capsules, shrines, or 
monstrances, which all serve to increase the sacredness 
of the place. To understand the principles of the 
disposition and embellishment of these sanctuaries we 
must know the ideas held by the faithful as to the 
miracle-working power of relics. 

The doctrine of relics is connected indissolubly with 
that of the miracles of the saints. The earthly remains 
of a holy man would not be considered to exercise such 
wonderful results if it was not believed that the holy 
man himself had possessed a supernatural power. 1 We 



must first, therefore, inquire into tlie ideas concerning 
the miraculous power of the saints. Afterwards it 
remains to show why this power was thought to survive 
in the saint's remains, and finally there comes the 
task of demonstrating how the belief in their power 
of working miracles gave rise to the preservation of 
relics in relic- cases, and to the exhibition of relic-cases 
in the church. 

The miracle legends are in no way peculiar to 
Christianity. On the contrary, it can be shown that 
the Catholic saints in many cases received their 
wonder-working powers as an inheritance from Old 
Testament prophets 2 and heathen demi-gods 3 ; and 
it is not only in the older religions of civilised peoples 
that analogies are found to the exploits of the 
great religious heroes. In all parts of the world, 
among primitive and barbaric tribes, legends of heroes, 
kings, and medicine-men are found corresponding in 
essentials with the Christian traditions. Nor is there 
any need to suppose that these legends were borrowed 
by one nation from another. The conditions of the 
correspondence are to be found most easily in the 
psychology of primitive and barbaric man, or, more 
correctly, in the psychology of that mental life which 
lives on continuously, as something primitive or 
barbaric, among civilised mankind. 

There is even one article in the doctrine of the saints' 
power that we can. adopt without being guilty of any 
superstitious attitude. We do not write ourselves down 
as primitive if we confess our belief that personalities 
which are strong and healthy, or good and wise in 
a word, physically or morally superior exercise an 
immediate influence upon those around them. In 
intercourse with them, all except the envious feel 


themselves fresher, brighter, and more alive than usual. 
Such results can be observed even In an age that offers 
but few opportunities of contact with saint or hero. It 
is therefore easy to understand that the great martyrs 
and ascetics strengthened by their demeanour the 
courage of the faithful, and that among the latter there 
might easily arise a subjective illusion as to the power 
of the saints to cure diseases or to ward off misfortunes. 
The further idea that not only the saints themselves, 
but even all objects that awoke memories of them, were 
able to exercise an influence favourable to life, could be 
explained as a consequence of suggestion. 

Though we admit that in some cases the experi- 
ence of effects of illusion and suggestion has contributed 
to root the belief in the miraculous power of the saint, 
we must immediately assert that the legends them- 
selves contain no allusions to such mental factors. 
Popular superstition, like religious belief in miracles, 
is obviously based on purely materialistic ideas. In 
pious legends there is no talk of mental conditions, and 
as a rule no special faith is presupposed in those who 
experience the effect of the miracle. People are per- 
suaded that the mere physical contact exercises a 
healing, strengthening, and favourable influence. The 
magical person, or to use a more orthodox term, the 
pious thaumaturge, is considered to be in possession 
of some peculiar physical power which is imparted from 
him through material effluxes to all those who directly 
or indirectly come into contact with his external being. 
The pressing of his hands on a head, the touching of 
the hem of his garment when he passes by, and even 
the shadow cast by his figure, can transmit influences 
from him to those who come in his way. Such purely 
magical miracles are often reported in the Acts of the 


Apostles (v. 15; viiL 7; xix. 12), although, on the 
other hand, both Peter and Paul frequently dwell on 
the importance of faith in healing the sick (iii. 4 ; xi. 
34; xiv. 9). 

Even in the canonical account of Paul's journeys, a 
miracle is recorded which for incredibility is second to 
none of the grossest legends of sorcery in popular 
superstition. At Ephesus, so it runs, when the people 
could not bring their sick to the Apostles, they placed 
on their beds handkerchiefs or pieces of cloth that had 
earlier been in contact with the saint's body. "And 
the sick were healed of their diseases and the evil spirits 
left them" (xix. 12). It was, it seems, not even 
necessary to see the miracle -worker himself, for his 
power transmitted itself through space by means of 
material instruments, which so the case was inter- 
preted had been saturated with healing radiations from 
his being. 

In the Biblical legends of the healing of the sick by 
Peter, Paul, and John, the most important kinds of 
saint-miracles are exemplified. The martyrs and ascetics, 
indeed, performed even more wonderful things than 
the Apostles, but the principles of their miracles were 
the same as those at work in the story of Peter's shadow 
and Paul's handkerchiefs. From these principles can be 
deduced not only the doctrine of the power of the saints 
themselves, but also that of the miraculous influence of 
the relics, through which saints live and work even after 
their death. For it is clear that the relics are considered 
potent in the same way as are the small pieces of cloth 
which, according to the Acts of the Apostles, had been in 
contact with Paul's body. Time and space are alike 
unable to destroy the might of the saint's being, 
and everything which has constituted a part of him, 

in EELICS 35 

or has been in contact with him, gives out miraculous 
power after the saint himself has left the earth. Such 
an argument appears irrational and meaningless to the 
modern mind, but it appears to be irrefutable, in a 
strictly logical sense, if it is placed in connection with 
that world-philosophy which lies at the basis of primitive 

Ethnological research has long ago succeeded In 
bringing all the magical customs of savage and barbaric 
peoples under a common explanation. In the doctrine 
of " sympathetic magic " has been found the theory which 
is unconsciously applied by all "shamans" and sorcerers 
both in earlier times and to-day. 

As its name denotes, sympathetic magic originates 
from the belief In a common suffering. The magician 
thinks himself able, by the operations he undertakes 
upon one thing, to influence another thing connected 
with the first by a magical solidarity. According 
to superstitious ideas such a solidarity exists between 
all beings, objects, and phenomena which stand towards 
one another in a relationship of contact or similarity. 
These two relations, contact and similarity which, as 
is well known, determine in psychology the two classes 
of associations of ideas lie at the root of two kinds 
of maoic : one kind in which the sorcerer makes use of 
objects that have been in contact with the person or 
thing he wishes to influence, and another kind in which 
he makes use of images or imitations of living beings, 
things or motions. 

Ethnological and folklorist investigators have, as a 
rule, regarded the magics of contact and similarity as 
two forms which in their essentials have nothing In 
common. But just as psychologists attempt to reduce 


all associative processes to one common type of associa- 
tion, so also we ought to be able to show one common 
and fundamental idea from which the various magical 
customs may be deduced. Such a first principle is 
easily found in primitive man's materialistic conception 
of the bond of contact and similarity. 

That all things which have once formed parts of a 
given whole are throughout the future connected both 
with one another and with the great whole, and that 
consequently by affecting one of the parts not only the 
other parts but also the whole itself can be influenced, 
this belief could not have developed unless it had been 
thought that the essence of a thing stood in a purely 
physical sense in permanent connection even with all 
the parts that have been separated from the whole in 
question. A. primitive magician has naturally not 
formulated his reasoning in any clear ideas. He could 
not himself say why he thinks that he hurts an enemy 
by, for example, burning or piercing a part of his 
clothing. But if he were able to express his dim 
conceptions in philosophic language, he would probably 
say that the clothes worn by his enemy are penetrated 
through and through by bodily radiations from the 
hated man's being. He would assert that these 
radiations form a continuous chain of material con- 
nection between the instrument of magic and its 
victim, and that by affecting the chain at one of its 
ends he can influence its beginning. In a word, he 
would develop a materialistic theory of effluxes which 
eternally connect the whole and all its parts with each 

According to primitive ideas, a similar chain of 
effluxes links images with their originals, for the 
picture is to the undeveloped mind nothing but a 


radiation, a decortication of the thing. The first pictures 
seen by savages, the shadows on the ground and the 
reflection in the water, lead quite spontaneously to such 
an interpretation; and the shadow and the reflection have 
become the types to which all other representations are 
referred. Every object, which in virtue of its similarity 
awakes the idea of another object, is explained as a sort 
of decortication of this object. If a man gets possession 
of a counterfeit of a thing, he thinks that he has at 
the same time stolen a part of the essence of the thing 
in question. The fear that exists among all uncivilised 
people of allowing a portrait of themselves to be taken 
is thus nothing but a fear of losing through the portrait 
a part of their being. Ethnological literature offers a 
mass of instances which cannot be explained in any 
other way. 4 

It may perhaps be objected that reality ought often 
to have given the lie to so naive an idea. Undeveloped 
man, however, does not allow his ideas to be corrected 
by reality. His way of looking at things has given him 
an explanation of phenomena, which is sufficiently com- 
plete and logical for Ms purpose. One is the less 
inclined to be astonished at his contentment, when one 
considers that the materialistic doctrine of effluxes has 
even served as the basis of consistent and logical 
systems. The Epicurean world-philosophy was based 
on an idea that not only shadows and reflections in a 
mirror, but also dream pictures and ideas, consisted 
of certain thin membranes, which were continually 
thrown off from the surface of things and spread 
themselves in every direction through space. In the 
fourth book of his great poem, De rerum nature*,, 
Lucretius has cleverly applied this doctrine of de- 
cortications to the phenomena of optics, acoustics, 


and psychology. In doing so he has merely systema- 
tised the dim ideas about the corporeality of sight- and 
sound-pictures, which are found among all savage tribes 
and which still live on sporadically among the civilised 
nations. It is enough in this connection to refer to the 
popular fear of losing something by having one's photo- 
graph taken, to the Indian traditions as to the sacred 
places at which Buddha's shadow has fixed itself 
eternally on a mountain wall, 5 and to the popular Celtic 
belief that the waters in Brittany, the old land of 
romance, still throw back the reflection of the fairy 
Viviane. 6 

Lucretius has not evolved any magical conclusions 
from his theory, and he makes no mention whatever 
of any solidarity between things and the emanations 
that are detached from them; but from his clear and 
logical exposition we can get to understand that when 
once the idea of magical solidarity had been embraced, 
similarity must appear as no less natural a means 
of sorcery than contact. Through images a man 
could, in the most literal meaning of the word, put 
himself in contact with an object. From effluxes, 
emanations or peelings -off, there was constructed an 
interminable system of material links through which 
all wholes were bound up with their parts and all 
originals with their representations. By the application 
of one and the same fundamental idea the primitive 
magician was able by the help, it is true, of two 
different methods to exercise his power over all things 
of which he had procured for himself a part or a picture. 
His belief appears to us devoid of any reasonable basis ; 
but we ourselves own to ideas of this kind when, under 
the influence of strong feeling, we sink back into the 
primitive soul-life, i.e. when admiration or love have 

in EELIGS 39 

made us fetish- or picture-worshippers. We then ex- 
perience for a few moments before a souvenir, a relic, 
or a portrait the same illusion of possession which was 
confused by uncivilised man with an actual power over 
a beloved or hated being only we do not allow our- 
selves to be led into supposing any objective corre- 
spondence to our subjective sensation ; and we do not 
here comes in the decisive difference embody the 
psychological association between the ideas in any 
belief of a material union between the things. 

It is not necessary here to give a more detailed account 
of the theory of sympathetic magic. If some points in 
this folk-philosophy have been insufficiently explained, 
the Catholic worship will offer many opportunities for 
a completer exposition. For the popular superstitions 
about the power of relics, which were taken up and were 
theoretically justified by the fathers of the Church, are 
at bottom as materialistic as primitive magic. All the 
forms adopted by relic-worship have their exact corre- 
spondence in the system of magic. 

To begin with the simplest kind of magic by contact, 
it is easy to understand why it was considered that 
the possession of a saint's body or of some of his bones 
carried with it advantages similar to those which would 
have been gained by placing oneself under the protection 
of a living saint : in the same way as the Christian 
martyr-worshippers, the ancient Greeks collected relics 
of their demi-gods, and transferred them to "heroon" 
chapels. 7 They thus applied the 'same principle as the 
magician who seeks to make an end of his enemy by 
destroying some locks of his hair, some clippings of 
his nails, or a lost tooth. It is true that black magic 
has hate for its motive power, while the white magic 
has admiration or love ; but none the less religion and 


magic build in this respect on the basis of a common 
thought It has long been generally recognised tihat 
the heathen gods were thought to be bound to the 
places where their images were guarded. 8 Eelics ful- 
filled the same purpose in the case of the saints, probably 
with still greater effectiveness. 9 It is perfectly clear 
from the hagiographic legends that with the bones of a 
saint one took the saint himself into one's service. One 
was certain of his assistance, because the holy man could 
not be other than present, wherever his relics were 
guarded. 10 

By transferring some relics to the church, the faith- 
ful had made the great dead a member of their own 
community. He lived with them, the church became 
his house, 11 and the interests of the nation became his. 12 
He appropriated the language of his new country, 13 and 
he assisted its struggles with patriotic zeal. When the 
citizens were successful in their wars, it was the saint 
who was given the credit for the victory. 14 Merits of this 
kind could certainly not often be ascribed to the Western 
saints, among whom the Roman martyrs in particular 
showed themselves sadly incapable of shielding their 
city ; but in the Bast, where hostile attacks were still 
frequently repulsed, the belief in the saint's military 
prowess grew with every new victory. A holy relic was 
considered as the strongest fortification of a place. 
Saint Jacob of Nisibea, for example, who during his life 
had by his pious prayers warded off the onslaught of 
the Persians, afforded after his death a better protection 
to his city than its lofty walls and wide river. His body 
became, to quote Ephraem Syrus's ingenious conceit, a 
rampart without the town although it was hidden within 
it ; it was a living spring inside the town which guarded 
Nisibea when the river at its boundary had failed it. 15 


A& the relics had so much practical importance, it 
was not of course always for purely religious reasons 
that people strove to acquire them. Piety was con- 
nected with utilitarianism, and the collecting of relics 
took forms hardly consistent with reverence for the 
saint. Voyages of discovery and invasions were under- 
taken in order to get possession of precious remains. 
People made war on a knuckle or a finger- bone, as 
war is now made on provinces and countries. The 
body of the saintly ascetic Jacob became a subject 
of strife even before he had died. 16 It was not 
considered sinful for a man in his pious zeal to rob 
or plunder neighbouring towns in order to take 
some luck -bringing object home to his own village, 
and trade was carried on in what had once been pious 
servants of God as in shop wares. If to Christian 
ideas there is anything offensive in this, consolation 
should be afforded by the fact that the traffic was 
usually conducted by unbelieving Jews. 

In these varieties of saint-worship we have to do 
with a usury levied upon a popular superstition, which 
was often condemned by the Church authorities. The 
more enlightened among the old Fathers of the Church 
discouraged, as far as lay in their power, both the trade 
in relics and the forgery of them, the latter having 
developed into a regular industry 17 as early as the time 
of Augustine ; but the exchange or giving away of 
particular martyrs' bones was not disallowed. Qn the 
contrary, it was considered that the Church's interest 
gained by this spread of relics. The cult grew in unity 
if one and the same saint was worshipped at several 
different places. 18 In harmony with that mystical con- 
ception of ubiquity which prevails in the doctrine of 
the sacrament, it was not thought in any way unnatural 


that the saint should be present at the same time in 
all the places where his relics were preserved. The 
Eastern Church showed itself particularly willing to 
distribute fragments of bone from all the saints whom 
people in the West were anxious to worship. 

The Eoman See followed a policy that was not quite 
so generous. Evidently it was recognised as most profit- 
able to possess the holy objects of worship in their 
entirety. When, as was often the case, a request for 
relics was received, it was pleaded that the rest of the 
dead martyrs would be disturbed if their bones were 
cut into pieces. 19 None the less the pious worshippers 
were gratified with the gift of some objects that had 
absorbed, and been saturated with, the radiations of 
the relics. Little pieces of cloth were placed for a time 
in the graves of Peter or Paul, and thence sent forth 
round the world as relics of the Apostles. 20 These 
sanctuaries of the second order, if we may so call them, 
were considered to be effective in the same way if not 
in so high a degree as the sacred bones themselves. 21 

Thus the Church, led on perhaps by the apostolic 
narrative of Paul's handkerchiefs, had recourse to that 
form of sympathetic magic, according to which, in the 
absence of parts of the victim's body, such as locks of 
hair or nails, the result is attained by means of pieces 
of clothing. A method was used which corresponded 
in its principle with the procedure of primitive sorcerers. 
But the Catholic manufacture of relics is more interest- 
ing than any one of the magical customs of primitive 
men. It demonstrates with unsurpassable clearness how 
materialistic was the conception of the effects of relics. 
It was, as already mentioned, through a bodily radiation 
that the magic vehicle assumed a part of its subject's 
being. This radiation could not be seen, for it was an 


invisibile; but It was not an imponderable. There- 
fore, when so Important a matter as the procuring of 
holy relics was in question, people wished to be quite 
sure that the magical transference had really taken 
place. The small pieces of cloth were weighed before 
and after their rest on the sacred coffins ; and when 
they were lifted up it was found that they had increased 
in weight a thing, Indeed, that is not entirely incredible, 
if we take into consideration the damp air down In the 
sepulchral chambers. According to the believer's Inter- 
pretation the increase in weight corresponded to the 
miracle-working power added to the piece of stuff by 
the contact. 22 

It is natural that other objects besides cloth should 
serve as vehicles for the effluxes of relics. The oil in the 
lamps which burned at the martyrs' graves was considered 
capable of working miracles in the same way as the 
holy bodies ; and if an ascetic read some prayers over 
a jar of oil, his power of working miracles was conveyed 
to the contents of the jar, which immediately increased 
in amount and flowed over the brim a statement the 
correctness of which may be doubted, however positively 
it is asserted by Sulpicius Severus and Gregory of 
Tours. 23 The earth around a holy grave was saturated 
by the radiations of the dead man, and thus became 
in its turn a means of healing. The water in which a 
relic was washed was preserved by the faithful and 
taken home to be used as medicine. 24 Moreover, the 
magical emanations never ceased to stream out from 
the holy object. Just as the bones of the martyrs and 
ascetics were considered to be imperishable, so they were 
considered to possess a never-ending supply of miraculous 

The holiest relics, however, possessed still more 


wonderful qualities. Not only could they radiate their 
being in an unceasing succession of effluxes without a 
weakening of their force ; they could even share their 
actual matter without undergoing the least shrinkage. 
The sand on the spot from which the Saviour ascended 
into Heaven has not come to an end in spite of 
the fact that, for so many centuries, believers have 
taken home grains of it as a relic. 25 The holy cross 
allowed pilgrims to break pieces from its surface, and 
none the less remained as large and as complete as 
before. 26 According to popular belief, there were even 
saints who actually doubled themselves, in order that 
their relics should serve as many worshippers as possible. 
St Baldred in Scotland, for example, had been the cause 
of strife between three communities, all of which desired 
to possess his body ; but when one day they were about 
to take up the unfinished strife anew, the single body 
had been changed into three, all puzzlingly like one 
another. The holy man had taken care that no one 
of the rivals should be favoured at the expense of the 
others. ^ 

Eeasons could thus be quoted even for the fact 
that several specimens of similar relics of one and the 
same saint were worshipped at different places. It 
is a proof, therefore, of a defective knowledge of the 
consistency of Catholic doctrines to ridicule, as Pro- 
testants often do, the worship, for example, of the many 
holy nails, which would suffice for far more than one cross, 
or of the numerous thorns, which could not possibly find 
a place in a single crown of thorns. 28 The believers are 
not affected by this criticism ; for them it is an undoubted 
fact that all the many relics are equally authentic. 

As regards the last-mentioned objects, we need not 
even appeal to such extraordinary and fabulous explana- 


tions as the miracle of St. Baldred's body. It is true 
that the sacred nails are said to have increased in number 
without any exterior prompting ; but the majority of 
the thirty-six different examples 29 that are known to 
exist have probably, like the many thorns and the 
innumerable duplicates of the saints' clothing, been quite 
openly manufactured according to the correct method 
of procuring new relics. Some faithful copies of the 
authentic objects were made, and these copies were then 
set in contact with the original. 30 The effluxes communi- 
cated themselves through the contact, and the new relics 
were saturated with the power of the sacred object in 
the same way as the pieces of cloth which have already 
been mentioned ; but they further possessed, in addition 
to the wonder-working qualities transmitted to them 
by contact, a miraculous power springing from their 
similarity to the original relic. Thus both the magic 
principles so often combined in the making of primitive 
religious pictures and ancestor -images, combined to 
make the secondary relics holy and wonder-working. 31 

It is not, as may perhaps be objected, too far-fetched 
to explain the Catholic doctrine of relics with the help 
of the similarity -magic of uncivilised peoples. The 
belief in the material connection between images and 
their originals was by no means uncommon in the first 
centuries of Christianity. The story of Peter, who 
healed sick people by his shadow, is evidence of a 
conception as materialistic as any of the primitive 
superstitions. In the whole of ethnological literature 
no more illuminating example of the idea that repre- 
sentations are effluxes from originals can be met with 
than the Christian legend of Veronica's napkin. This 
marvellous picture, which had itself been produced by 
a radiation from the Saviour's countenance, possessed 


tlie miraculous power of being able, in its turn, to 
detach new pictures to the surface of objects with 
which it was placed in contact. According to one of 
the many variants of this famous legend, Ananias, 
who had been sent to Jerusalem to fetch the picture 
of the Saviour for the sick Persian king, during his 
return journey concealed his treasure one evening 
between some bricks ; and when he took it up next 
morning, it turned out that the stones had received a 
clear impression of the sacred countenance. Thus the 
copy was able, by an automatic process, to copy itself ; 
and, what is more remarkable, it was not through any 
mental impression, but through this purely physical 
contact that the pictures exercised their healing in- 
fluences. In the story of King Agbar's deliverance from 
his leprosy, there is no mention of his having looked at 
the napkin. He seized the holy cloth, the tale runs, 
and pressed it against his face and his limbs, and in the 
same hour his discharge began to grow less and his 
strength returned. 32 

This materialistic picture -medicine has even been 
utilised by believing Catholics during far later periods. 
Thus the pious mystic Suso relates how he one day 
succeeded in curing a blind man by first rubbing his 
hands upon a wall, on which were painted the figures 
of some holy Apostles, and then touching the eyes of 
the sick man. 33 Although these pictures had not, like 
the impression on Veronica's napkin, and on the great 
" Sudaria " in Turin and Besancon, been procured by a 
material detachment from the models themselves, yet 
they could still transmit healing powers in a corporeal 
way. The miraculous power of the pictures was of the 
same nature as that of the relics, and pictures were 
therefore, at any rate in the Eastern Church,' entirely 

in RELICS 47 

on a par with the material remains of men and women. 34 
As a consequence the copied relics were thought to 
possess, by reason of their likeness to the original, a 
part of the latter's miraculous force ; and as a result 
of the same reasoning, people thought that they could 
protect their cities, their houses, and themselves no 
less efficiently by holy pictures than by holy bones. 
This conception has of course been of inestimable im- 
portance to the development of pictorial art. 

The superstitious ideas which have been commented 
upon in this chapter have in themselves nothing to do 
with the artistic crafts of Catholicism ; but they give 
us information about the contents of the reliquaries, 
and it is impossible to treat of a covering without first 
paying attention to the substance it conceals. In the 
next chapter it will appear that it is only by incessantly 
referring to magic by contact and magic by similarity 
that we can explain the principles of the shaping, the 
embellishment, and the arrangement of the relic-shrine. 



Saints are like roses when they flush rarest. 
Saints are like lilies when they bloom fairest, 
Saints are like violets sweetest of their kind. 


IT has been necessary to emphasise specially all the 
materialistic elements in the Catholic doctrine of relics. 
If we do not make ourselves acquainted with the purely 
corporeal manner in which the holy things are thought 
to communicate their help and healing, we cannot rightly 
understand the relation of the believer to the remains 
of the saints ; nor can we understand why the relics 
were enclosed in reliquaries, set up in the churches, 
and exhibited to the faithful. For had the power of 
the relic been independent of all physical mediation, 
the precious bones would have been able to exercise 
their blessed influences in all circumstances. They 
would have protected their cities even though they lay 
hidden in an unknown grave, and people would have 
relied confidently on their help, had they only known 
that they were somewhere in their neighbourhood. 
This, however, was so little the case that, on the con- 
trary, hidden relics were considered as a treasure non- 
existent for the community. 1 It was only after the 
sacred bones had been brought up into the light of day 



that they began to perform their miracles. A region 
was exposed to misfortunes and diseases, however 
many relics it might contain within its boundaries ; 
but it received powerful protection from the moment 
when the relics were discovered and set up for the 
worship of the faithful. 

It would be natural to suppose that the relics were 
exhibited in order that the people might show them 
reverence. The saint could not, one is apt to imagine, 
give any attention to the needs of those who sought 
his help before the latter had put forward their desires 
in homage and prayer. Nevertheless, the invoking of 
the sacred remains does not play any decisive r61e in 
the old miracle stories. The legends relate, on the one 
hand, that the power of the relics does not depend 
upon such mental factors as belief or unbelief ; and, on 
the other hand, that the miracle presupposes a sensuous 
communication between the relics and those who ex- 
perience the effects of the miracle. 2 When any evil 
influence was averted, this was due, it is said, to the 
fact that the demons were frightened at seeing the 
remains of the holy men who during their lifetimes 
had withstood their attacks so victoriously. 3 "We 
carry the relic-case forward against the demons," it 
is said by Honorius Augustodunensis, " as the Children 
of Israel bore the Ark of the Covenant against 
the Philistines." 4 When again it was a question of 
strengthening weakness or healing an illness that was 
not due to demoniacal possession, the cure was trans- 
mitted by as simple a method. The patients were well 
aware of the fact that the relics could not exercise their 
influence telepathically. They were not content with 
praying to the holy bones at a distance, but they wanted 
to see them, and touch them or rub themselves against 


them, in order to absorb in their being the healing 
effluxes. Just as people strove to touch martyrs while 
they lived/ so they contended to get as near as possible 
to their remains. 

The early Christian martyr-shrines were in many 
cases accessible for such contact. If they were placed 
above ground people could embrace them with, their 
arms and touch them with eyes, ears, and mouth. 6 If, 
again, they rested underground, a direct communication 
between the altar and the dead was often procured by 
the " aditus ad sanctos " already mentioned ; and a still 
closer contact was possible in churches where the grave 
as a "confessio" lay directly under the altar-table 
itself. Through the door or window of the " confessio " 
building one could look in upon the relics and place 
one's body close to them; nay, one could even in 
some cases, as in the old Church of St. Peter at Eome, 
thrust one's entire head into the holy chamber. 7 There 
were also some altars of the later chest-type, with 
small openings in their walls through which the saint's 
bones peeped out ; 8 but these forms became more and 
more rare. The orthodox altar came to be a closed 
room which contained relics indeed, but also concealed 
them in a small inaccessible grave. 

When they rested under the communion-table the 
bones of martyrs and confessors fulfilled their function 
of effecting a union between the church and its pro- 
tector " its name-saint," as the term stands which was 
woven stronger and stronger at each new celebration of 
the holy meal 9 The saint became an invisible guest at 
the festivals of the community, and he was, through his 
participation in them, more and more closely bound to 
the community's interests. But if this sufficed for the 
general needs of the cult, it must often have been 


unsatisfactory to individual believers that they could 
no longer see or touch the sacred remains. People were 
not content with the knowledge that the altar preserved 
relics, or that, as was often the case, relics were fitted 
into the vaulting stones or in the roof of the church 
tower. 10 They claimed to worship their saints in some 
special sanctuary which was not, like the altar -table, 
used for any other ritual purposes. They claimed that 
the relics should be preserved in such a way that 
the sacred bones themselves or their covering should 
be accessible not only to the thoughts of the faith- 
ful, but also to their eyes, and if possible to their 

This claim could easily be fulfilled when the number 
of holy objects had Increased through the discovery 
and manufacture of relics. Then, in addition to the 
great saint-grave, Le. the altar, churches could be 
provided with other movable saint -shrines for the 
exclusive purpose of relic -worship. Thus arose the 
various receptacles which, with their beauty of form 
and the richness of their colours, contribute so power- 
fully to the outer pomp of Catholic ritual. 

From the purely aesthetic point of view the reli- 
quary is more Interesting than any of the objects 
which together constitute the liturgical apparatus. 
The history of the embellishment of this holy shrine 
embraces a considerable part of the development of 
decorative art. It touches upon all the most important 
kinds of the arts and crafts which were carried on 
during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance the 
carving of ivory, the chasing of gold and silver, the 
works in vermilion, i.e. gilded silver, and the setting of 
rubies, topazes, and emeralds, and, above aJl, of some 
kinds of stones no longer used in secular art, such as 


the chrysoprase and that transparent crystal, the beryl* 
It affords examples of many ingenious ways of utilising 
shells and mother-of-pearl, and even ostrich eggs, for 
relic- cases; and, above all, it contains a fascinating 
chapter on the artistic enamels, in which richly-coloured 
vitreous glaze has been poured into ornaments and 
figures, whose contours are formed by the darkly-rising 
ridges of the copper base. The gorgeous beauty of the 
embellishment of reliquaries is, indeed, often barbarically 
ostentatious, but in many cases it can compel unqualified 

There can be no question here of giving an exact 
account of all the individual shrines which invite de- 
scription by the splendour and grace of their form, or 
by the effect of their combination of colours. Of the 
number of varieties by which the reliquary is repre- 
sented in the collections of churches and museums, 
only the most important will be discussed. In doing 
so, it is most natural to begin by distinguishing a con- 
siderable group of receptacles which had originally been 
manufactured for secular purposes. 11 

When the collecting of holy bones began, there did 
not of course exist any developed art of manufacturing 
reliquaries. People were often content to fit the bones 
or their fragments into simple boxes of lead, bone, or 
wood, on the covers of which they engraved a short 
description of the contents ; but frequently they chose 
as receptacles for the holy objects some box or case 
which had formerly been used for quite another purpose. 
Thus it might happen that aftsr Christianity had be- 
come a fashionable religion, the wealthy ladies of Eome 
emptied out the contents of their trinket-boxes and hid 
the blackened bones of some pious ascetic under the 
same cover that had formerly guarded their pearls and 


brilliants ; and during much later periods this custom 
of using heathen works of art as coverings for Christian 
contents was retained. Crusaders and pilgrims brought 
with them relics lying in costly cases and receptacles 
which they had procured in the East, and the Church 
took care of the shell as well as of the substance. The 
same liberality, was shown with regard to the profane 
art of the European nations. As the Church on the 
whole rejected nothing whether old folk-legends or 
heathen customs or motives of artistic decoration so, 
too, it gave house-room to gems, receptacles, and 
implements which had either lost their use or no 
longer possessed any rightful owner. 12 Some small 
alteration was made in the object ; an open goblet was 
closed by a lid, or a hole was bored in a breast-plate ; a 
fragment of bone was introduced or fitted into the 
opening, and the worldly object was thus transformed 
into a holy shrine. 13 What is important as regards the 
history of art is that through a small alteration of this 
kind the object was preserved from destruction. During 
the time when no historic sense was directing peoples' 
activities, and when the comparative study of art was 
an unknown idea, the sacristies and altar-places fulfilled 
the task that has now been taken over by art-museums ; 
and they fulfilled it so well that in many cases they 
have preserved for us valuable instances of e.g. oriental 
technique which but for them had been lost to us. All 
this exotic and barbaric production, which is still to be 
found in the collections of relics in churches, is, of 
course, of indisputable aesthetic interest ; but it teaches 
us nothing of the art which is Catholic in its origin and 
its aim. 

The reliquaries proper can easily be distinguished 
from receptacles which were subsequently adapted to 


their holy purpose. They are by no means less 
beautiful than the secular cases ; on the contrary, only 
the purest materials were considered good enough to 
enclose the bones of martyrs and confessors, for the 
bones in themselves were "of more worth than precious 
stones, and finer than purified gold," 14 and, as the 
legends relate, revealed their sanctity by a sweet odour. 
Superstitious worship and pious, devout reverence 
thus led the craftsmen to put forth in the making of 
reliquaries all the skill of which they were capable; 
but these holy shrines further possessed in their 
shape certain features clearly illustrating their religious 

The form that lay nearest to hand, when a chamber 
had to be prepared for the body of a holy martyr or 
ascetic, was naturally that of a box. It is probable that 
many of the oldest relic-shrines were nothing but simple 
coffins of stone or wood. As soon, however, as these 
sanctuaries began to be exhibited in churches, the 
necessity of decorating their surfaces must have been 
felt. After the model of antique and early Christian 
sarcophagi, people began to divide the walls into com- 
partments separated from one another by pilasters 
and half-columns, and adorned with pictures from the 
life of the saint within. The lid received, likewise 
on the model of sarcophagi, the form of a saddle-roof, 
and the resemblance to a house, when once people's 
eyes had been directed to it, was more and more 
emphasised by the ornamentation. When the " capsa " 
such is the name for this saint's shrine had reached 
its full development, it often presented the appearance 
of a small church : a simple or even a many- aisled 
Basilica, with socle, arcades, and projecting saddle-roof, 
or a Gothic cathedral with flying buttresses, pinnacles, 


and ridge-turrets. Just as the Church had often been 
looked upon as a grave-shrine for the saint, so too the 
saint's shrine was looked upon and represented ,as a 
church. 15 

This type of reliquary, which one can imagine as 
developed out of a sarcophagus, was, however, used in a 
smaller size for relics which could not have filled a proper 
chest. Thus there are many small golden churches 
which were wrought and decorated solely in order to 
enclose some precious and sacred bone-fragment. But 
it is natural that, in the business of preserving small 
relics, people were not bound to that type of case which 
had been used for the intact bodies of martyrs. A 
little piece of bone could, for example, be placed in a 
cylindrical or polygonal box, whose walls and lid were 
adorned with engraved or sculptured ornamentation. 
This lid, too, could after some remodelling assume the 
form of a roof ; a conical tent-roof or a cupola. Thus the 
box appeared like a tower, or in its most finished stage, 
as a central temple. The sacred bone rested in a 
treasury which recalled the oriental tombs and sepulchral 
churches. 16 We see how the connection of ideas between 
the great and the small bone-houses expresses itself 
step by step in the outer shape of the reliquaries. 

The shrines in the form of towers or churches, so 
important in Catholic symbolism, do not, however, give 
any idea of the kind of bones which are preserved in them. 
In this respect the so-called "topical reliquaries" are 
much more interesting to the spectator. In them the 
covering corresponds faithfully to the contents. A 
finger of silver or gold encloses a finger-bone, a half- 
moon-formed piece of gold contains the fragment of a 
rib, and a foot holds parts of the lower extremities. 
The fibulae which are often to be found among relies 


are enclosed in an arm, or more properly in a sleeve, of 
metal, from which protrudes a hand with the fingers 
extended in a gesture of blessing. In many cases, in 
order to make possible a complete identification of the 
precious remains, there has been placed between the 
fingers the characteristic attribute of the saint in 
question. The skull-bone was fitted naturally into a 
head of wood, stone, or metal, and thus arose " hermae " 
or busts concealing in their interior some fragmentary 
relic. When once people had advanced so far along the 
road from shrine to image, it was an easy step to form 
statues which reproduced the saint's entire shape and 
housed some of his bones. 17 Contact had, to use the 
terminology of magic, allied itself with similarity. 
When looking, for example, at the curious busts in the 
Church of St. Ursula at Cologne, each of which has under 
its crown a fragment of skull, we are reminded of the 
great ancestor statues in New Guinea, which were made 
to support or enclose the skull-bones of the dead. 18 Or, 
if we prefer to seek our comparisons nearer at hand, 
we can think of the Etruscan urns in the form of busts, 
which at the same time preserved a man's features and 
his earthly remains. 

These resemblances, however, striking as they are, 
should not lead us to a complete identification. It is 
difficult in each separate ease to decide whether it was a 
conscious magical intention or a purely aesthetic impulse 
that lay at the root of the custom of making relic- 
holders in the shape of busts and statues. During the 
later Middle Ages, and even more during the Renaissance, 
the enclosing of sacred bones was indeed considered as 
a purely artistic business, which people sought above all 
to fulfil in the most beautiful way possible. Reli- 
quaries were collected as curios by many connoisseurs 


who had no belief at all In the miraculous power of the 
holy bones, and probably they were often made by 
sculptors and goldsmiths who themselves did not retain 
the primitive world-view. But even if one does not like 
to see in the anthropomorphic reliquaries anything but 
the result of the free play of artistic fancy, yet it must 
be remembered that in this, as in so many cases, the 
aesthetic effect corresponds to what at earlier stages of 
development was looked upon as a magical efficacy. And 
there is no doubt that to the pious saint-worshippers 
both the worth of the relies and their miraculous 
qualities were increased, when they were able from the 
very shape of the outer cover to receive an impression 
of the presence of the saint. 

The topical saint-shrines, which in our presentation 
of the subject were the connecting link in the transition 
to the preserving of relics in busts and statues, possess 
this advantage, that it is possible to see what bones are 
preserved in them ; but the sacred contents themselves 
can not be seen. The covering is not, indeed, able to 
exclude the miraculous power, and it has been satur- 
ated with such a number of effluxes that it could per- 
form miracles on its own account ; 19 but the fact that 
the relic is completely hidden from their eyes is none 
the less unsatisfactory to the faithful. Superstition and 
pious reverence claim to behold their object. In order 
to fulfil this claim, a little window, covered with trans- 
parent crystal, has frequently been let into the saint's 
shrine; 20 and during the later Middle Ages a further 
step was taken by manufacturing entire reliquaries out 
of glass. The small cylindrical shrine if we may use 
this expression was supported and surrounded by an 
edifice wrought in metal, reproducing in miniature 
motives from the church architecture of the period. 


This rich framework is, however, so arranged that it does 
not conceal the sacred bone, the whole length of which 
shines out through the glass. A saint-shrine of this 
kind is not a " reHc-hider " a " relikgomma," to use the 
old Swedish expression but on the contrary a "relic- 
shower." Therefore it bears in ecclesiastical terminology 
the same name, " monstrance/' as was borne by the 
objects which, coming into use at a later time, play so 
important a part in the cult of the sacred Host. 21 

The same principles that determined the formation 
of the reliquaries are responsible also for the ways in 
which these are kept and exhibited. Whether the holy 
bone itself is hidden or visible, the believer must at 
any rate be able to see its shrine. Often indeed, from 
a regard for their value, the wonder-working objects 
were locked up in chests and cabinets in the sacristies ; 
but even in these cases care was taken that not only 
the priests, but also the community, should occasionally 
enjoy the privilege of viewing the relics. On the 
saints' birthdays their death-days' according to secular 
terminology when their remains were considered to 
have greater healing properties than at any other 
time, 22 the sacred bones had to exercise their powers 
over all the sick and unhappy ones who streamed to 
the church to be cured of their sufferings. Thus in 
la Sainte Chapelle in Paris a building which, large as 
it is, can only be considered as a monster-reliquary 
there has been left for this purpose in the stained glass 
windows one uncoloured pane, through which the relics 
were shown to the crowd outside. 23 On the day of Mary's 
Assumption, the sacred girdle at Prato was exhibited 
from a pulpit which was erected specially for that purpose 
outside the church, and which was built by Michelozzo 
and adorned with reliefs by Donatello. And in the 


Breton village of St. Jean du Doigt, on every midsummer 
day people can take part In a great " pardon," when 
John the Baptist's finger Is immersed In the great 
churchyard fountain, in order that the sick may be 
able to rub their bodies with the water thus saturated 
with the saint's effluxes. Other relics go to meet 
those who seek their help, when they are carried In 
procession on festival days through the streets of 
the towns. The great chests are borne on litters, and 
the "monstrances" are held in the hands of Church 
officials. Thus the bones of the dead are able to 
spread their blessings over wide circles and to radiate 
health over all those who cross their path. 

It is clear, however, that people could not content 
themselves with these exhibitions of relics on feast days. 
A possibility of partaking of a saint's help must be 
provided for the daily church-goers. For this purpose 
it was necessary to expose some relics in a visible place 
within the church itself. Now of all such places there 
Is none so conspicuous as the altar, which, whether in the 
nave or in one of the small side-chapels, is placed at that 
point to which the gaze of the worshipper is irresistibly 
drawn. The surface of the altar, however, cannot 
afford room for any bulky objects over and above those 
necessary for the celebration of the sacrament. The 
relic-shrine must, therefore, unless it is quite small, be 
placed as near the altar as possible without thereby 
encroaching on its space. 24 The attempt to unite these 
two conflicting claims has given rise to some peculiar 
arrangements that have been of immense importance 
in the development of art-forms. 

"When it was desired to give a dominating position 
to the great saint-chest, which naturally could not be 
laid on the altar itself, there was only one expedient 


available. It was placed behind the altar on a sub- 
structure high enough to make the sanctuary visible 
all over the church. By an arrangement of this 
kind the faithful were enabled to move freely round 
the relics and even to place themselves under them, 
so that they could receive their effluxes from every 
direction. 25 It has even been asserted that the suppli- 
ants utilised the space between the bottom of the shrine 
and the floor of the church for carrying out the old 
magical idea, according to which sickness is believed to 
be healed by the sufferer creeping through a narrow 
opening, e.g. under stones or between the branches of 
trees. 26 For the purposes of saint-worship itself this dis- 
position was as advantageous as could be desired, but 
it was also very effective architecturally and decora- 
tively. The richly-ornamented chest which occasionally, 
like the old sarcophagi, was crowned by a little roof of its 
own, rises with this, its " ciboriurn," high over the Mass- 
table, and from its position dominates the whole field 
of vision in the church. It is the second great grave 
of the Catholic cult ; and as regards the eye, if not the 
mind, it often asserts itself at the cost of the altar-chest. 
By the history of its development this roofed and 
lofty-rising saint-shrine, as seen in some old French 
churches, further reminds us of the influence acquired 
by the worship of the dead in Catholic ritual. 

The decorative whole, formed by the table of the 
high altar and the gable of the great saint-shrine 
facing the nave, is from the aesthetic point of view the 
most interesting part of the fittings of the old churches ; 
but it is also worthy of attention from the point of view of 
the history of art. Attempts have been made to show 
that it was this combination of ritual objects which 
served as the model for the later groups of pictures 


behind the altar. When the saint-shrine has received 
the form of a many- aisled church, its front aspect 
does indeed present the same disposition that we 
find in trlptychs and polyptychs a large central 
compartment culminating in a pointed or rounded 
arch, and flanked by smaller wings also crowned with 
arches. The pictures of saints which are usually met 
with on the side-panels of an altar-piece correspond to 
the paintings on the fagade of the miniature church, 
i.e. of the saint-shrine. The richly-ornamented coping 
which, especially in German altar-pieces, often frames the 
pictures at the top, can be explained as a reminiscence 
of the roof over the saint-shrine, which earlier would 
have had its place behind the altar. Finally the 
"predella" the rectangular compartment under large 
pictures, which is often decorated with scenes from 
the legends of saints and martyrs may, so it is argued, 
have developed from an altar-decoration the purpose 
of which had been to conceal the stands supporting 
the relic-case. In Viollet le Due's reconstruction of the 
old altar in St. Denis, the fagade of the relic-case, the 
Mass - table, and the square slab which masks the 
columns under the case, combine to form a totality 
which, as to its construction, corresponds exactly with 
a triptych on an altar; but naturally we have no 
right to base any theory upon a reconstruction which, 
even if it were correct, would only throw light on a 
single instance. 27 

The attempt to explain the old altar-pieces as 
imitations of the pictured fagade of the saint-shrine 
must, therefore, be considered as an hypothesis which 
is more ingenious than convincing. Viollet le Due's 
disciples were over-confident when they thought that 
they could show a definite model for the old picture 


groups behind tlie altar; but perhaps they were not 
quite wrong in asserting a connection between the 
altar-pieces and some of the older reliquaries, even 
though these had not invariably the shape of chests 
or churches. If we examine the other hypotheses 
advanced concerning the origin of altar -decorations, 
we find that the pictures have always been looked 
upon as substitutes for the relics. According to some 
authors, the model for the altar-picture is to be found 
in a kind of wooden or bone plate, on which the saint- 
worshippers in the Greek Church used to fasten pieces 
of the holy Cross, miracle-working fragments of bone, 
or memorial stones from Palestine. 28 These plates were 
often joined by hinges, and could be closed like the 
covers of a book. Such "diptychs" or "triptychs" 
were especially collected by Crusaders, and were kept 
as a sort of souvenir-album which took up little room 
and could easily be carried when travelling. When 
a man returned home, it was only natural for him to 
place his sacred book on the altar with its relic-decked 
inside opened. The decoration thus received by the 
Mass-table is distinguishable from the great wing-altars 
or altar-cabinets only by its dimensions, and not by its 
construction. The relic-album gradually received still 
richer embellishment. The sides were crowned with 
round or pointed arches, and adorned with paintings 
or reliefs. Thus the great picture-compartments on a 
reredos or an altar-picture were foreshadowed in minia- 
ture by these open books. It was only the "predella" 
that was lacking. 

Even for this element in the totality it has been 
possible to find another archetype than the screen for 
the supports of the relic-case, which Viollet le Due 
adduced in his explanation. The " predella/' it is said, 


has its earliest correspondence in the " retabulum," i.e. a 
square surface of wood or metal, which is met with even 
on many of the altars that do not stand in front of any 
saint-chest. The richest examples of this object of 
adornment the great "Soester" altar-piece in Berlin, 
" la pala d'oro " in St. Mark's, and Duceio's great altar 
picture in Siena are completely covered by images 
in beaten gold and silver, in stone or wood-carving, or 
in painting. It seems probable, however, that the earliest 
" retabula " carried not pictures but rather relics, for the 
ecclesiastical councils from the ninth to the tenth 
century permitted nothing to be set upon the altar 
besides " service-books, monstrances, and relics!' 29 The 
position of the "retabulum" must have fitted it peculiarly 
to receive on its surface small fragments of bone, which, 
when fastened on to the vertical surface, were visible 
throughout the church and made no encroachment upon 
the altar-table. If one imagines a * * Klappalt archen " so 
the above-mentioned diptychs and triptychs were named 
in Germany, when they were opened on the Mass- 
table placed above a " retabulum " of this kind, one 
sees a group of reliquaries, the arrangement of which 
corresponds on a small scale to that of the typical 
groups of pictures, and may in some cases be con- 
sidered as having served as a model for them. 

There are, however, authors who say that the so-called 
altar-cabinets and altar-pieces were developed neither 
from the pictorially- decorated gables of the saint- 
shrines, nor from the small books and shelves containing 
relics, but from an original saint-cabinet. But when, 
in accordance with such a conception, they have 
attempted to determine the contents of this cabinet, 
they have not been able to suggest that these were any- 
thing but relics. 30 The "predella," again, has in the 


same way been explained as a rudiment of a complete 
box containing some sacred bones. In ancient docu- 
ments information lias indeed been found showing 
clearly that such relic -boxes were set up on the 
altar. Thus even this hypothesis is based on the 
supposition that during an earlier phase the paintings 
and sculptures had their antecedents in relics. 31 

Although investigators have not yet succeeded in 
putting forward any generally recognised explanation of 
the origin of the altar-piece, it is possible to deduce from 
the different theories some common statements which 
do correspond with the principles established in this 
and the previous chapters. The worship of saint- 
pictures attaches itself to the worship of saint-relics, 
and the pictures, by reason of the magical world- 
philosophy, are thought to possess an influence similar 
to that of the miracle-working bones. The representa- 
tions of saints which fill the walls and doors of wing- 
altars or the compartments of great polyptychs point 
back to a period when those saints were represented, not 
only by pictures, but also by fragments of their bones 
in relic-carrying altar-pieces. Again, the very arrange- 
ment of groups of pictures at the altar preserves 
the memory of different relic-cases and relic-shelves 
erected behind or above the Mass -table. It would, 
of course, be too much to say that pious people would 
not have thought of adorning the holiest place in 
the church with pictures and sculptures, without having 
had before them some patterns from earlier models. 
But as we know that stands, shelves, and cabinets for 
miracle-working bones had been placed in the vicinity 
of the altar, and in a number of cases had been decorated 
with pictures ; and as, on the other hand, we find in the 
supporting or enclosing function of these reliquaries an 


explanation of the peculiar disposition of altar-pieces, we 
can hardly be considered too venturesome if we connect 
the two types with each other. For the purposes of this 
work It is not necessary to decide how far any particular 
one and In that case which one of the different ways 
of exhibiting relics deserves to be considered as the 
model for the old altar-pictures. It is sufficient that we 
can In any case assert that even the most conspicuous 
of the objects of decoration in the church, the great 
group of pictures at the altar, has received its outer form 
as a loan or an Inheritance from the pictorially decorated 
receptacles of the wonder-working bones of saints. The 
remains of the dead, which constitute the precious con- 
tents of the hidden grave of the Mass-table, have 
occupied a prominent place in the decoration of the altar 
walls. If, therefore, the great altar-pieces cannot be re- 
garded as actual shrines, yet they have, as cabinets or 
shelves, supported or enclosed sacred contents similar to 
those which were fitted in under the sacrament table. 
This fact affords an idea of the importance of the objects 
for which Catholic art erected and embellished the first, 
though not the most important, of her holy shrines. 



Je crois en la toute-pr6sence 

A la messe de Jesus-Ckrist ; 

Je crois a la tonte-puissance 

Du sang qne pour nous il offirit, 

Et qu'il offre au seul Juge encore 

Par ce mystere gue j 'adore, 

Qui fait qu'un homme vain, menteur, 

Pourvu qri'il porte le vrai signe 

Qui le consacre entre tous digne, 

Puisse creer le Cre'ateiir. 


IN all that has been said in the previous chapters in re- 
gard to the arrangement and embellishment of the altar- 
place, no mention has been made of the ceremony, the 
purpose of which the altar is primarily intended to serve. 
"What is essential and original in the Catholic ritual has 
been passed over in favour of a cult which only during 
the course of its development associated itself with divine 
worship. The Mass-table has been looked at exclusively 
as a receptacle for relics ; and in the case of the other 
liturgical objects, only those peculiarities have been 
noticed which spring from their function of enclosing or 
supporting the bones of saints. Such a procedure has 
been necessary in order to make the principles of the 
form-development appear with full clearness ; but, on 
the other hand, it must not be forgotten that the 
distinction, if persevered in longer than is absolutely 



necessary, may easily lead to a wrong interpretation of 
the concrete works of art. In so far as we have to 
explain the shaping of the type, we must attach weight 
to the altar's property of enclosing relics ; but when 
on the other hand we have to give an account of the 
altar's function in religious ceremonial, then the altar 
must be treated not as a saint's grave but as a Mass- 
table. These two principles appear to be so simple and 
clear that one ought easily to be able to- avoid confusing 
them, but none the less there are particular cases in 
which doubt may rise as to which of the two views 
ought to be adopted. 

One experiences such a doubt, for instance, when one 
sees the golden crowns and wreaths which in some of the 
old " ciboria " have been hung up above the altar. 1 There 
is no question that the princes who offered these costly 
ornaments to the Church desired thereby to express their 
reverence for the altar-place. But what was it in the 
altar that they chiefly desired to honour ? According to 
the old Christian conception, the wreath is the distinctive 
emblem of the martyrs. They who have fought the 
" good fight " of faith with the sacrifice of their lives are 
looked upon as " God's athletes," who after death will 
receive their reward in the same decoration as crowned 
the victors in worldly games. 2 It is easiest then, so 
it would seem, to explain the wreaths as a kind of 
homage to the name-saints of the Church or of the 
altar, i.e. to the martyrs whose relics rest under the 
Mass-table ; but there are some authors who have been 
unwilling to avail themselves of this interpretation. 
Thus Barbier de Montault considers that crowns were 
suspended over the altar to express the thought of 
Christ's royal dignity. 3 Eohault de Fleury supposes 
indeed that this custom had its origin in the desire to 


honour martyrs, but he imagines the original purpose 
of the decorations to have been altered in the course of 
time. When the West Gothic kings offered to the 
Church such costly "regna"as, for example, Eecces- 
vinthus's famous crown (now preserved in the Cluny 
Museum), they did not, according to de Fleury, worship 
saints, but they presented their homage to the King of 
kings, whose flesh and blood rested upon the altar 
during Mass. 4 

It is in itself of no great importance to decide 
whether the French authors are right or wrong in their 
interpretation. The old hanging ornaments have been 
mentioned here only because they offer a striking 
example of that twofold meaning which renders difficult 
the treatment of all questions concerning the symbolism 
of the altar. We are compelled to remember continually 
that it is not only the martyrs who hold sway over the 
sacred place, but that the Mass-table is also a room for 
something more worthy of reverence than the relics of 
great witnesses to the faith. 5 

In some cases, indeed, this fact must be borne in 
mind even with reference to that particular part of the 
altar which has acquired the significance of a saint-shrine. 
Although it was considered necessary to enclose some 
relics under the table-surface, yet the possibility that 
such might not be everywhere procurable was recognised. 
In these cases people had the right to have the saint's 
bones replaced by " fragments of the Saviour's body/' 
i.e. by pieces of a consecrated wafer. 6 Thereby the 
altar became literally a grave of Christ ; but there is no 
need to suppose that its sacredness had been to any 
essential degree increased. Indeed, quite independently 
of the contents of the hidden receptacle, it must 
have been easy to associate in thought the room over 


which the sacramental transformation was enacted, with 
the last resting-place of the dead God-man. In the 
Greek Church such a connection of ideas is clearly 
expressed by a picture of Christ's burial sewn to the 
"antimensium," i.e. the silk cloth which covers the front 
of every Mass-table, and without which the table cannot 
be used for its lofty purpose. 7 The Roman Church does 
not indeed possess anything corresponding to these 
pictorial representations unless we care to cite that 
singular altar at Dresden, the front of which bears a 
relief of Christ's grave, with the three Marys in the back- 
ground and a sleeping soldier in each corner. 8 But the 
thought itself may have been a sufficiently conscious 
one, even though it has not been more frequently 
expressed in painting or sculpture; 9 and the ritual 
Easter-dramas, in which the altar, or some little tem- 
porary erection on the altar, represented the grave at 
Jerusalem, must to some extent have had the effect of 
strengthening the idea that the Mass-table was some- 
thing holier than a reliquary. 

If the thought of the body of the Divinity thus 
attached itself through various intermediaries to the 
altar-chest, it was naturally difficult for the saint-cult 
to assert its aims in relation to the holy table-surface. 
In the last chapter it was pointed out that from the 
beginning of the ninth century crucifixes and reliquaries 
might be set up on the altar; but it was expressly 
stated that in placing these ornaments the only ones 
permitted in the holy place care must be taken to 
refrain from occupying too much space. The saint- 
shrine sought to win as prominent a position as possible, 
but it was not allowed to encroach upon the sphere 
of objects holier than the relics. 10 Thus in all the 
varying ways of arranging reliquaries behind or 


above the altar, we can read the story of a struggle 
for precedence between two cults. The receptacle 
for the remains of the dead tried to push its way 
forward into the central and dominant position in the 
church, and it had even succeeded in forcing its shape 
upon the lower part of the altar, which was transformed 
into a closed chest. But if it attempted to assert its 
influence over the Mass-table itself, it was thrust aside 
and retired to a more backward, if to no less visible a 

The official rules for the decoration of the altar do 
not indeed openly bear witness to the existence of any 
such conflict between the claims of the Mass-table and 
the reliquaries, but the pious legends are in this 
respect much more illuminating. Thus there is a 
little monkish anecdote from the tenth century proving 
that even the saints themselves might denounce the 
encroachments upon the sanctity of the Sacrament, of 
which their worshippers were guilty : 

In a church near the monastery of Cluny, so runs 
the story, many miracles had been performed by the 
bones of St. Walpurgis; but on one occasion, when 
these relics had been placed for some days on the altar- 
table itself, the miracles completely ceased. The sick 
who besought the saint's help waited in vain to be 
healed, until one of them received a revelation from 
St. "Walpurgis. "The reason you have not recovered 
your health," said the saint, "is that my relics have 
been put on God's Altar, which ought not to be used 
save for the divine mysteries." After the sick man 
had related his vision, the relics were moved back 
to the place which they had formerly occupied, and 
in the same hour the miraculous cures began anew. 11 

No better proof can be desired of the fact that the 


Saint-worship was rightly understood as a parasitic cult, 
which, however closely it might connect itself with 
the altar service, could not In any way obscure from 
view the significance of the Mass. Even though the 
relics preserved in and on and over the altar were 
looked upon with reverence, yet a deeper regard was 
given to the objects which had immediate reference to 
the Sacrament itself And if to pass over, for the 
present, the movable paraphernalia it was considered 
necessary for every complete altar to preserve some 
bones of martyrs in its interior, yet in any case the 
receptacle for relics was not the most essential part 
of the Mass -table. The small travelling altars, in 
which the liturgical furniture was reduced to its most 
indispensable components, are in this respect particu- 
larly illuminating. They can indeed all be looked 
upon as portable relic-shrines, but they have besides, 
on the lid of the case, a consecrated stone which is no 
less important than the bones within. This stone, which 
was to bear the Sacrament, had been solemnly consecrated 
for its purpose by a bishop. Plates of the same kind 
were fitted also into Mass-tables in remote churches 
which could not receive episcopal consecration. 12 

When it was in any way possible, however, people 
preferred to have the whole altar-surface consecrated for 
its purpose on the spot it was to occupy. On such an 
occasion the officiating bishop performed some important 
ceremonies for which a definite ritual must have been 
devised as early as the twelfth century. The procedure 
at a consecration is indeed described in detail by the 
liturgical author Durandus de Mende, whose famous 
Rationale divinorum qffidorum was composed in 
1286. Durandus first relates how the altar was 
sprinkled with holy water, and how it was baptised 


with baptismal water. When this has been done, he 
says, it remains for the priest to anoint the altar with 
oil and unguents. While doing this, he sings : " Jacob 
raised up a stone as a monument, and poured oil there 
over." 13 The first sanctuary in Bethel was thus the 
type for all altars, and it was desired with that tradi- 
tional adherence to Jewish models which would afford 
material for long historical digressions to connect 
Christian ceremonies with old biblical religious customs. 

That so much weight should be attached to the 
consecration of the altar becomes perfectly intelligible if 
we take into account what were the objects far more 
precious than any relics which the holy table-surface 
was to bear. To the pious Catholic the altar is literally 
a "holy and dreadful place" (Gen. xxviii. 17), at which, 
like Jacob at Bethel and Peniel (Gen. xxviii. 13, xxxii. 
30), he can meet God face to face. At the Mass-table 
there daily comes to pass the great miracle through 
which the highest substance takes the place of the 
substance of earthly materials, without the latters' 
modi and accidents, i.e. their outer manifestations, being 
visibly transformed. 14 Where heathens and unbelievers 
see nothing but a piece of bread and some drops of 
wine, there the faithful see their God in entire and 
undivided presence. They are not misled by the outer 
covering behind which the Mighty has concealed Him- 
self in order to protect human senses from being 
blinded by His splendour ; 15 they know, they say, that 
He can be seen by faith, and even touched and con- 
sumed. 16 Daily, through the mediation of His priest, 
He binds Himself to His community, and allows Him- 
self to be appropriated by it in a fusion of beings which 
is illustrated by the most material, and therefore for our 


senses the clearest, form of appropriation, i.e. through 
eating and drinking. Daily He offers Himself anew 
for His community, when He gives Himself as an 
atonement for the sins of mankind, A Roman Mass 
is indeed not only a Communion meal, but it is also, 
and above all, a holy action through which the work 
of redemption is repeated in the ritualistic celebrations, 
in order to serve with undirainished force, at each 
repetition, as a new sacrifice of atonement. 

It is the rich and significant purport of this 
ritual that made the Mass the greatest sacrament of 
Catholicism. The service of the altar is the nucleus 
of the Church's worship, just as the altar-table is the 
central point of the church building. Therefore, church 
art ought also, it would seem, to be explicable in its 
character and purpose, if considered in connection with 
the ritual performed at the altar. 

The Catholic Mass is indeed a centre within the 
sphere of aesthetic phenomena also. The different art- 
forms collect, as at a centre point, round the ritual 
action. The service of the altar is above all musical, 
and it exercises its chief attraction over the unbeliever 
as a concert at which he hears melodies composed to old 
liturgical poems; but the Mass has also a dramatic 
element, at any rate for those spectators who understand 
the mystic and magical significance of the movements 
and gestures of the celebrants. The place at which the 
Mass is performed has been arranged according to an 
architectural plan, in which every detail is full of signi- 
ficance, and it is surrounded by sculptures and paintings 
which often illustrate pictorially, and thus recapitulate 
in a new medium, the sacred history pantomimically 
suggested by the actions of the officiating priest. 
Finally, decorative art extends its embellishment over 


the objects and implements used at the ceremony. 
Thus the different kinds of aesthetic production combine 
in a great " Gesamtkunstwerk," all the parts of which 
work together for a common purpose : to give increased 
beauty, dignity, and holiness to the great Sacrament. 

The contribution of the arts of design to the religious 
and aesthetic effect of the Mass-ritual has been partly 
noticed in the foregoing and will be treated in more 
detail later. Opportunity will also be offered in some 
later chapters of touching upon the hymns sung at the 
altar. With regard to the musical element, the author 
is compelled, by reason of defective natural qualifica- 
tions, once for all to refrain from interpretation. It is 
thus the dramatic-pantomimic representation which must, 
in this connection, be the object of a bird's-eye view. 

It should first be premised, however, that it is only 
with many limitations that the words "drama" or 
" pantomime " can be used with reference to the actions 
of the priest at Mass. That which takes place at the 
altar, has for its aim not so much the representation of 
the Atonement, as the effecting of a real renewal of it. 
The ritual is often indeed explained as a memorial 
ceremony : 17 but it would be heresy to see in it nothing 
but an illustration of the Divinity's life and death. " Im- 
molatio nostra," says Albertus Magnus in a frequently 
quoted passage, " non tantum est repraesentatio sed 
immolatio vera, id est rei immolatae oblatio per manus 
sacerdotum." 18 It is thus a practical i.e. in this case a 
religious and magical and not an aesthetic act that the 
priest performs. The thought of the spectators and the 
impressions they may receive from the celebration has 
exercised so little influence that the validity is recognised 
even of " private masses," which are celebrated without 
any member of the community being present ; and the 

theurgical operation is so devoid of visible elements that 
an uninitiated beholder has no conception of the succes- 
sion of mystical events represented at the Mass-table. 
One surmises that each of the priest's actions has its 
significance, one understands that the singing and the 
recitation refer to the great events lying at the root 
of the Sacrament but one does not see the drama 
progress in an intelligible form. 19 

Such is the effect of the Church's ceremonial on 
the outsider, and such it must be also on most modern 
Catholics who, whether priests or laymen, have to 
judge from the complaints of the religious authors 
completely lost the understanding of the ritual's hidden 
meaning. 20 But the Mass has not always been so 
incomprehensible to the faithful. During the time when 
the theological explanation of ritual was at its height, 
people, at any rate in clerical circles, were able to 
recognise the successive stages of the Redemption in 
the different moments of the altar-celebration. Each 
gesture of the priest and his assistants could be referred 
to something corresponding to it in the sacred history. 
Thus the celebration appeared as a repetition of the 
Saviour's life and death, which symbolically, even if not 
actually, was complete and intelligible. 

It was during the ninth century that such a view 
was for the first time put forth in detail by Amalaxius 
of Mete. 21 Later, during the twelfth and thirteenth 
centuries, the symbolical interpretation was worked out 
more and more by those authors who treated of the 
Mass-ceremonies, faithfully following Amalarius's famous 
writings. Honorius Augustodunensis even goes so far 
as to use descriptions from profane drama in his 
explanation of altar usages. Just as those, he says, 
who recited tragedies in the theatre, represented to the 


people by their gestures the strifes of contentious men, 
so our tragedian, the priest, represents Christ's strife to 
the Christian people in the Church. 22 And it is not 
merely this one dramatic battle that is to be witnessed 
in the Church's ritual The Saviour's victory over the 
powers of evil was prefigured, according to the mediaeval 
conception, in the victories which G-od's people, led by 
Moses, Joshua, and David, gained over their enemies. 
Again, all these struggles are models for the strife man- 
kind has to wage against the world, the flesh, and the 
devil. It is therefore a threefold triumph that is 
celebrated in the Mass-ritual. 23 Those who witness the 
great ceremonial with proper attention ought to win 
from it- dogmatic teaching, historical instruction, and 
moral exhortation. The application to the conflicts of 
the individual's life is indeed left to the congregation 
itself; but all that touches Christ and His predecessors 
is, so the old ritualists assert, clearly set forth in the 
ceremony. The priest, they say, represents at the 
same time the Old Testament " types " and the per- 
sonality in whom the types achieved their realisation. 

When, therefore, the celebrant, in full liturgical 
array and followed by deacons and choir-boys, steps 
forth from the sacristy towards the altar, he is Christ, 
who from the womb, i.e. the sacristy, appears upon 
earth, "like a bridegroom from his bridechamber." 24 
He is also a leader of God's people, clad in ritual 
panoply, in order that he may carry the Ark of the 
Covenant through the enemy's country to the promised 
land. 25 When he stands before the altar with out- 
stretched arms he represents not only the Crucified, 26 but 
also Moses, who, with his outspread hands, brought 
Israel victory over the Amalekites ; 27 and similarly, 
according to the ritualistic view, his gestures and 


movements should recall Joshua's conquests and David^s 

victories. 28 

During the introductory portion of the Mass-ritual, 
which Is supposed to represent the Saviour's earlier 
work, and which in addition to this alludes to the Old 
Testament prototypes, it is only in meagre and hasty 
indications that the events commemorated are recalled. 
As soon, however, as the ceremony has reached the 
sacrificial moment, the priest's movements, words, and 
gestures follow the holy action very closely. The 
celebrant's peculiar, and to the uninitiated meaningless, 
movements towards and away from the altar, his inclina- 
tions of his body and head, his kneeling, and his out- 
stretched hands all these movements are in liturgical 
literature connected with definite scenes in the history 
of the Passion. He mixes water with the wine in the 
chalice, because Christ, it Is said, diluted the wine at the 
Communion ; he washes his hands in memory of the 
washing of the Apostles ; and he swings the censer three 
times over the substance of the sacrament, because 
Mary Magdalene three times at the houses of Simon the 
Pharisee and Simon the leper, and at the grave offered 
sweet-smelling salves to anoint the Saviour's body. 
Afterwards, when the priest walks to the middle of the 
altar, he illustrates the walking of Jesus from the place 
of the Last Supper to G-ethsemane. He prays in front of 
the altar in a bowed and humble posture to commemo- 
rate the prayer that Jesus, bowed and perplexed, prayed 
on the Mount of Olives ; and he sets forth the waking of 
the disciples when lie ceases praying, turns towards the 
congregation and utters the invocation " Orate Fratres." ^ 

The great gesture at the culminating point of the 
ceremony, when the priest lifts the Host and the chalice 
above his head, serves, in the symbolic interpretation, 


to illustrate the raising of the Cross. And when at the 
same moment the acolyte rings Ms little silver bell or 
as is the case in some Catholic monasteries, the bells in 
the bell-tower toll so this sound is not only a sign that 
the great miracle of Transubstantiation has been accom- 
plished, but it also forms a part of the dramatic com- 
memoration. At the first ringing of the bells, i.e. at 
the elevation of the Host, we ought, according to the 
directions of a pious author, to recall the blare of 
the trumpets with which the Roman soldiers were wont 
to drown tie cries of the criminals and tlie murmurs 
of the spectators at executions. When again, some 
moments later, the chalice is raised during a renewed 
ringing of bells, the sound this time represents, with its 
weak notes, a still mightier noise than that of the 
trumpets ; for the tinkling of the small silver tongues 
corresponds, in the interpretation of some ritualists, to 
the great earthquake that occurred at the final moment. 
And the priest's voice, heard after a long silence, should 
recall the words : " Jesus said : It is finished, and bowed 
His head and gave up the ghost. 1 ' 31 

It may seem as if these interpretations marked the 
limit of what a theological imagination could reach. 
Nevertheless, the search for subtle analogies was carried 
still further in the explanation of the conclusion of the 
ceremony. After the priest has recalled the Saviour's 
death, he proceeds, say the interpreters, to represent the 
descent from the Cross and the burial. During this act, 
if such an expression may be permitted, he is no longer 
the only performer. The deacons who assist in carrying 
away the holy vessels all play a definite part in the 
liturgical " drama/' Their situation by the altar cor- 
responds to the positions occupied by the disciples and 
the praying women, first before the Cross and later by 


the grave. The first server, who removes the chalice 
and covers it with a cloth, represents Joseph of 
Arimathea, who covered the dead God's head with a 
cloth when he took Him down from the Cross. The 
acolyte who carries the paten, i.e. the plate for the 
Host, represents Nicodemus. The three signs of the 
Cross that are made over the chalice signify the three 
days that the Saviour rested in the grave. 32 Thus when 
the death and the burial have been commemorated, it- 
only remains to do homage in word and gesture to the 
risen Saviour, and this the priest does in the prayer 
" Agnus Del." 

Such in its main features is the dramatisation of the 
Passion Story, as it is achieved by the movements of 
the priest and his assistants. In the Catholic Mass- 
ceremonial, however, as interpreted by the old ritualists, 
the lifeless objects on the altar, the chalice, the paten, 
and even the altar-cloth, possess almost as much import- 
ance as the living persons. The holy cup, for example, 
is not only the vessel in which the wine Is transformed 
into a eucharistic divinity, but it also corresponds to 
the chamber in which the Divine Man was hidden when 
dead. When the priest has dipped a portion of the 
Host in the chalice after the consecration, it is said that 
he has therewith buried Christ anew ; w and when later 
the paten is placed over the mouth of the chalice, the 
stone has therewith been rolled to the entrance of the 
grave. The little piece of cloth, which covers the chalice 
when it is lifted from the altar, represents, as has been 
said, the sheet in which the body was taken down from 
the Cross. Again, the cloth which Is spread upon the 
altar, for the consecrated wafer or for a fragment of it 
to rest upon, is (as is denoted by its name " corporale " 


or " sindone ") the winding sheet that covered the 
Saviour in His grave ; 34 but it can also, and especially at 
Christmas Masses, be regarded as the swaddling-cloth 
in which the new-born Babe was wrapped. 35 

Finally, the altar is, by turns, the scene of one or 
the other of the great events ; it is a cradle, a place of 
execution, and a grave. 36 Its different parts correspond 
to parts of the circuit within which the holy story has 
been unfolded. Thus, by withdrawing from the right 
side of the altar, the priest can signify the Saviour's 
rejection of the ungrateful Judea, and by lingering at 
the centre of the altar, can recall how Jesus sojourned 
in the desert before He came to Galilee. Thus, also, 
merely by moving the Bible from right to left, he can 
illustrate the fact that the heathen whose lands are 
represented by the left edge of the altar received 
the Saviour from the Jews, who rejected the good 
tidings and persecuted Its messengers. By using the 
same symbolism, he can, at the close of the ceremony, 
move the sacred book once more to Palestine, i.e. to the 
right side of the altar, in order to recall that the Jews 
also will one day obtain forgiveness for their sin. 3r The 
little table-surface has thus been divided, by invisible 
frontiers, into compartments over which the Church's 
accessories books,* goblets, plates, and fragments of 
bread are moved to and fro, very much like the pieces 
on a backgammon board. But the altar is better 
characterised by another comparison. It is a little 
stage on which a drama is played, not by actors or 
puppets, but by symbolical objects ; and the principal 
personality is the highest Being Himself, who, called 
down to the holy place by the priest's theurgical words, 
once more lives through His sufferings, His death and 
His resurrection, in the disguise of the little wafer. 


It must not be forgotten, however, that It is only 
according to the interpretation of certain mediaeval 
authors that all the small details in the service of the altar 
are important for the symbolical commemoration. So 
far as the origin of the Church's ritual is concerned, these 
ingenious expositions prove nothing at all. We cannot 
imagine that the Mass - ceremonial was worked out 
to illustrate so detailed a programme as Amalarius, 
Honorius, and Durandus set forth in their writings. 
On the contrary the probability is that in many 
cases the symbolical significance was introduced into 
the altar -usages after the latter had received their 
final form. It is an often - observed fact that old 
cults, the history of whose development has sunk into 
oblivion, give rise to mythical or legendary explana- 
tions i.e. that a ceremony is considered to be a 
commemoration of some fictitious event which it is 
supposed to represent dramatically. Even among 
primitive peoples there exist many so-called ec etiologi- 
cal myths," which evidently have had their origin in an 
attempt to account for some old ritual acts, the 
original purpose of which wa"fe no longer known. That 
the Catholic authors in their commentaries on the 
Mass should make use of the universally prevalent 
method was all the more natural, as in their case there 
was np need to discover any new legends. They had 
only to search the holy story for some striking moments 
which could be connected with the time-honoured actions 
at the celebration of the Sacrament. Such a task 
demanded indeed a rich imagination, and good will 
besides ; but both these qualities were found in 
abundance among the old symbolists. Thus they 
were able without difficulty to compile a running 
historical narrative which connects itself step by step 


with all the movements and gestures of the officiating 

How unnatural in many points are the symbolical 
interpretations of the Mass will appear clearly from 
the following chapters. We shall see, for instance, that 
the little bell -signal, which follows the raising and 
showing of the Bucharistic Divinity, was not originally 
introduced into the ritual in order to commemorate 
the trumpet - blast at the Saviour's death* In the 
same way it will appear that the washing of the 
priest's hands is to be explained much more simply 
than by referring to Pilate's excuses before pronouncing 
judgment. It is a truly whimsical and arbitrary fancy 
that has been at work in the search for historical 
correspondences to special moments in the ceremony. 
Therefore the theologians have not been able to agree on 
the interpretation of the holy celebration. While some, 
following the view of the mediaeval ritualists, regard the 
Mass as a symbolical representation of the whole work of 
atonement, others hold that only the actual scenes of the 
Passion are illustrated at the altar. Nor do the old 
authors agree as to the events to which the dramatisation 
refers. That the priest, for instance, washes his hands 
before the consecration, is explained either as a com- 
memoration of the washing of the Apostles at the first 
Communion, or again as a representation of Pilate's 
washing of his hands. 

The ingenious interpretations which were thought 
out by certain mediaeval authors have not therefore 
won unqualified adherents even among the Catholic 
priesthood ; and, as has already been said, they are, at 
any rate to-day, unknown to the greater part of the con- 
gregation. Further, they have not to any notable degree 
reacted on the Mass-ceremony itself. The movements 


and gestures of the priest and Ms assistants. In which 
some were desirous of seeing a commemoration of his- 
torical events, has, In spite of all commentators, continued 
to retain Its indefinite character. In such circum- 
stances It will perhaps be asked why these purely 
theological systems of thought have been touched upon 
at all in an aesthetic inquiry. 

It would indeed be venturesome to assert that the 
symbolical interpretations of the Mass exercised any 
immediate influence on aesthetic life ; but the reasoning 
that prevails in mediaeval ritualistic literature is still of 
undoubted interest for both the theory and the history 
of art. However fantastic Amalarius and his successors 
may be in their theories, we can nevertheless see, in their 
attempt to explain the priest's action as an accurately 
rendered memorial of the holy story, a proof of the 
aspiration of faithful Catholics to dramatise their beliefs. 
This aspiration has in other ceremonies for example, the 
dedication of churches led to clearer and more concrete 
results than in the Mass-ritual itself. 38 But none the 
less it was a kind of ideal drama that was worked out 
by the pious liturgists, and their ideas were not 
completely devoid of correspondence with reality. A 
religious play was concealed in the Mass even if it 
did not appear there in such completeness as some 
would have liked to think. Only some favourable 
circumstances were needed for the same dramatic 
tendency, which led to the theoretic explanation of 
the Mass, to find a practical expression in a visible 
manifestation intelligible to everybody. 

If, indeed, it was not considered expedient, or even 
dogmatically correct, to let the theatrical element be 
prominent in the daily altar-service, yet there were 
special occasions which offered an easy opportunity of 


bringing out the latent dramatic possibilities of the 
Mass. The great feast-days had indeed been set apart 
in the Church's calendar simply to serve as memorials 
of definite events in the holy story. When Mass was 
celebrated at such a festival, the commemorative purpose 
naturally played a weightier part than at the ordinary 
altar ceremonies. The merely allusive action connected 
with the celebration must have appeared unsatisfactory. 
The symbolic commemoration was therefore completed in 
a more and more realistic direction. New parts, specially 
referring to the day's festival, were introduced into the 
liturgical text, and the text was divided among several 
persons, who carried on a dialogue or an antiphone. 
Sometimes the performers were distinguished by a discreet 
costuming which made it possible to differentiate the 
pious women, for example, from the angel at the grave. 
At Easter ceremonies there was often set up on or by one 
of the altars a temporary little building the so-called 
" sepulcrum " in which was hidden a cross or a conse- 
crated wafer, i.e. the symbol of the Saviour or the eucha- 
ristic God Himself. Before this grave the antiphone 
took place between the angels and the Marys who seek 
the risen Saviour. But it was probably only at a later 
period of development that recourse was had to such a 
staging. Originally the holy grave appears to have been 
represented by the crypt, the " confessio," or the altar, 
i.e. by the same place that was the stage for the daily 
religious mysteries. 89 All the associations of ideas con- 
nected with the Mass-table and its apparatus were very 
welcome when the memory of the Resurrection was to 
be celebrated by a visible representation. Thus arose 
the famous Easter ceremonies which were performed in 
the French monasteries during the tenth and eleventh 


From the evolutionary standpoint these liturgical 
plays mark an important Intermediary stage between a 
ritual ceremony and a drama. Although they do not 
let us see the final result of the development, they show 
us the direction in which the development Is taking 
place. We understand that the step from the church 
celebration to a theatrical representation would be made 
in its entirety as soon as the memorial ceremonies were 
performed before a larger public. Among laymen, a 
complete grasp of the import of the liturgical symbols 
could not be counted upon, nor could the great 
mass of men be expected to be satisfied with mere 
decorative indications. It proved necessary to empha- 
sise the action and to strengthen its effect by exterior 
means. When the religious memorial festivals were 
removed from the church to the market-place and the 
street, the simple dialogue before the altar was replaced 
by a great " mysterium " with decorations and costumes, 
and with a lively dramatic action of both choir and 
soloists. 40 

In the present work, however, there can be no 
question of describing the development which the 
religious theatre underwent after it had broken its 
connection with the rites of the Church. It belongs to 
a different task to give an account of the mysteries and 
miracle-plays which always pious in their pretext, but 
often very worldly in their character were performed 
at the Church's festivals. It would likewise lead us too 
far from our subject if we treated of all the other ritual 
usages which, side by side with the altar ceremonies, lay 
at the root of the rise of the mediaeval theatre. For 
our present purpose it will be enough if we can show 
clearly that the Mass-ritual itself contains an expression 
of the same mental aspirations which are at work in 


dramatic art. It remains, therefore, to go back to the 
altar-cult itself to inquire whether the attitude of priest 
and congregation to the holy ceremony can in any 
degree be put on a level with the mental attitude of 
the actors who perform, and the public which witnesses, 
a drama. 

There can be only one opinion as to the impossi- 
bility of comparing the Mass-celebration to an ordinary 
theatrical performance. The ritual regulations do not 
sanction any dramatically expressive representation ; but 
none the less pious priests may be said to play a part in 
their imagination when, with Honorius's or Durandus's 
explanations in mind, they perform the sacred acts at 
the altar. The state of mind in which they carry 
out their programme of pre-arranged movements and 
gestures must to some extent be allied to those aspira- 
tions which lie at the basis of dramatic art. In either 
case we have to do with an imaginative attempt to pro- 
ject oneself into a course of strange and remote events. 
In an actual drama this attempt is facilitated by the 
sensuous vision, i.e. by the impressions of scenery and 
costumes and exterior apparatus generally, which assist 
the imagination in its work. In the ritual ceremonial, 
on the other hand, the imagination builds upon a slight 
foundation of certain small predetermined signals, the 
importance of which is known only to the initiated. 
Still, even the priests see before them a suggestive 
decoration when they stand before this altar, which is 
surrounded with pictures of the great Passion Story. 
Eeligious music and liturgical texts lend their aid to 
the imagination, and the power of faith in creating 
illusion is greater than any aesthetic aspiration. Thus 
many examples may be quoted of priests who were 
so absorbed by the great mystery that they could not 


retain their self-possession when celebrating Mass. "We 
hear of holy men who actually tried to resign their 
service at the altar because they felt too weak to live 
through the mighty drama. 41 

A similar state of mind must be supposed to exist 
among the pious members of a congregation witnessing 
the altar ceremonies. It is indeed, as has been said, 
difficult to imagine that ignorant persons in the Middle 
Ages should have been able to grasp the whole of the 
long and involved story, which, in the view of the 
ritualists, was symbolically presented at Mass. The 
" anagogical" and " tropological " references must have 
remained incomprehensible to the majority of lay- 
men, nor could they follow the progress of all 
the Old and New Testament narratives that were 
reflected one within another in the ceremony. But 
this by no means implies that the Mass even for them 
must have been a meaningless play. The religious 
literature of Catholicism, on the contrary, testifies quite 
indubitably that even those who were uninitiated into 
the profundities of ritual could receive at the altar- 
ceremony the impression of a mystical drama. Although 
the Latin text could not tell the congregation what took 
place at the altar, the purport of the celebration was 
none the less divined. The essential events in the 
sacred story stood out with the clearness of life, to the 
imagination if not to the eye. For, however difficult 
it may have been to grasp the meaning of the profound 
symbols, there was nevertheless one thing in the Mass 
that was not a symbol, but a reality. The Supreme 
Being Himself was, so the faithful believed, present at the 
altar, hidden behind the bread, whose substance was 
transformed into divine substance although its outer 
form remained unaltered. No special effort of thought 


Is needed to understand how much this belief was 
calculated to influence religious imagination among both 
learned and unlearned. 

In a little material object, the white wafer, pious 
people saw, with the eyes of faith, the greatest and 
loftiest thing that their minds could grasp. He, " for 
whom the whole world was too narrow," showed Him- 
self to them in a limited and tangible shape. The 
fact that the sensuous vision could thus embrace a small 
Impression, sustaining the richest and widest association 
of ideas and serving as a meeting-point for the deepest 
feelings, could not fail to influence powerfully both in- 
tellectual and emotional life. While the sight rested on 
the material object, imagination occupied itself with the 
Being concealed behind. The eye saw a wafer carried 
in a monstrance, or lying on a paten, or hidden in a 
shrine ; but the thought gazed upon the Supreme Being, 
on His throne in the monstrance, in His cradle on the 
paten, in His grave in the shrine. And the thought 
was not satisfied with resting on the sight of the 
Divinity ; with or without the help of theological ex- 
planations, it followed the course of the divine life 
through all the events the memory of which the Church 
was celebrating. Through the unconscious play of 
imagination, the great drama was worked out over and 
over again in all the generations of believers who 
witnessed or performed the Mass - ceremony. Some 
pious outpourings in the Lives of the Saints and some 
religious poems constitute the only immediate gain 
derived by art from this imaginative life ; but the history 
of aesthetic evolution has to deal not only with perfected 
objective products, but also with all the unsung poems 
and all the unconsciously artistic creations and experi- 
ences evoked among believers by the religious cult. 



Nur ein Gebot gilt dir : Sei rein. 

NIETZSCHE, Stemenmoral. 

As one realises the predominating position held by 
the Sacrament of the Altar, one easily understands that 
the importance of the Mass as regards church art may 
be overestimated. It is not surprising, therefore, to find 
that some investigators have tried to derive from this 
sacrament the very origin of religious art-forms. 

In the case of church architecture such an attempt 
has been made by F. Witting. In his book, Die 
Anfdnge der christlichen Architektur, this author 
entirely rejects all the different hypotheses as to older 
models for the Christian basilica. In his view it is solely 
the needs of the cult, and especially the needs of the 
communion, that have created the type of the Church's 
buildings. The relation of the nave to the apse, he 
says, has been determined by the attempt to make the 
celebration of the Sacrament visible to the congregation, 
and the successive alterations in the plan of the church 
have all been occasioned by corresponding alterations 
in the Mass-ritual. In support of this theory of an 
" innere Genesis der Basilica," Witting has advanced 
many pertinent, if rather over-subtle observations as to 
the development of the eucharistic ceremonies ; * but he 



has not succeeded in proving that the ritual has by itself 
given rise to the architectural forms. The question of the 
development of the basilica, indeed, cannot be regarded 
as having been definitely answered by research ; but it 
appears indisputable that the explanation of the design 
of churches must be looked for, not so much in any 
" inner " causes peculiar to Christendom, but rather in 
the influence of concrete architectural types which had 
served as models for the Christian house of assembly. 
It has already been shown that the great Sacrament did 
not succeed in communicating any new or peculiar form 
even to the Mass-table at which the ceremony was 
performed, but that, on the contrary, the altar itself 
derived its outer shape from older constructions which 
originally had no connection with the communion ritual. 
It must be recognised, therefore, that too great import- 
ance has been assigned by Witting's theory to the influence 
exercised by the cult on the forms of architecture. 

This example from the history of architecture is cited 
here only in order to justify an indispensable distinction. 
The same judgment that holds in the case of Witting's 
theory can, in our opinion, be applied a priori to all hypo- 
theses which derive the outer forms of art exclusively from 
the exigencies of religious dogma and ritual. In saying 
so, however, we do not in any way deny the cult's import- 
ance in the matter of aesthetic production. Even if we 
are compelled to be on our guard against over-imaginative 
explanations of the origin of the art-forms themselves, 
we run little danger of overestimating the influence of 
the Sacrament on the aesthetic life that expresses itself 
in these forms. In its import and its purpose, even if 
not in its outer shape, artistic production must have been 
influenced by the cult whose ends it served. The 
correctness of this argument will be confirmed when we 


give an account, in the present chapter, of the embellish- 
ment of the altar implements. 

The artistic manifestations attaching to the Mass- 
ritual all have their counterpart in a specific mental 
and emotional condition, which can be immediately 
derived from the doctrine of the Transubstantiation 
miracle. The idea that the Supreme Being takes 
His place at the Mass-table that, to use S. Birgitta's 
expression, " it is God Himself who daily is sacrificed and 
handled at the altar under the image of the bread'' 2 lies 
at the root of a peculiar way of looking at things, a 
religious aesthetic attitude, so to speak, which is present 
both in the production and in the appreciation of ritual 
art. The determining factor in this, as generally in all 
religious states of mind, is an element of worship ; but 
the worship does not express itself primarily, as is the 
case in the relic-cult, in a desire to approach as near 
as possible to the holy object in order to be benefited 
by its healing contact. The relation of pious men to 
the Mass-miracle is characterised rather by a venera- 
tion, such as is experienced before the Holy of holies, 
whose presence is terrible in its sublimity. The great 
mystery is dreaded, since it is too immense for earthly 
senses to be able to bear a full understanding of its 
whole import; 3 and it is feared that man himself, 
through some carelessness, may waste or defile a part of 
the sacrosanct Being, who is touched and handled by 
unworthy hands. This fear gives rise to a studied, 
reverent, and anxious caution in the movements and 
gestures of the celebrant and his assistants, and it 
impresses the whole of their bearing with a subdued and 
devout discretion, which seems to have passed into the 
external nature of those who have long moved in the 
vicinity of the altar. 


The same pious veneration is recognisable in the 
manufacture of the objects used in the Mass- ritual. The 
more definitely the doctrine of God's presence in the 
Sacrament was formulated, the more holy did the earthly 
implements in the Sacrament become in the eyes of the 
believers. These implements ought, so it was thought, 
to bear witness to their lofty purpose even in their 
external appearance in their materials and decoration. 
If the early Christian Church was in some degree in- 
different to the embellishment of ritual accessories, 
yet it was soon found necessary to formulate definite 
regulations for the manufacture of altar-vessels. Thus, 
as early as the eighth century, priests were forbidden to 
use chalices made of horn. At a council at Rheims in 
the year 813 permission was given, as an exceptional 
concession to poor communities, to use a communion 
service made of tin; but where it was in any way 
possible the vessels had to be made of silver or 
gold. 4 The Holy of holies ought not, so it was 
argued, to be exposed to contact with other than 
pure and holy substances, and naturally this pious 
solicitude was not limited to the material of litur- 
gical objects. Upon the formation and decoration of 
altar implements goldsmiths were expected to bestow 
the best of their skill. The manufacture of chalices and 
patens was the highest task offered to art industry. 
These holy vessels therefore represent, better than any 
worldly utensils, the ideals which, during different 
times, left their impressions on the aesthetic production. 
The heavy dignity of the Romanesque period, the aerial 
construction of the Gothic, the beauty of form of the 
Renaissance, the magnificence of the Baroque, and the 
grace of the Rococo style, are faithfully reflected in the 
chalices. Even in those cases where we cannot give 


unqualified admiration to the forms, ornamentation, or 
the symbolical reliefs which are introduced to illus- 
trate the doctrine of the sacramental mystery on the 
surfaces of the cup, or on the knob of the chalice's 
handle, we are compelled to appreciate the aspiration In 
the craftsman's work. "We see that he has tried to 
express that mood of exultation and reverence common 
to religion and art, and that he has striven to the 
best of his power to make the chalice for the holy 
meal more dignified, more costly, and more beautiful 
than any worldly utensil. 5 

It Is not enough, however, that the Holy of holies 
should be guarded in pure and beautiful receptacles. It 
Is also necessary that the bread and wine, while they rest 
on the altar, should not be exposed to any kind of defiling 
proximity. The precautions observed with this end in 
view, and the care taken to preserve the cleanness of 
the Mass-table, certainly have no immediate connection 
with the history of art ; but they none the less deserve 
consideration in an evolutionary aesthetic. It has often 
been asserted by historians of culture that the ideas of 
holiness such as are met with, for instance, in the taboo 
regulations among savage peoples and in the old Jewish 
temple-laws fostered a ritual severity which had its 
effect in the spheres of both hygiene and morality. In 
the same way, one would imagine, the aesthetic ideals of 
outer order and cleanliness, which were embodied in the 
Mass-celebration, must, through the sacrament, have 
become living models for church-goers. The rules for 
the proper carrying-out of the sacrifice and the holy 
meal have their importance, therefore, if not for the 
development of art, at any rate for the history of that 
idea of beauty which is in its origin so closely con- 
nected with the ideas of order and cleanliness. 


In the foregoing chapters mention has been made 
of some of the precautions taken to isolate the Sacra- 
ment. The Mass-table's situation upon an elevated 
and enclosed place precludes the possibility of the holy 
object's being exposed to defiling contact. A similar 
purpose is served by the lofty " ciborium " roof, which 
prevents the dust from falling upon the altar. Indeed, 
the origin of this superstructure is not, as has already 
been pointed out, to be found in any solicitude for the 
altar-table as such. But even if the " ciborium " made 
its entrance into the Church as a part of the old 
sepulchral architecture, yet it must soon have been 
valued as a protection for the Sacrament; and later, 
perhaps on the model of the " ciborium," simpler 
buildings began to be erected for this special purpose. 
At the Synod in Munster in 1279 it was enacted that 
altars should be provided with baldachins, which caught 
all the dirt that might fall from the roof. 6 The modern 
Church, indeed, has not upheld these strict requirements. 
Nevertheless it appears from the existing rules for the 
furnishing of house chapels that there is still a fear of 
the pollution which threatens the holy place from above. 
In resolutions of the Ritual-Congregation for the years 
1834 and 1836, it is enacted that if a man wishes to set 
up a Mass-table in a private house, he must not place it 
under a living-room or a bedroom. And the altar must 
in every case be covered by a "ciborium," i.e. it must 
possess a roof of its own under that of the profane room. 
Exceptions to this rule are permitted only in cases 
where the walls of the chapel extend beyond the outer 
walls of the building. 7 

In the care of the altar itself the same desire 
to shield the Sacrament from profanation is evident. 
The foremost duty of the church server is to see that 


the most scrupulous cleanliness reigns on the holy table. 
Negligence in this respect must have occurred at all 
periods, since the rules for sacristans inculcate the 
demands for ritual cleanliness with such zeal; 8 but 
the truly pious understood quite well, without reminders, 
what was demanded in the matter of outer dignity for 
the place where God revealed Himself. When S. Guido 
(f 1012) was sacristan at Laeken, he " zealously took 
care that the altar was clean and the roof free from 
soot, and the floor well swept and the holy vessels re- 
splendent." 9 S, Francis, who did not disdain to go 
round with a broom under his arm, that he might be 
able to sweep churches where tidying -up had been 
neglected, 10 represented to his subordinates in repeated 
writings the duty of keeping the altar-cloths and altar- 
vessels spotlessly clean. 11 In this, as in so many of his 
aspirations, he was effectually supported by his sister 
in the faith, S. Clara of Assisi, for the Church linen 
was a detail that women were allowed to attend to. 
On the ground of their sex they were, indeed, forbidden 
to approach the altar, or to touch the chalice, the paten, 
and the " corporale " ; 12 but they had the right to make 
ornaments for the priest's apparel and napkins for the 
holy table. 13 Large numbers of such " altarparaments " 
were worked by Clara during her sickness, and were 
distributed by her among the small churches of the 
villages in Umbria. 14 

The piety which saw to it that the holy place was 
cleaner than any other place, also strove to decorate it 
as finely as possible. In this the ardour of the faithful 
went even further than the Church authorities considered 
suitable. The decoration of the altar ought in fact, as 
opposed to the magnificence of the relic shrine, to be 
marked by severe and dignified simplicity ; 15 therefore 


frequent attempts were made to establish* by ecclesi- 
astical ordinances what things might be set up on 
the Mass-table. During the Middle Ages, as already 
mentioned, only relic shrines, Bibles, crucifixes, and 
candlesticks could be placed near the Sacrament. Later 
the Church was compelled to abandon its opposition 
to this devout zeal for ornamentation. Thus from the 
fifteenth century a custom has flourished unchecked, 
especially in nunneries and small country churches, 
of laying bouquets, flower -pots, and even artificial 
wreaths upon the altar ; but the ritualistic authors have 
not ceased to lament this superfluous and undignified 
embellishment. 16 

These attempts to limit the number of altar 
objects were due, perhaps, primarily to the fear that 
the dominant importance of the Sacrament might be lost 
to view owing to a too conspicuous decoration ; ir but 
at the same time there was probably a desire to make 
certain that the Eucharist should not be exposed to 
profanation. This purpose is at any rate obvious in the 
demands for the greatest possible cleanliness which were 
formulated with regard to the table paraphernalia 
permitted. The "corporale," i.e. the cloth on which the 
Host rested, might not be made of coloured materials, 
and the materials might not be woven of silk or wool, 
as these substances, being derived from animals, were 
too impure for so holy a use. Flax, on the contrary, 
was a pure growth, and a flaxen cloth was a worthy 
object for the purest of all things to stand on. 18 Gold 
and silver again, and the precious stones which decked 
the reliquaries, were to mediaeval ideas not only costly 
materials, which made the shrine a worthy cover for 
its sacred contents ; they were also regarded as being 
purer than any other substances. This symbolical idea 


certainly contributed to the decoration with precious 
stones, not only of the saint -shrine but also of the 
prayer-books that lay upon the altar. 19 Just as by 
wearing a crystal or a diamond one was guarded against 
the influence of the evil eye and protected from infection, 
so it was thought perhaps that by means of these clear, 
shining, and glittering objects a purification might be 
procured of the place where the Divinity concealed Him- 
self behind the " accidents " of earthy materials. 20 

The great altar candles which, since the twelfth 
century, have regularly been set up on either side of 
the crucifix, 21 offer a still clearer example of the desire for 
the greatest possible cleanliness in church utensils. 
According to the old ordinances, these candles should be 
moulded out of wax. Only with hesitation and reluct- 
ance did the Catholic Church acquiesce in the use of 
tallow or stearin candles, or, in our days, of gas and 
electric light, at the great celebration. The resist- 
ance to new inventions has not been due merely to a 
clerical conservatism. From the point of view of 
symbolism, wax candles are considered specially suited 
for use at the Sacrament. They are, say some recent 
Catholic authors, manufactured from a pure material, 
not of man's making, and the creatures who provide 
this material, the sexless bees, have through their 
virginity given the wax a kind of virginal character. 22 
Thus the altar candles, like all the other altar implements, 
appear not only to the eye, but also to the mind, as 
something spotless and pure. 

If the Holy is threatened with profanation through 
all ritual objects which are not made of fine and pure 
materials, a much greater danger must exist that the 
Sacrament may be defiled by the priests who handle 
that " which neither the angels nor the prophets may 


touch." 23 The possibility that a celebrant might perform 
his duty with an unworthy mind and unclean thoughts 
was one that often disturbed pious writers. 24 Comfort 
could be found, however, in the dogma which asserts 
that the effectiveness of the Mass is independent of 
the state of mind of the consecrating priest ; 25 and it 
was recognised, on the other hand, that no decrees could 
prevent such, a degradation of the great mystery. 
External cleanliness, on the contrary, could easily be 
guaranteed by means of liturgical instructions. Strict 
personal neatness was prescribed for the priests, there- 
fore, and they were required to perform a careful toilet 
prior to the holy ceremony. Again, the implements 
used at this purification were, like all the other parts 
of the ritual paraphernalia, the objects of rich and 
beautiful embellishment. 

The most peculiar of the Church's toilet requisites 
are the so-called liturgical combs. These expensive 
" bibelots," as met with in all the larger art-museums, are 
in most cases cut out of ivory. In size they are con- 
siderably larger than their purely practical purpose 
would require, and their handles are adorned with 
elaborate and often highly-finished pictures from the 
sacred history. The stately form and the rich embellish- 
ment appear quite uncalled for in instruments which 
clearly could not have been worn in the hair as orna- 
ments, and modern Eoman Church usage gives no 
kind of direction serving to explain the purposes for 
which these gorgeous things have been manufactured. 
But one can understand that even so trivial an article 
as a comb might be considered a worthy subject for 
religious art, when one reads in the old theological 
literature that before the celebration the officiating 
priest was combed by the temple servers " in order that 


nothing unclean might fall from his person over the 
holy things." From the seventh to the twelfth century 
mass-combs appear to have been In general use through- 
out the Catholic Church. It even seems as if In a 
number of cases the comb belonged to the inventory for 
each separate altar. And since at the consecration of 
bishops their anointed and tangled hair was combed 
out, this toilet article became a mark of distinction 
for magnates of the Church. As such, the comb was 
placed In their graves, and was often worshipped by 
the pious as a relic. 26 

By an opposite development the so-called " flabella " 
and " maniples " have passed from marks of rank to ritual 
objects. Fans were a sign of distinction among oriental 
potentates, and were waved by slaves to keep the air cool 
around the thrones. The fact, however, that a church 
server raised and lowered a flabellum at the side of the 
officiating priest at the Mass as was often the case 
during the Middle Ages was not due to any imitation 
of old court ceremonies. It is more probable that the 
Christian implement took the place of the fans used at 
heathen altars to procure a draft for the sacrificial fire. 
But if the mass-fans had thus been borrowed from the 
heathen cult, the Christian ritualists at any rate under- 
stood how to account for their use by a purely Catholic 
thought. " It is necessary to fan the sides of the altar," 
say the mediaeval authors, " that the flies may not be 
able to approach the holy things/ 127 

The maniples, again, or the " sudaria," were small 
pieces of cloth, embroidered with gold, worn by the 
mediaeval priests over their wrists at Mass. Originally, 
in the opinion of most writers, these objects also were 
not clerical but heathen insignia. The Eoman emperors 
had a custom of distributing to specially deserving 


officials a kind of napkin, " mappulae/ 7 with which, the 
latter gave the signal at the theatre for the commence- 
ment of the games. Later, the " mappulae " were worn 
on public occasions as a mark of distinction, and during 
the Christian period the bishops were honoured by the 
same gifts as the worldly dignitaries. But when they 
appeared at the altar wearing a maniple, the old mark 
of rank had acquired a new significance. It now, like 
the combs and fans, served the purpose of ritual purity. 
The priest must use it, thus write the liturgical authors, 
to wipe his face, so that no drops of perspiration can 
fall upon the bread and wine. 28 

In early Christiau and mediaeval ritual, not only 
towels were used but also hand veils. These small 
cloths were to cover the priest's fingers while he 
celebrated, to prevent his touching the holy objects with 
his naked hand. 29 But the veils had a further meaning. 
By covering the hands, as in other cases by covering 
the face, fear and reverence for the divine majesty were 
expressed. Thus in Christian art many pictures are to 
be met with of pious men offering or receiving gifts 
with covered hands. Abel has his hands concealed 
when he brings his lamb to the sacrifice; 30 so have 
the martyrs when they stretch forth their crowns to the 
Saviour ; 31 and so has Simeon when, in the Temple, he 
lifts the holy child in his arms. 32 On the sarcophagi at 
Ravenna Paul receives the rolls of the law with veiled 
hands, 33 and on the arcosol vault in Santa Ciriaca the 
Israelites collect the rain of manna in the same rever- 
ential way. 84 This gesture is expressed more completely 
than anywhere else, however, in the famous Communion 
picture in the Codex Eossanensis, where a disciple with 
humble bearing and veiled hands approaches the Saviour 
to receive the bread from His hand. 35 

vi THE HOLY OF 101 

"Whether the hands of the celebrant and communicant 
were covered or not, they must in any case, according 
to the Church's conception, before everything be clean. 
The ritual washing, which played so important a part 
in the heathen mysteries and the Jewish temple usages, 
attached itself quite naturally to the Mass-Sacrament. 36 
The members of the congregation, before entering the 
church, rinsed their hands in the great cistern in the 
vestibule, and the requirement that people should 
come to the holy meal with clean fingers was so strict 
that even the most rigorous and most squalid of the 
ascetics were compelled to submit to it. Thus Palladius 
relates how in the Egyptian desert he met a pious 
woman who was versed in the whole of Christian 
theological literature, and who gave her opinion with 
authority upon all dogmatic questions. This learned 
lady could proudly assert that throughout her life she 
had never once allowed her face, her feet, or any other 
part of her body to be touched by water. But even she, 
it appeared, had washed the tips of her fingers on all the 
days when she had partaken of the holy meal. 37 

From the priests themselves, who break the holy 
bread and handle the vessels which at the earliest times 
might not be touched even by sub-deacons, 38 there is 
naturally demanded an even stricter cleanliness than 
from the communicants and sacristans. The extreme 
consequence of the ritualistic point of view would 
probably be that the celebrant should submit to a 
thorough manicure. So far, however, things did not go; 
but anxiety for the care of the hands is expressed, to 
name a single instance only, in the regulations issued 
concerning the use of tobacco by priests. The clerical 
faculty's addiction to nicotine has indeed caused many 
heart-searchings among ecclesiastical authorities. Snuff 


soils the fingers and the dress, and has often led to 
the terrible impropriety of priests, out of carelessness, 
placing their snuff-boxes on the altar. Cigarettes, again, 
have this demerit, that the smoke indelibly blackens 
those fingers the thumb and fore-finger of the right 
hand which handle the Host at the altar. If the priests 
cannot renounce smoking, they ought, according to 
Barbier de Montault, to make use of mouthpieces which 
save the hands from becoming soiled. 39 

During the Middle Ages there was no cause for 
uneasiness about the marks that tobacco might leave on 
the priest's fingers ; and, on the whole, the precautions 
of cleanliness taken did not extend so far as those of the 
modern author who has just been cited. In any case, 
however, it was clearly shown how anxious the celebrant 
was to avoid profaning the sacred Being by any defiling 
contact. The priest must wash his hands 40 immediately 
before the ceremony, and he washed them again before 
the consecration. It is thus in cleanliness that we find 
the origin of that moment in the Mass, which has been 
explained by mediaeval authors as a commemoration of 
the washing of Pilate's hands. For this ablution there 
was naturally need of a special apparatus. Some cans, 
so-called aquamanilia, which were usually wrought in 
fantastic forms of lions, dragons, or griffins, belonged to 
the altar fittings from the beginning of the fifth century, 41 
and the toilet was soon completed by a basin. 

In many cases the little washing basin is to be 
found close by the altar, but in others, perhaps from 
want of space, it has been set up in the sacristy. In the 
older churches it is usually possible to observe that the 
washstand, or, tc use the ecclesiastical expression, the 
piscina, has been fitted into the wall after the erection 
of the church ; but during the Gothic period it seems 


that a definite place in the wall was reserved for the 
washstand in the plans themselves. It is further worth 
noting that we often find in these washstands two 
basins beside or opposite one another. Such an 
arrangement is not due, as an outsider might easily 
imagine, to any striving after symmetry, but once more 
affords an expression of the believer's solicitous regard 
for the sanctity of the Sacrament. The one basin was 
necessary, he told himself, that the priest might, 
before he proceeded to his great office, be able to wash 
his hands, which were to touch the holy Being "Non 
licet impura tangere sancta manu " but the other basin 
was no less necessary for the ablutions that took place 
after the Mass had been celebrated. 

To understand why this later ablution was indis- 
pensable, we must give an account of a side of the 
Church's care for the Eucharist that has hitherto been 
ignored. However carefully the priests handle the Sacra- 
ment during the celebration itself, yet there always 
remained a possibility that portions of the Holy of 
holies might afterwards be spilt or defiled. It was in 
order to provide against such an eventuality that severe 
penalties were enacted against communicants who from 
carelessness let the Host fall to the ground, or expec- 
torated it, or spilt any drops of the wine. 42 In some 
places this fear of spilling the Sacrament led to the 
communicants being made to suck up the wine through 
small pipes, in order that no drops of the precious 
substance should adhere to men's moustaches. 43 Thus 
if the Catholic Church had retained the distribution 
of the Sacrament in both its forms, it would perhaps 
have unconsciously provided against all the hygienic 
risks involved by the use of the common chalice. 
As is known, however, the Roman ritual was not 


content with prescribing tubes, but entirely deprived 
the laity of the wine ; and it is thought by many 
authors that even this refusal of the chalice, so 
momentous for the Church's history, had its origin in 
an extreme care for the " sacra species/' M There was 
no security, it was said, that the communicants would 
receive the divine blood with sufficient earnestness. 
That such an anxiety troubled the minds of the 
pious appears by analogy from the rules for the 
reception of the bread and wine implanted in the 
minds of priests. 45 " After the celebrant has taken in 
the sacrifice," says Durandus, " he must not allow him- 
self to cough or spit Neither must he eat the Host as 
men do other food, but he should hold it in his mouth 
with discretion, modesty, and caution, using his front 
teeth and moistening it with his tongue, so that no 
crumb can fix itself in the cavities of his teeth." 46 

On similar grounds it was naturally feared that 
fragments of the wafer might stick to the priest's 
fingers after consecration. The old books of ritual 
prescribed, therefore, that the celebrant, after breaking 
the Host, should keep his thumb and forefinger closed, so 
that no crumbs could fall from his hand, and that later 
he should rub these fingers together over the chalice, so 
that the small particles might drop into the holy vessel. 47 
Such a precaution was necessary, but there could be 
no certainty that it was perfectly effective. There 
always remained a possibility that the priest might 
carry parts of the Supreme Being away with him from 
the altar. The care for the Sacrament could not there- 
fore cease with the close of the ceremony. In general, 
indeed, conscientiousness did not attain to the degree 
displayed by the pious Herman Joseph, who reverently 
preserved the clippings of his own nails and the beard 


shaved from his face because during Mass these tad 
touched the incarnate God. 48 But at any rate it was 
seen to that the fragments of bread and the drops of 
wine, which, in spite of all precautions, might remain on 
the hands of the celebrant, should not be exposed to pro- 
fanation. Consequently, to return to our subject, it was 
necessary to undertake ablutions after the ceremony ; 
and further, as we can now understand, it was impos- 
sible to perform these ablutions at the same basin that 
had been used before the Mass. It could not be allowed 
that even the minutest part of the Eucharist should 
alight in a vessel which had been used for a previous 
purification. Each washstand, therefore, had its definite 
purpose to fulfil : in the one impurity was removed, in 
the other that was washed off which was purer than all 
earthly substances. It was, of course, only over the 
latter basin that the chalices and patens were rinsed 
after Mass. 49 

It may, however, be asked how the faithful could 
show their reverence for those parts of the bread and 
wine that chanced to remain in the basin together with 
the water. A basin that received and held so sacred a 
content naturally could not be emptied in the same way 
as other basins. This problem of how to get rid of the 
washing water in a worthy fashion must, indeed, have 
been one of the most difficult problems mediaeval 
ritualists had to solve; but here, too, they managed 
without failing in the respect due to the Holy of 
holies. Thus, during the later Middle Ages, pipes 
were laid from the washstand, carrying the water either 
directly to the earth or by means of a spout into the 
churchyard outside. In either case, there was an 
assurance that not a drop of wine nor a crumb of bread 
arrived anywhere save on consecrated ground; and 


religious imagination, which loved, in thought, to follow 
the holy substances as far as possible, could even find a 
deep and significant meaning in the fact that the pipe 
debouched into a graveyard. " This sacred water/ 3 says 
a modern Catholic writer, "that perhaps carried with it 
crumbs of the Host or drops of the consecrated wine 
for it had washed the priest's hands after Mass > and 
cleansed the chalice which had received the divine 
blood and the cloths on which the Host had rested 
this water trickled out over the bones of the dead to 
give life to them, in the same way that the Saviour's 
blood, falling from the Cross at Golgotha, according to 
the legend, gave life to Adam's bones buried beneath/' 50 
The modern Church does not think it necessary to 
provide special basins for washing after Mass, but it 
does not by any means allow the holy remains to be 
thrown out upon unconsecrated ground. It gets rid of 
them in a manner that is certainly reverential if not 
altogether agreeable to our feelings. After the priest 
has performed the ceremony, he cleanses the chalice 
with wine and washes his fingers over it with a mixture 
of wine and water. Afterwards, he does not pour out 
this rinsing water, but we are sorry to say it he 
drinks it up, out of sheer respect for the holy substance, 
which must not be wasted. 51 

It cannot be concealed that the majority of the facts 
brought forward in this chapter are extremely ordinary 
and uninteresting. Considered by themselves alone, 
they cannot be referred to the sphere of religious art, 
but they may, none the less, be of use in interpreting 
and estimating that art. They teach us to understand 
something of the piety and reverence expressed in the 
religious poems, paintings, and decorations of the Middle 


Ages. They render it intelligible why even the 
apparently most insignificant ritual implements were 
manufactured with an exact care, and embellished 
with a loving zeal, which in many cases transformed 
pieces of furniture into works of art. It is said that in 
some old French churches even the liturgical lavabos 
were " incensed/' i.e. the censers were swung over the 
washstands to purify them and to render them homage. 52 
How far this custom has been generally prevalent need 
not be discussed here. It is at any rate certain that 
the decorative embellishment the incense of religious 
art, as the Church symbolists would say has been 
disseminated most lavishly over articles of furniture 
which to a layman are banal and commonplace. In 
French churches of the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries numerous examples are met with of wash- 
stands of varying forms, and of a perpetually changing 
rich and graceful ornamentation. It is, says Viollet 
le Due, extremely seldom that one washstand takes 
its architecture or decoration from another. By 
studying these church accessories, he continues, an idea 
may be gained of the limitless power of invention 
among the Gothic architects ; and merely by the aid 
of pictures of liturgical washstands one could com- 
pile an entire illustrated work, giving examples of 
an infinity of different ways of treating one and the 
same subject. 53 

Beginning with the Eenaissance, there was a general 
diminution, among both priests and artists, of that 
respect and reverence with which men of the Middle 
Ages had approached the holy objects. At the same 
time the symbolical point of view decreased in 
importance. After the priests had begun to drink up 
the rinsing water, there was no longer any need of such 


ingenious and peculiar contrivances as the Gothic wash- 
stands ; but the thing itself, the liturgical washstand, 
is still met with in the Renaissance churches, and in 
Italian art the washing-table has received a form and 
embellishment that make it a fit subject for attention 
in the history of culture. It is especially the Tuscan 
majolica technique that was used for this half-practical, 
half-religious purpose. Thus the little church of San 
Niccolo da Tolentino at Prato possesses a gracefully 
composed lavabo, executed by an unknown artist of 
the school of della Robbia. The sacristy of Santa 
Maria Novella of Florence has been adorned by Giovanni 
della Robbia with a still more notable washstand : a 
little monument in marble and majolica, which repre- 
sents the highest expression that could ever be desired 
for so prosaic an idea. 64 

By an ingenious use of the narrow space the 
sculptor has here succeeded in fitting his washstand into 
a niche, which is surrounded and covered by tiles, and 
which is separated from the partially panelled and 
frescoed walls by two pilasters and a rounded gable, 
these also being constructed of glazed bricks. The 
little edifice is just large enough for two monks to 
cleanse the holy implements over the sink at the same 
time. The practical requirements have been completely 
satisfied in the size and proportion of the washstand, 
not to mention in its material, which so effectually 
protects floor and walls from being affected by damp. 
But Giovanni della Robbia further understood that, 
besides its practical purpose, his washstand was to serve 
a religious end; therefore the pilasters and arch are 
surrounded by rich garlands of shining majolica, like 
a tabernacle hung with wreaths. Small angel -putti 
support the heavy ends of the pendent festoons, and in 

vi THE HOLY OF 109 

the round archway over the cistern the Madonna and 
Child are enthroned. Every little surface is adorned 
with pictures or ornaments, and the decoration Is car- 
ried out with the pious care exercised in the manu- 
facture of a sacrificial present. Thus the liturgical 
washstand becomes an ideal type of its kind, worthy 
of being placed beside the other church objects, all of 
which, owing to the influence of their religious pur- 
pose, have received a nobler form and a richer 
embellishment than any profane furniture and im- 

The examination of the sacred utensils at the altar- 
table ought, unless this inquiry has entirely failed in 
its aim, to give a certain insight into the state of mind 
in which pious people approached the Sacrament, i.e. 
the piece of bread and the drops of wine in which they 
think they see the Supreme Good. The idea that the 
Divinity allows Himself to be appropriated and absorbed 
through eating and drinking has given rise to a pious 
etiquette the word is used here in its highest and 
most serious meaning which has changed the earthly 
meal into a ritual action and transformed the table into 
a sacred and revered place. Purity, in its physical sense, 
has been developed into a " religious kathartic," which 
in its refinement even anticipates some of the prophy- 
lactic precautions of modern hygiene. For the Catholic 
this outer purity is only a symbol of the spiritual 
state of mind. We can be sure that the devout com- 
municants in the Codex Eossanensis, for example, who in 
white garments and with humble reverences receive the 
Host in their outstretched hands, sought also to make 
their being worthy as the old ritualists express it to 
serve as a dwelling-place for the eucharistie God. The 
fear of wasting or profaning the highest Substance has 


lent reverence, veneration, and earnestness to all the 
attitudes of the body and the soul; and thus the 
ritual ceremony has acted as a school in respect, and 
served as a worthy pattern for the forms and move- 
ments, of profane life. 



Conld lie Ms Godhead veil with flesh and Hood, 
And not veil these again to be our food ? 

His grace in both is equal in extent, 

The first affords us life, the second nourishment. 

DRYBEN, The Hind, and the Panther. 

IT is time, now that the precautions for the protection 
of the Holy of holies have been treated of, to give an 
account of the ideas of the faithful about the altar 
miracle itself. From the Mass - implements we must 
pass to the things which constitute the central point 
of the ceremony. In doing so, it is most natural to 
consider especially the wafer and its transformation. 
In the dogmatic conception, indeed, each of the two 
elements has an equal importance for the Sacramental 
action. The Supreme Being is not less present in that 
which has the appearance of red wine than in that 
which looks like bread. 1 But the wine which is hidden 
in the chalice cannot make nearly so powerful an 
impression on the sensuous vision as that eucharistie 
Divinity which is handled in the sight of all at the 
altar. The Host, i.e. the consecrated wafer, is a thing, 
with its. own distinct form, to which the eyes can be 
fastened and which can be preserved in the memory. 
It can be seen from a long distance when, raised over 
the priest's head, it shines through the church like a 



fascinating little circle of white light. It is only under 
the covering of the wafer that the laity, on great festivals 
or at the last Mass, partake of the Supreme Being, and 
it is the bread more than the wine that to the faithful 
represents or rather constitutes the Sacrament. Thus 
if we point out, once for all, that a good part of what 
is said as to the reverence for the wafer may be applied 
to the wine and the chalice, we are entitled to limit 
our observation to the first of the two forms of the 
Divinity's revelation in the Eucharist. 

So great was pious respect for the Sacrament in the 
Middle Ages that something holy was seen even in the 
earthly material that was to afford a place for the 
Divinity, and it was required that this material should 
be as clean and perfect as possible. Just as the wine 
could only be of the best quality and might under no 
pretext be replaced by a substitute, 2 so the wafer too must 
be better than any other bread. 3 During the twelfth 
century the preparation of wafers was regarded quite 
as a religious celebration. The ceremonies undertaken, 
for example, in the monastery of Cluny in the manu- 
facture of holy bread were very extensive. The 
grains of corn were selected with care, were thoroughly 
washed, and were dried on a delicate white cloth. The 
monk who carried the wheat to the mill clad himself in 
alba and amice, that he might worthily perform the 
precious transport. He even washed the stones that were 
to grind the grain to meal. When the actual baking 
began, the monks prepared for their task by reciting 
hymns of praise, penitential psalms, and litanies. They 
put shoes on their feet, that they might not come into 
contact with the dirt on the floor. They washed their 
faces and hands and carefully combed their hair. Clad 
in Mass-shirts, they kneaded the dough and shaped the 


bread during an unbroken silence. Even the fire over 
which the bread was baked was as clean as possible, for 
it was fed with dry pieces of a special kind of wood. 4 

With such a devout respect and such an anxious 
solicitude was the holy labour undertaken at the time 
when the making of wafers lay in the hands of the 
monks. As early as the fourteenth century, however, 
it became more and more common to entrust pro- 
fessional bakers with the sacred duty. The memory 
of the Church industry was preserved only by some 
ancient ordinances, and by the very rare baking appli- 
ances which are to be met with in museums and the 
store-rooms of monasteries. 5 The most interesting of 
these appliances are some small wafer-moulds, which were 
sent by S. Francis the Host's most devout worshipper 
through the brothers of his community, to all the 
Franciscan provinces in order " that by their use, fine 
and clean Mass-bread might be made." 6 

After the wafers had been made, they were rever- 
ently preserved for the occasion when they would be 
transformed into Hosts. When it was a question of 
procuring the supply needful for the communion of the 
laity, the theurgical operation took place as a private 
celebration. But even if the priest was without wit- 
nesses, he knew how solemn his action was when, by 
pronouncing the words of consecration, which have so 
powerful a meaning for all believers, he effected the 
great miracle. Still more holy, however, was the trans- 
formation, when the officiant in the presence of the con- 
gregation consecrated the Host, which he himself would 
consume. On these occasions the mystical impression 
was further increased by some theatrical arrangements 
which visualised for those present the miracle of tran- 


Especially during the earlier Middle Ages there 
was a tendency to make the ceremony effective even to 
the senses of the spectators. As already mentioned, 
draperies were often spread between the columns of the 
"ciborium," which hid the altar and the priest during 
the actual work of consecration. Thus, when the 
curtains were drawn aside, the faithful could see the 
transformed material, without having witnessed the act 
itself by which the transformation had been effected. 7 
Not only was the celebration performed therefore in 
a veritable magic cabinet ; this cabinet was besides often 
provided with an effective theatrical machinery. Thus 
in the old " ciboria " were hung up not ouly relics and 
crowns, but also the shrine which guarded the Church's 
supply of consecrated Hosts. In some cases, the chain 
by which the shrine was fastened to the roof was made 
to run over a pulley, so that the Host-receptacle was 
able during the ceremony to sink down towards the altar, 
and to ascend again thereafter towards the vault of the 
" eiborium," which by reason of a spontaneous symboli- 
sation was taken to represent the vault of heaven. 8 
Such an arrangement visualised quite perfectly the 
thought of the Divinity Himself, who at the moment of 
the miracle was descending over the Mass-table ; and the 
religiously poetic impression was further intensified by 
the form given to the so-called "suspensorium." For 
this shrine, which rose and sunk above the altar, was no 
ordinary box, but had the shape of a bird : a little dove 
wrought in gold, silver, or enamelled copper, guarding 
in its body the holy bread. 9 

It is not difficult to explain why the form of a 
dove was given to the vessel of the Host. The dove is 
a symbol of the Holy Ghost; and just as the Holy 
Grhost assisted at the incarnation by which the Saviour 


clothed Himself in human flesh, so it was thought that 
the third person of the Trinity would now also effect the 
transformation of an earthly bread made by men into 
the Saviour's body. It is worth remarking that in the 
old liturgies the " Sancte Spiritus" was specially invoked 
in order that the miracle of the Mass might take place 
through His assistance. 10 Here, as in so many dogmatic 
ideas and artistic representations, the Holy Ghost was 
regarded as a mediator between heaven and earth. It 
was a dove which descended over the Saviour's head at 
His baptism, and it was in the shape of a dove that the 
souls of the righteous, at the moment of death, ascended 
to their heavenly dwellings. 

After the disappearance of the "ciboria" the use of 
hanging and movable Host-boxes was not discontinued. 
The pulley over which the chain ran was fixed to a 
crozier which was erected immediately behind the altar, 
and the dove was now placed in a small cylindrical 
receptacle, the open front of which was furnished with 
movable curtains. In a number of French churches, 
this ingenious apparatus was still in use in the eighteenth 
century/ 1 Again, when ancient Church customs began 
to be revived during the last century, Mass suspenders 
were in many cases introduced, Thus in some English 
ritualistic churches, a cylindrical box hangs above the 
altar, 12 and in the famous Benedictine monastery at 
Solesmes the dove has taken its old place among 
the holy vessels. 18 These, however, are only isolated 
survivals of an order of things long since dead, and 
long before the eucharistic doves had fallen out of 
use the holy place had ceased to be hidden by 
curtains. At the time when the doctrine of Tran- 
substantiation received its final shape, i.e. daring the 
thirteenth century, it was no longer thought necessary 


to maintain the secrecy in which the miracle had been 

As may be seen from old pictures, the altar was 
indeed frequently enclosed on three sides by screens ; 14 
but as it was open in front, the screens could not 
serve to hide the miracle from the congregation. Their 
purpose was probably to secure a needful isolation in 
which the priest could perform his high office with a 
quiet, earnest, and collected mind. 15 From the part of 
the church occupied by the congregation one could, 
during the moment of consecration, see the celebrant's 
gestures and hear his words, which in themselves were 
not more notable than other gestures and words ; but 
one would know that when certain words had been 
spoken and certain definite gestures made, the great 
event had been consummated, although everything 
remained externally the same. 16 Thus it was demanded 
of the pious that they should readily believe in the 
miracle, although it was not confirmed in any way by 
the testimony of the senses. The sacramental transfor- 
mation was, as was repeated time after time in explana- 
tions of the Mass and in Mass-hymns, a miracle, only 
visible to the eye of faith : 

Quod non capis, quod non vides 
Aniniosa firmat fides 
Praeter rerum ordinem ; 

or to quote another poem : 

. . . et si sensus deficit 
Ad firmandum cor sracerom sola fides sufficit. 

Praestat fides supplementum sensuum defectui. 17 

However, if the Mass -action had been completely 
denuded of all sensuous elements, it would have been too 
difficult a task for the imagination of the faithful to 

vn THE HOST 117 

conceive a transformation that was not indicated by a 
single outer sign. The curtains of the altar-place, the 
drawing aside of which told that the ritual had reached 
its culmination, might be dispensed with, and the little 
dove that descended from above, when the miracle was 
completed, might be abolished. But in any case there 
was needed some signal, however unobtrusive, by which 
the attention of the spectators might be directed to the 
altar at the critical moment. Such a cue is given by 
the ringing of the small silver bells, which the deacon 
sets in motion at the precise moment when the bread 
and wine are transformed and the eucharistic God is 
raised above the Mass-table in the priest's hands for his 
renewed sacrifice. 18 This clear sound, the pure tones of 
which carry throughout the greatest cathedrals, is by 
reason of its symbolical meaning the most significant 
of all the impressions that Church music can convey to a 
believer's mind. It prepares the congregation for a 
vision of lofty things, and awakes a reverence for the 
Host and the chalice. The community falls on its knees, 
while the celebrant rises to show forth the God that 
is present. " Standing as upright as he can, he raises 
the Host, with his eyes fixed on it, and reverently 
exhibits it for the people's worship." 19 

It has been mentioned earlier that this elevation, 
with the accompanying bell-ringing, was explained 
by the mediaeval ritualists as a dramatic commemora- 
tion of the Saviour's death on the Cross ; but it was 
pointed out at the same time that such an interpreta- 
tion, like so many of the symbolical Mass-commentaries, 
only arose after the ritual had received its definite 
form. If we wish to seek for the very origin of the 
ritual sound-signal, we ought, perhaps, to go back to the 
bells on the robe of the Jewish high-priest, which rang 


when he entered the Holy of holies. 20 It would probably 
be a fruitless toil to try to determine at what time the 
Catholic Church, in accordance with this Jewish custom, 
first made use of bell-ringing at the Mass-ceremony, 
but it has at any rate been thought possible to fix 
the period during which this custom became general. 
There was, indeed, a time when it was particularly 
important to -represent externally also the miracle in 
the Altar Sacrament. 

In the early part of the eleventh century a French 
priest, Berengarius of Tours, published some blasphemous 
propositions which he was afterwards compelled to re- 
cant asserting that the bread did not undergo any 
actual transformation, but only symbolised the presence 
of God. Such a heresy forced the Church to energetic 
protests, and it was, say some authors, expressly to 
give the lie to Berengarius's doctrine that the Sacrament 
began to be raised above the altar, and the congregation 
to be summoned by bell-ringing to worship the Divinity 
present. At first, significantly enough, it was only the 
Host that was thus ec elevated," but later from the 
early fourteenth century it became customary to ex- 
hibit also the chalice during the bell-ringing. 21 It was 
thus, so it is said, that the Mass-ceremony adopted the 
two successive sound - signals, in which the symbol- 
seeking ritualists had seen a commemorative representa- 
tion of the trumpet blast of the Roman legionaries and 
the great earthquake at the Saviour's death. Accord- 
ing to the later and more probable interpretation, the 
bell-ringing and elevation served as a weapon against 
the doubts of unbelievers, and as a support for the faith 
of the faint-hearted. 

It may, however, be objected that the exhibition 
of a wafer which according to the dogmas had not 


undergone the least alteration In its outer parts, could 
hardly strengthen any one's belief in the great miracle. 
Such an objection, however, overlooks the suggestive 
Influences exercised by the ceremony on the minds of 
the faithful. The certainty that at a given moment a 
sign of God's presence would be conveyed quickened to 
the uttermost the expectant attention. People waited, 
often indeed impatiently, for the long introductory 
ritual to finish ; they were put into a mood of reverence 
by the solemn silence which precedes the consecration, 
when the priest sinks his voice, "out of respect for 
those miracles that are prepared " n ; and when finally 
the silence was broken by the clear tones of the bells, they 
were convinced that the miracle had taken place. The 
faithful thought they perceived that a change had 
actually occurred. Even if the earthly element retained 
its appearance, yet they knew that its essence had been 
transformed, and that the Supreme Being had descended 
over the altar. It was as if they found themselves face 
to face with God, who had clad Himself in the white 
garment of the Host. 23 Henry III. of England gave an 
ingenious expression to this idea, when in the presence 
of S. Louis he excused his disinclination to listen to 
long prayers. " If one has a dear friend/ 7 said he, " one 
prefers to see him oneself, rather than to hear others 
talk about him." 24 To see God, when He is lifted 
above the altar, became indeed the foremost of the aims 
with which men visited churches, and the viewing of 
the Sacrament was regarded as a special form of devo- 
tion which could in itself render valuable a man's 
presence at service. 

When attention was concentrated on the moment of 
the elevation thus carefully led up to, it was inevitable 
that in many cases the religious imagination should 


complete the impression of the senses. The pious saw 
even more than, according to theology, they had a 
right to see. It seemed to them as if the bell-ringing 
were not the only sign of the miracle, but as if the 
Supreme Being Himself revealed by some secret token 
that the wafer was no longer an ordinary bread. 
The intensified play of imagination and the religious 
hallucinations to which the ritual gave rise thus produced 
many peculiar legends in regard to the Host's relation- 
ship to its pious worshippers. 

It was natural that the saints were considered, above 
all other men, to possess a keen faculty of recognising 
the hidden God in the Sacrament. The senses of those 
who lived in communion with the Highest naturally 
grasped the slightest indications of His presence. Dis- 
tance did not avail to weaken those impressions, which by 
reason of their "psychical relation" were so much stronger 
than others. Just as a mother often sleeps soundly in 
noisy surroundings but is awakened by the least sound 
of her child, so the saints perceived every sign, however 
weak and remote, that summoned them to worship 
their G-od. When S. Francesco Borgia still lived "in 
the world " as a warrior, a courtier, and a diplomat 
it often happened, says a pious author, that he suddenly 
broke up a hunting party and turned his horse's head 
towards the nearest church, that he might there kneel 
before the Host; for over the fields and through the 
forests he had heard the little silver bell which told 
that God had descended over an altar. 25 It could also 
happen to the same S. Francesco to be irresistibly 
drawn, on entering a church, to the Holy Sacrament, 
although the Host and the wine were not at that 
moment in their usual place. 26 


Such cases of what might be called eucharistic 
telepathy are by no means rare In the literature of the 
saints. 27 The affection with which the Host was regarded 
by the faithful laid the foundation for a sympathetic 
" rapport " which has been depicted in many naive stories. 
In their power of perceiving the presence of the Sacra- 
ment some saints have surpassed even S. Francesco. 
Pascal Baylon, who was also a Spaniard, takes the fore- 
most place in this respect. It is said that while he 
was lying dead in the church, his eyes opened at the 
moment of consecration, in order to take a final gaze at 
the object of his lasting veneration; and after his 
sacred bones had been placed in the church, a noise and 
a clatter could be heard from within the relic shrine 
every time the Host was raised above the altar, as if 
the bones had knocked against the walls of the chest. 28 
Less wonderful, but in any case remarkable enough, is 
the case of Sainte Colette, who was informed of 
the consummation of the Sacrament by a kind of 
spiritual perception, and who was thus able one day to 
call the Mass priest's attention to the fact that the 
deacon had by mistake filled the chalice with water 
instead of wine. 29 Again, Ursula Benincasa, S. Filippo 
Neri, Sant' Angela de Foligno, and Santa Margherita 
de Gortona could recognise a special taste in the wafer 
after it had been consecrated. 80 

All these narratives are, it seems, based on the idea 
that there was in the Host something hidden from 
ordinary men, but mystically revealed to the saints. 81 
If they happened to be acquainted with modern 
psychology, believing Catholics could cite in support 
of their legends the examples of abnormal quickening 
of the senses which have been noted in the case of " sub- 
conscious " observation ; and they could find a further 


correspondence with the facts of psychology in the 
curious circumstance that, while the qualities of the 
Host are imperceptible to normal human senses, they are 
said to have been often grasped by lower creatures. In 
the same way that animals have sight, sound, and scent, 
which are receptive of impressions experienced by 
mankind only under exceptional conditions such, for 
example, as the hypnotic sleep, so according to Catholic 
belief soulless creatures could perceive religious mys- 
teries, which it was reserved to some saints to grasp 
with their senses as well as with their thought. 

In a number of cases it seems to have been some 
specially favourable circumstances that led to the 
animals being able to appreciate the sacredness of the 
Host. Thus it was due to the influence of the church 
milieu, in which the lamb belonging to the monastery 
of the Portiuncula at Assisi grew up, that the pious 
creature betook itself to the choir whenever it heard 
the brothers singing, and reverently fell upon its knees 
when the Sacrament was lifted above the altar. 32 The 
legends referring to the bees' devout care for the Holy 
of holies may be explained in a similar way. It often 
happened, it was said, that bee-keepers, on the advice 
of magicians, placed a Host in the bee-hive in order 
thereby to promote its increase. In these cases it was 
observed later that the creatures had built an altar of 
wax, or even a little chapel, to protect God's body. 33 The 
pure insects, whose wax was thought the worthiest 
material for the altar candles, clearly stood in some 
kind of sympathetic " rapport " with the Sacrament, and 
it was therefore not so extraordinary that they should be 
able to recognise the Supreme Being in the garb of the 
Host. A relationship of this kind cannot be assumed, 
however, in the case of such worldly animals as horses 

VH HOST 123 

and mules. It must therefore, according to Catholic 
opinion, have been a subconscious perception that 
induced William of Aquitaiae's horse to bend its fore- 
legs and throw its rider, because Bernard of Clairvaux 
had taken a Host with him when he went to meet his 
enemy. 34 

The same conception prevails in the legend, so 
frequently illustrated, of S. Anthony and the mule. 
A heretic, the story runs, had refused to recognise 
the Catholic doctrine of Transubstantiation, because he 
could not observe any alteration in the bread and wine 
after the consecration. He declared himself willing, 
however, to believe in the Mass-miracle if Anthony 
could make his mule show reverence to the Sacrament, 
and Anthony, on his side, undertook to produce the 
convincing evidence. The animal was left without food 
for three days, and on the fourth was led in the pre- 
sence of a great crowd to S. Anthony, who kept a con- 
secrated wafer in his hand, while a man at his side held 
out a basket fall of oats. " But lo ! the mule turned 
away from the proffered food, and bowing his fore- 
quarters knelt before the Host." ** One can understand 
that the old sacred writers intended with this legend to 
level a reproach against men's lack of faith, by contrast- 
ing the doubt of the over-wise heretic with the animal's 
blind and humble worship. The mule here plays the 
same r6le as the ox and the ass at Bethlehem, which 
also knew what mankind did not understand that the 
new-born Child was a God. " Cognovit bos et asinus . . . 
quod puer erat dominus." But, on the other hand, it is 
clear that this polemic poem-with-a-purpose if there is 
any rational idea in the story at all must be based 
upon conceptions of some qualities of the Host hidden to 
human sense, which were grasped by the animal much 


in the same way that S. Filippo Neri could recognise 
a consecrated wafer by its taste. 

In the Church's doctrine of the Mass-miracle, how- 
ever, there is no support at all for such a conception. 
When Thomas Aquinas, by direction of the highest 
authorities, carried out his great and lastingly-binding 
work on the Transubstantiation, he laid special weight 
on the assertion that the miraculous transformation was 
in no way perceptible to the senses. The Eucharist 
could not be grasped either by sight or taste, and no 
increase of his power of observation could enable even 
the holiest man to see the Being who concealed himself 
behind the appearance of earthly materials. It seems 
as if this unequivocal, categorically-formulated theory 
could not easily be brought into harmony with the idea 
that the Host reveals by means of some outer sign the 
fact that it is no ordinary bread. Indeed, it cannot be 
denied that there is something heretical in most of the 
popular stories as to the relation of the saints to the 
Sacrament. From the aesthetic and psychological point 
of view, however, it is just these heterodox legends that 
are of quite especial interest. They prove not only how 
vividly the thoughts of both priests and laity were 
occupied with the Mass -miracle, but they also show 
how popular imagination for it is in popular imagina- 
tion that the legends originate revolted against a dogma 
which laid too great a claim upon the force of belief 
and the faculty of abstraction. It seemed hard for the 
pious, so one is inclined to think, that they should only 
believe and know that God concealed Himself behind 
the earthly materials, but that they should never see 
even a glimmer of this God. Therefore little anecdotes 
were evolved about some specially favoured persons 
who descried in the Eucharist a glimpse of the divine 

vn HOST 125 

substance. And therefore, also, people were not content 
as had been the case in the legends hitherto men- 
tioned to tell of saints who by a dim feeling had a 
presentiment of the presence of the Supreme Being. 
They wished, further, to believe that God Himself had 
on various occasions broken through His covering, to 
step forth from the Host in bodily shape. 

The Church authorities overlooked what was in- 
correct in these narratives, which were so well adapted 
for use in controversies with doubters and heretics ; but 
though they were tolerated, they were not allowed to 
influence true doctrine. Thomas Aquinas himself, who 
was not a man to depart from his principles, has expressly 
stated that revelations of this kind should be considered 
either as subjective visions vouchsafed to individual 
believers, independently of the Communion miracle, or 
as due to the fact that " God was pleased to alter the 
appearance of the Host for some definite purpose." In 
neither case was the miracle more wonderful or holy 
than the Sacrament itself. Sensuous manifestations 
therefore, say the dogmatists, must not be worshipped 
with greater devotion than the Host, the seeming bread 
which in reality is a God. 36 

In spite of these warnings, however, the extra- 
ordinary revelations have made a far more powerful 
impression upon the great public than has the daily- 
repeated Mass - miracle, imperceptible to the senses. 
The Host-miracles, as will shortly appear, have con- 
tributed more than anything else to causing the Sacra- 
ment to become the object of a special cult. These 
miracles thus lie directly at the root of the notable art- 
production which concentrates itself round the trans- 
formed wafer. Therefore it is also necessary to give 
a short account of the most important of those legends, 


which relate how God revealed Himself In the Host in 
bodily shape. 

The sceptical critic finds least to object to in the 
stories of the visions seen by pious men during the 
moments when they stood in the presence of the euchar- 
istic God. We can well believe that S. Birgitta gave 
a veracious account of her own mental experiences, when 
she tells how one Whit Sunday, when God's body was 
raised, " she saw fire come down from heaven over the 
altar and saw a living man, with blazing human counte- 
nance in the bread " ; or how on another occasion she saw 
in the priest's hand "a young man, exceedingly fair, 
who pronounced blessings over all those who believed 
and judgment over the unbelieving." 87 It is also prob- 
able that many of the newly-converted barbarians, who 
had been informed by the missionaries that the Sacra- 
ment was the holiest object in the Christian religion, by 
force of suggestion saw a child or a crucified man on 
the altar. S. Patrick, for example, expressly referred 
to the Host, when the Irish requested to see the God 
whose power and gentleness he had so eloquently 
described to them. 38 When we take into account primi- 
tive man's inability to distinguish between the pictures 
of his imagination and the impressions of reality, we can 
understand that excited converts often thought they 
beheld with their bodily eyes what, according to erudite 
theology, they ought to have embraced only with their 
thoughts. 39 

In those cases, however, where the consecrated wafer 
adopted human form in the presence of heathens or 
heretics, the cause of the miracle cannot be sought in 
subjective visions. Those who will not admit that the 
legends have simply been invented would, therefore, do 
best to adopt Thomas Aquinas's second explanation, i.e. 

vii HOST 127 

" that God was pleased specially to alter the appearance 
of the Host/' It is also significant that most of these 
miracles took place on the very occasions when, "for 
some definite purpose," it was convenient to consent to 
a deviation from the normal course. Typical in this 
respect is the story of the Catholic priest who had been 
taken prisoner by the Saracens. The heathen warriors 
scoffed at his Christian religion, and finally went so far 
in their defiance as to promise him his freedom if he 
could prove the Mass-miracle. The priest called them 
together to a service, and when he was about to raise 
the Host above his head, it was no longer a wafer that 
he held in his hand, but a little naked child with a glory 
around its head and a cross in its hand. A fresco in the 
cathedral of Orvieto commemorates his remarkable 
deliverance. 40 

If such a miracle could take place in order that a 
single man might be freed from captivity, the anthropo- 
morphic Mass-revelations were, of course, all the more 
natural when it was a case of winning adherents to the 
Christian faith. People who as yet knew nothing of 
"substance*' and "accidents" were seized with veneration 
if they saw the new God in visible form. Thus the first 
successes of the Northern Missions, according to Catholic 
historians, depended in no small degree upon the 
astounding impressions received by the Swedish heathens 
from S. Sigfrid's altar service. One has only to 
read the account given by the bailiff of Olof Skot- 
konung to his master, after he had visited the holy men 
in Sm&land : " Then the man with the wonderful dress 
took the thin bread, and after mumbling something over 
it, he lifted it up, and it seemed to me just as if he 
lifted up at the same time a little lad who smiled at the 
old man." 41 


Such miracles happened when heathens were to be 
converted, and from similar stories arguments were 
drawn against doubters within the Church. Typical of 
these stories is the legend of the so-called Gregorian 
Mass. This miracle, so often illustrated in pictorial art, 
is described in a number of different legends which dis- 
agree in essential points. It is most convenient first to 
quote that form which is found in the oldest versions of 
the story : 

"A woman, who occasionally, following the [old] 
Christian custom, made an offering of [Mass-] bread to 
the Church, smiled one day when she heard S. Gregory " 
it is Pope Gregory the Great who is referred to 
" call out before the altar : ' May the body of our Lord 
Jesus preserve thy soul to eternal life/ At once 
Gregory drew away the hand with which he was about 
to give the Host to the woman and laid the holy bread 
back on the table. Then in the presence of the whole 
congregation he asked what she had dared to laugh at. 
And the woman answered, ' I smiled because you gave 
the name God's body to bread which I had myself baked 
with my own hands/ Then Gregory fell upon his 
knees and prayed to God for this woman's unbelief. 
And when he arose, he saw that the Host on the altar 
had been transformed into flesh which had the form of 
a finger. He showed this finger to the unbelieving 
woman, who immediately lost her doubts. And the 
saint prayed anew and the flesh took on anew the shape 
of bread, and Gregory communicated the woman with 
the bread." 42 

That the Host was transformed into a finger seems, 
however, according to the Catholic idea, not to have 
been a sufficiently wonderful miracle. In a later varia- 
tion of the legend, which was often narrated in prayer- 


books of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, there did 
not appear a finger In place of the wafer, but Christ 
Himself stepped down upon the altar surrounded by all 
the Implements of His Passion : the pillar to which He 
had been bound and the rods with which He had been 
scourged, the lance with which He had been pierced and 
even the hands by which He had been struck. 43 This 
miracle offered a suitable motive for representation on 
altar-pieces and altar furniture. At the very place 
where, according to the legend, the revelation had 
occurred, carvings or pictures were made of the Saviour 
and of all the objects that recalled His suffering. Thus 
the help of art was enlisted to strengthen all doubters 
in their faith, by reminding them of the miracle that 
had once occurred by reason of a holy man's prayers. 44 

However much such a revelation at Mass may have 
contributed to stamp upon the minds of the faithful a 
conception of the miraculous element in the Sacrament, 
it was hardly calculated to promote the worship of the 
Host as such. 45 The divine form distracted attention 
from the bread which ought in itself to be regarded as a 
God. Of much greater importance for the doctrine of 
the Host, therefore, are the legends in which a conse- 
crated wafer reveals some signs of life, and nevertheless, 
so far as the senses can observe, remains a wafer. To 
begin with the least remarkable, It has frequently, 
according to assertions of Catholics, spoken with a 
human voice. It is, indeed, intelligible that the pious, 
when they felt oppressed or troubled, might believe 
they heard comforting words emanating from the bread 
behind whose outer form the Supreme Being was 
concealed. The legend of the Host-miracle in San 
Damiano outside Assisi is the most famous example of 
this kind of revelation. 


When, the story runs, S. Clara's convent was 
threatened by a robber band of Saracens, the saint 
sought help from the eucharistic God. Sick as she was 
at the time, she had herself led to the entrance, and the 
nuns carried to her the little shrine of silver and ivory, 
"in which, in the most holy way, God's most holy body 
was concealed.' 7 As soon as this Host receptacle had 
been shown to the heathen robbers, who had already 
won a position upon the walls, they were stricken with 
panic and broke up the siege. This event, the memory 
of which is still preserved in an old fresco above the 
entrance to the little convent, is not in itself more 
notable than many other miracles related of the Host ; 
but what is peculiar is that Clara, before the critical 
moment had arrived, had already received from the 
Host itself a comforting promise of i deliverance. When 
the nuns had all " assembled before their God, with 
tears and lamentations," the Abbess addressed the holy 
shrine : " * I pray Thee/ said she, ( my dear Lord, that 
Thou hide [preserve] Thy servants, whom I cannot 
preserve in this peril/ And immediately there was 
heard from the shrine a weak voice like a child's, 
saying : c I will always hide and defend you.' And then 
she said : ' my Lord, preserve also this town, if it 
please Thee, which maintains us for love of Thee.' And 
our Lord answered her : ' Heaviness and sorrow shall this 
town endure, and yet shall it be defended by my 
grace/" 46 

If we wish to uphold to the uttermost the love of 
truth among the authors of old legends, we might inter- 
pret the answers of the Host as hallucinations on the 
part of S. Clara. Such an explanation is precluded, 
however, in the case of the story told of a nameless 
sinner in Germany. A woman, it was said, "was 


unclean In her body, and openly lived an evil life. One 
day, as she stood in her house, God's body was carried 
past, and she ran out so hurriedly that she fell into a 
pool of mire up to the arms. In her distress she called 
out : ( Lord, if Thou art a true God that art here 
borne In the shrine, forgive me my sins/ He answered 
her from the shrine in Latin, and said : * I forgive thee 
thy sins/ But the woman cried out : Lord, I do not 
understand Latin, answer me in German/ Then He 
answered her in German that her sins should be for- 
given. And the woman reformed, and lived a clean 
life/' 47 

If the consecrated wafer was once able to talk, it is 
not surprising that It was thought to possess the power 
of free movement which is characteristic of living 
creatures. We are told that, at least on one occasion, 
in S. Gervais in 1274, it has got out of the way of thieves 
who attempted to seize the Sacrament ; and in Faverney 
it avoided being destroyed by a raging conflagration 
by raising itself in the air. 48 Just as it favoured its 
devotees with comforting words, so it also came to meet 
them, that it might be one with them at the Communion. 
S. Catherine of Siena, the Saviour's promised bride, on 
one occasion when she was to receive the Communion 
together with some Dominican nuns, had remained by 
the entrance to the church, in so inconspicuous a place 
that the priest did not even notice her presence. But 
at the moment when the bread was broken over the 
chalice, a piece of the Host went flying through the air 
and disappeared. With intelligible anxiety, the priest 
searched for the fragment of wafer before covering the 
chalice ; and he continued the search after Mass. All 
his efforts were fruitless, however. Harassed by the 
thought that he had been guilty of wasting the Holy of 


holies, he betook himself to S. Catherine, to ease his 
heart with that pious woman. She, however, smiled at 
his disquiet, and informed him that the piece of wafer 
had sought her out in her remote place by the church 
door. " You have lost nothing," she said, " but I have 
gained much," m With this miracle in mind, we should 
not be surprised that the Host at S. Hieronymus's last 
Mass is said to have flown from the paten into the 
saint's mouth of its own accord. 50 

The power of speech and of movement, however, do 
not constitute all the qualities possessed by the Host in 
common with living creatures. It could suffer like a 
man or rather like a god-man if it was the object of 
harsh treatment, 51 and it could even bleed if wounded. 52 
According to mediaeval popular belief, the Jews were 
peculiarly liable to insult the Holy Sacrament. If, it 
was said, they once got a Host in their hands, they 
did not fail to transfix it with knives, "in the same 
way that they transfixed living children at their own 
Easter festivals." It frequently happened that Jews 
were killed and their shops plundered merely because 
some blood-stained wafers had been found near their 
dwellings. In a number of cases it turned out later 
that this Mass-bread had neither been consecrated nor 
stolen by Jews, but that some zealous Christian had 
dipped a wafer (he would not, of course, have dared to 
pollute a real Host) in blood, and exposed it in a 
prominent place, in order to incite to a holy war against 
the hated Israelites. 53 In other cases, however, the 
provocators were never disclosed, and thus legends of 
Hosts that bled under the knives of Jews were accepted 
among the recognised miracles of the Sacrament. 54 
But the Church authorities never seem to have attached 
great weight to these popular traditions, which indeed 

VII 133 

cannot easily be Harmonised with Tiiomas Aquinas's 
doctrine of Transnbstantiation. 

Quite different lias been the lot of the legend accord- 
ing to which the Host bled in order to convince a 
doubter of the truth of the Catholic Mass doctrine. 
This miracle, which took place in 1263 at the little 
village of Bolsena, near Orvieto in Umbria, is indeed 
the most famous and, in respect of its consequences, the 
most important of all the eucharistic miracles. A 
young priest, the story goes, was much oppressed by 
his inability to believe in Transubstantiation. His 
doubt left Mm no peace, even while he was himself 
celebrating Mass. But one day, as an express contra- 
diction of all his silent objections, it happened that a 
stream of blood poured out from the Host and ran over 
the altar-cloth. The priest, who could not fail to be 
convinced by such a token, betook himself to the Pope 
to relate the miracle, the authenticity of which imme- 
diately received pontifical confirmation ; and a step 
was taken which was hardly permissible according 
to strict Aquinian principles. The altar-cloth, spotted 
with drops of blood, was regarded as a relic and became 
the object of a special worship, such as had not up to 
this time been dedicated either to the Host or to the 
consecrated wine. The precious cloth was carried in 
procession from the church at Bolsena, which was not 
thought worthy to house so great a treasure, to the 
cathedral at Orvieto. 55 It was there enclosed in a relic- 
shrine, and to-day we may still see its little temple, the 
walls of which were, at the end of the fourteenth cen- 
tury, decorated by Maestro Ugolino da Siena with 
quaint little pictures of the different chapters of the 
legend. For the faithful this sanctuary is, without 
doubt, a far more notable sight than the great chapel 


opposite, in which, art historians and tourists interested 
in worldly aesthetics admire Fra Angelico's prophets 
and patriarchs, and Luca Signorelli's great frescoes on 
the Last Judgment 

As is well known, the miracle in Bolsena furnished 
the subject for one of the great wall-paintings in the 
Heliodoras chamber at the Vatican. In EaphaeFs 
treatment of the motive characterised by a powerful 
realism and by a masterly decorative disposition which, 
for us moderns, renders the fresco the most imposing of all 
his works the religious purpose has entirely given place 
to purely artistic ends. The legend has merely served as 
a pretext for a powerful composition, which, if we fix our 
attention on its essential qualities, can in no way be re- 
garded as a product of pious and specifically Church art. 

In other spheres of art, however, the sign by which 
the priest at Bolsena lost his doubt has been of direct 
importance to aesthetic development. For the new 
miracle contributed a final and conclusive reason for 
the Host becoming the centre of a special ritual cele- 
bration, the great festival of Corpus Christi, at which 
all the resources of art were made use of to glorify the 
religious mysteries to a far greater extent than at the 
altar service proper. How it came to pass that some 
external, and apparently quite fortuitous circumstances, 
so worked together that this festival was ordained 
throughout the Catholic world as a universal Church 
ceremony is a long and involved story, which will be 
related in detail in the next chapter. Before doing so, 
however, we must shortly summarise the ideas concern- 
ing the Host that have been adduced here. 

Pious imagination, it seems, has associated around 
the holy bread a whole system of superstitions which in 

vii THE HOST 135 

themselves are no less Irrational than the belief in the 
power of relics. Dogmatic theology the 

majesty of the eeeharistie God, had inculcated the 
doctrine that the actual form of the Supreme Being in 
the sacramental incarnation was imperceptible to the 
senses ; but popular devotion would not be satisfied 
with so metaphysical an idea, Notwithstanding the 
dogmas, it repeated the legends of how the Host had 
proved by different manifestations that it was a living 
God. This conception, which theology was powerless 
to uproot, could not be without its effect upon the 
relation of the faithful to the Sacrament. If the Mass- 
transformation, as explained in dogmatic literature, was 
above all a " mysterium terribile/' an incomprehensible 
and awful miracle, it became, as interpreted by the 
legends, a mystery both joyful and rich in promise, God 
came nearer to mankind if one could hear words 
of encouragement from the Host, and see a little 
child or a suffering fellow- creature in it. Eeverence 
for the Holy of holies continued undiminished, but 
with reverence was mingled tenderness and affection, 
and the holy bread became in imagination a Being with 
which the pious could enter into a purely personal 

The Host favoured its worshippers with revelations 
and comforted them in their need. It did not, indeed, 
allow itself to be used to the same extent as the relics 
for miraculous cures ; 56 but it gave to the faithful at 
Communion a promise of eternal life, and it strengthened 
the pious by its mere presence. It turned aside dangers 
from holy places, and protected the Church more power- 
fully than any palladium. 57 Men did not approach the 
Host as commonly as the relics with prayers for help; but 
it was the Host which, in its character of a present God, 

136 THE CHAR vn 

received all the homage and worship of the congregation. 
Devotion and love gathered round the little white object 
in which the Supreme Being confined Himself in visible 

This circumstance gives rise to a cult of the Sacra- 
ment which, in spite of many essential differences, 
corresponds in its outer forms with the relic cult. As 
the worship of the martyrs' remains led to the holy bones 
being enclosed in costly receptacles, exhibited in churches 
and carried in processions, so the worship of God's body 
led to the Host being preserved with a far greater 
care than was accorded to relics in special Host-hiders, 
to its being exhibited in Host-showers, and to its being 
carried in procession to meet its worshippers at the 
festival of Christ's body. Thus we come to the shrines 
which Catholic art has made and decorated for the 
holiest of all conceivable contents. 



Yous nous parlez des dietoc ! des dietcc, des dienx encore, 
Chaqne autel en porte nn, qu'un saint d^Iire adore s 
Holocaust eternei que tout lien seznfole offirir. 
L'Jbomine et les 16ments, pleins de ce seal mystere, 
K'ont eu qn'ane pensee, une ceuvre BUT la terre : 
Confesser cet tre et monrir. 

LAMAETIKE, Harmtmie. 

THE year 1263, as has been mentioned earlier, marked a 
turning-point In the history of the Host- cult. The 
miracle, through which the altar-cloth at Bolsena was 
spotted with the Hood of the encharistic God, gave 
rise to the institution of a universal Church festival for 
the glorification of the altar-sacrament The idea of 
such a festival was Indeed not unfamiliar to the age, for 
both dogmas and legends had led to the Host having 
become more and more the object of a formal worship ; 
but the Idea would not have been allowed to realise 
itself at any rate so quickly in a Church institution 
unless the miracle which took place in the neighbourhood 
of the Catholic capital had increased and quickened 
reverence for the Sacrament. And the Corpus Christ! 
ceremony would not have gained its place in the Roman 
calendar so easily unless, for some decades previously, 
efforts had been made to secure for the consecrated 
wafer the honour of a special festival. 



In order to give a complete account of the rise of the 
great Corpus Ghrlsti festival, therefore, it is necessary to 
go back a step beyond the time of the miracle at Bolsena. 
Thus, at the very beginning of the thirteenth century, a 
proposal for a ceremony which should be exclusively 
devoted to the praise of the Host had been made by 
Juliana de Mont Cornilion, a young Augustine nun from 
the district of Liittich. Her idea, however, was not 
realised outside her own neighbourhood, and she received 
no recognition for her project, which later, after its 
accomplishment by others, was to have such im- 
portant results. The Church has at any rate shown 
its gratitude to her memory, for she is now worshipped 
as a saint, and the day of her death is commemorated 
in accordance with an Edict of Pio Nono in 1869 
throughout the Catholic world. 

In the chapter on S. Juliana in the Calendar of the 
Saints (the 5th of April), we can follow her life from 
childhood to the grave. From this biography, better 
than from any dogmatic investigation, we learn to 
understand the feelings and thoughts with which the 
pious in mediaeval times venerated the great Sacrament. 

Juliana was, we are told, a saint and an ascetic from 
her childhood. She early became an orphan, and was 
educated by the nuns and father confessors in the 
cloister of Mont Cornilion. All her teachers praised 
her as an obedient and humble pupil. Only one fault 
was found in her, and this had its basis in her too great 
religious zeal, for she undertook, without her Superior's 
permission, to attempt to imitate the great saints in all 
their penances. By intelligent guidance, however, the 
exalted girl was gradually wooed from her tendency to 
excessive mortification. Her interest was then directed 
from fasting to the great feasts. 

vin THE 139 

She lived entirely absorbed in the circle of festivals 
which extends through the Church year, and which, 
In unvarying repetition, wakes in the minds of the 
faithful a rich hopefulness at Advent 3 a heavy despair 
on Maun day Thursday and on Good Friday, a vernal 
gladness at Easter, and an ecstatic fervour at the 
summer festival of Whitsuntide. The great mysteries 
of Christianity the Incarnation, the Atonement, the 
Resurrection, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit 
were visualised and quickened In her mind by all the 
different ceremonies of these commemorative days. It 
seemed to Juliana that by the liturgical celebrations 
she was year by year reminded anew of the great gifts 
the Church received from its Lord yet not of all of 
them. Half-unconseiously, so one is apt to Imagine, 
she must have experienced a feeling that there was 
something lacking in the chain of festivals; and this 
feeling, the ecclesiastical authors say, expressed itself 
to her for the first time In a vision, the import of which 
long remained unintelligible to her. 

When one day, at the age of fifteen, she was sunk 
in prayer, she suddenly saw in front of her the circle 
of the full moon. It shone with a clear light, but over 
its gleaming surface there stretched a sharply -outlined 
dark spot. As in duty bound, Juliana communicated 
her vision to the Abbess, who was unable, however, to 
decide on the meaning of the revelation. Only after 
two years did the young nun, by means of a new vision, 
obtain an explanation of the sign. She now dreamed 
one night that the round moon signified the circle of 
Church festivals, and that the dark spot denoted that the 
circle was not complete, and that the " corona " could 
not yet shine with full and perfect brightness. For the 
Church had omitted to celebrate the memory of the 


most precious of the gifts received by her : the gift of 
God's presence in the consecrated wafer. 

Such a sign, with all the summons and reproach 
which it implied, was not easy for a young girl to 
accept. What could she, an insignificant nun of 
seventeen years, living in a remote cloister, do to 
remedy an. omission in the festivals of the Holy Eoman 
Church ? She felt so oppressed and frightened by the 
mission which God had entrusted to her. His weak 
servant, that this time she did not dare to mention the 
revelation even to her immediate superiors. She con- 
cealed it in her memory while she grew up and gradually 
rose in rank in the nunnery. At the age of thirty- 
three she was chosen abbess of Mont Cornillon, but not 
even this dignity gave her courage to publish her secret. 
Not till five years later, twenty years after she had re- 
ceived her vision, did she open her heart to another nun. 
The two women united their prayers for this was the 
only step which for the present they dared to take 
asking God that the omitted festival might be in- 
stituted by the Church as soon as possible. They 
strengthened one another in their hopes, and the secret 
did not seem so fearful now that there were two to 
share it ; and as usually happens in such cases, it was 
not long before a third partook of the confidence. 

This new confidante, however, who was likewise an 
Augustine nun, doubted Juliana's vision. It seemed to 
her that the daily Mass contained a sufficient homage 
to the eucharistic God. But she was soon to be cured 
of her little faith. A year later she, too, had a revela- 
tion : she saw how all the saints advanced towards 
God's throne to speak in favour of Juliana's festival, 
and she heard a voice saying that " it should be as the 
saints desired." Prom that day no more doubt reigned 

viii THE 141 

among the pious friends. They now ventured even to 
confide In the Church authorities In the district, of 
whom It Is not necessary to remember the names of 
more than one^ him who then wore the name of 
Jacques Pantaloon. 

The authorities consulted agreed that there was 
nothing In Catholic doctrine to forbid the institution of 
a festival such as Juliana had dreamt of. The Abbess 
received full permission to arrange a ceremonial for 
the new solemnity, but when the question arose of 
writing the necessary hymns and composing melodies 
to them, all shrank back from the lofty task. No one 
dared to aspire to the credit of singing of so holy a 
mystery. Only after much persuasion did a young 
priest consent to undertake the work, but he did so 
on the express condition that Juliana, on her side, 
should help him with her prayers from the moment he 
took up his pen. When the ceremonial was finished, 
neither he nor she assumed any merit for themselves, 
for it had originated, as the sacred writers expressed it, 
"while the virgin prayed, and the monk wrote, and 
God wonderfully helped them both " " Christi virgine 
orante, juvene fratre eomponente, Deo autem mirabiliter 

Thus, as early as 1230, there had been compiled and 
celebrated at Liittich a ritual which in its aim and dog- 
matic import fully corresponded to the ceremony which 
was to become the stateliest and aesthetically the most 
important in the whole of the liturgy of the Catholic 
Church. However, before this festival of the Host, 
from having been merely a local institution, received a 
place among the Church's great and universal celebra- 
tions, the pious Juliana herself had to suffer much 
shame and persecution. The people, like the priest- 


hood, took up a critical attitude towards the new cere- 
mony* " It was treated," we are told in one chronicle, 
< like an old woman's fancy , men discussed it over their 
cups, and out in the streets and market places, and 
scoffed at those who attached any weight to the dreams 
of a foolish nun, Juliana's person and reputation were 
torn to rags in town and country, so that she finally 
became a bye-word in every one's mouth/ 7 

It Is not necessary to give a detailed account of the 
later fortunes of the pious nun. It is sufficient to 
mention that she was expelled from her cloister, and 
had long to conceal herself among some faithful 
adherents ; that she was, indeed, reinstated later in her 
dignities, but was driven out anew, and that she died 
as a fugitive without having seen her festival recognised, 
i.e. without the moon surface of her vision having had 
its spot effaced. Thus it seemed for a time as if 
Juliana's mission had failed to achieve any result ; l but 
then there happened, far away from Mont Cornillon, 
the event that was to arouse men's zeal for the worship 
of the Host : the great miracle at Bolsena. With 
this miracle was associated another event which, at 
least to believing Catholics, seemed as though designed. 
For the Pope, Urban IV., who was then reigning at 
Borne and who received from the priest at Bolsena the 
account of the miracle, was none other than the same 
Jacques Pantaleon, to whom Juliana had thirty years 
before confided her visions. The occurrence in the 
Umbrian town reminded him of the promises he had 
made to the Belgian abbess. So in the year 1264 he 
issued a Bull, to the effect that the Corpus Christi 
festival should be celebrated annually on the Thursday 
after Trinity as a universal Church feast-day throughout 
the Catholic world. 

Tin THE 143 

In Juliana's fatherland there was long retained 
right up to the seventeenth century that ceremonial 
which had come into existence through the combination 
of the nun's prayer and the monk's writing and God's 
own help. In Rome, on the contrary, there was a desire 
to establish a greater and more stately office, and the 
authorship was entrusted to the man who had shortly 
before given its definitive form to the Communion 
doctrine itself, namely, Thomas Aquinas. 

The result of the great scholastic's work was a 
ceremonial, which not only if we can believe the 
Catholic authorities surpasses from a dogmatic and 
liturgical point of view all other festival -offices, but 
also possesses a unique interest in literary history. 
For between the prayers and Bible extracts recited 
at the Corpus Christi ceremony a number of new 
hymns were introduced, written for the occasion ; and 
in the task of formulating poetically the doctrine 
which in his dogmatic writings he had developed 
systematically, Thomas Aquinas proved not only a 
philosopher but also a poet. His manner of expres- 
sion, indeed, is not rich, and he does not, like so 
many others of the mediaeval poets, adorn Ms text 
with precious similes and ingenious epithets; but his 
diction is instead powerfully concentrated, and the 
spare sentences teem with meaning. If judged merely 
as attempts in the expression of theoretical ideas, his 
poems would compel the recognition of a purely 
aesthetic merit by reason of their clear and firm form, 
which makes their abstract content intelligible and 
alive. To this must be added, however, the artistic 
verse structure, with rich rhymes, both within the 
verses and at the last syllables, which with their 
regular resonance impress the weightiest conceptions 

144 THE CHAP. 

upon our minds ; and, finally, the rhythm In which 
the hymns proceed a rhythm that is stately and 
majestic in the great sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem, 
and contagiously joyful in the famous hymn Pange 
lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium. Church song has 
seldom taken so lofty a flight as In this stern scholastic's 
glorification of the consecrated wafer. 

If Thomas Aquinas's hymns were imposing, yet 
poetry was not the dominating element in the ritual 
of the Corpus Christ! festival. It was before all by 
a theatrical representation that it was attempted to 
make the Host's feast-day striking. Just as on the 
saints* days their relics were carried in procession, 
so also It was thought needful on the day of the 
eucharistic God to exhibit the holy object out in the 
streets and squares. The procession of the Host, there- 
fore, became from the beginning of the fourteenth 
century the most conspicuous feature in the Corpus 
Christi festival. 2 It was desired not only to demon- 
strate to unbelievers and doubters the greatest sacra- 
ment of the Catholic Church, but simultaneously to 
convince them of the Church's power and wealth. No 
splendour was too costly for the decoration of the 
route along which the holy bread was carried, accom- 
panied by all its worshippers and greeted by the 
prostrations of the faithful. It was, it has been said, 
a real triumphal procession which the Church had 
prepared for the eucharistic God. And just as at 
worldly triumphs, so too at the festival of the Host 
men desired to recall all the victories which the 
Church's Lord had won. Ecdesia militans celebrated 
its exploits in pantomimic and dramatic representa- 
tions. A beginning was made by arranging groups 
of costumed characters who walked in the procession, 

Tin THE 145 

representing some persons drawn from Biblical Church 
history. Later it became the custom to let these 
groups perform a dramatic action, and gradually there 
grew out of tie interludes at the Host processions 
complete dramas, which were performed on special 
platforms at the halting -places of the festival train. 
For the English and Spanish theatres these sacramental 
plays, as is known, possessed an importance which has 
been fully appreciated by all literary historians. In 
these cases, however, the theatre freed itself from its 
dependence upon the Church, and it would be impossible 
to represent the famous York u mysteries " or Lope de 
Vega's e Autos sacramentales " as any kind of immediate 
expressions of Host worship. Our own concern is 
limited to considering those elements in the Corpus 
Christi ceremony which have a direct reference to the 
venerable object itself, i.e. to the transformed bread, 
which is exhibited and borne round. 

It is natural that during the procession the Host 
should be the object of the same reverence as within 
the church. This reverence, again, gave rise to some 
special ceremonial implements, which could not be 
omitted at any great Corpus Christi festival. 

When the Host rested on the altar, it was protected 
from defilement by the roof of the " ciborium " or by the 
" baldachin" that rose over the Mass-table. During its 
procession through the streets it was to be no more 
exposed than when in its own house. Therefore a 
movable roof was carried above it. These " balda- 
chins," which recalled the canopies of earthly princes, 
naturally contributed to the triumphal impression of 
the eucharistic God's victorious progress. Although 
they may have appeared earlier at funerals and 
Church processions, they first came into general 


use as ritual implements through the Corpus Christi 
ceremonial. 3 

Other objects owing their origin to this ceremony 
are the little Testing-altars that were set up at fixed points 
on the route of the procession. They were, as the name 
denotes, designed to support the Host during the 
moments when the procession halted. As no sacrifice 
was performed at these tables, they might be made 
out of simple material, e.g. out of wood and stretched 
cloth. But since the Supreme Being would in any 
case rest for a while on the "reposorium" so the 
provisional altar was named there was a tendency 
to give it as dignified an appearance as possible. In 
its form it imitates the Church's Mass-table. In its 
fittings, according at any rate to modern ecclesiastical 
writings, all profane glitter must be avoided; 4 but 
since the decoration of these objects was often left to 
the pious zeal of individual members of the congrega- 
tion, it is probable that the demands of a severe taste 
were not always observed. The " reposorium " was fitted 
out as a dwelling-place for an honoured guest. It was 
decorated with men's finest possessions, and people were 
proud that these things should be in close proximity to 
the eucharistic God. If the ornamentation did not 
always satisfy the demands of decorative style, at any 
rate it witnessed to a touching intention among the 
faithful. Pious taste is by no means always aesthetic, 
and Flaubert has rightly characterised the devotion 
of simple souls in the story of the old servant who 
placed her stuffed parrot on the resting-table of the 
Host, that thus she might honour God with her dearest 
possession. 6 

The " baldachins " and " reposoria," however costly 
and richly decorated they may have been, took no 


notable place in artistic production. A canopy does not 
offer a suitable surface for decorative treatment ; a 
provisional altar 3 again, is altogether too transitory 
a thing to stimulate a craftsman's ambition. Much. 
more important aesthetically is the object which serves 
to enclose and immediately to support the Host itself. 

It is easy to understand that the priests could not 
hold the little wafer in the hand if they wished it to be 
seen by the crowds. Again, if it was carried, as was 
usual at one time, in its tabernacle, i.e. in a Host-shrine, 
the worshippers merely saw the covering and not the 
thing itself. An implement, therefore, was needed to 
enclose the Host without concealing it Such an 
implement existed in the relic - showers that have 
earlier been described in detail. The saint-monstrance 
could easily be transformed so as to carry a Host instead 
of the holy bone fragments. Thus arose, through the 
martyr cult once more having lent its implements to 
the eucharistic cult, that ritual object which occupies 
so predominant a place in the Catholic service : the 

The Host - monstrance seems originally to have 
been employed only at the Corpus Christi processions, 
but it rapidly obtained a wider use. In proportion as 
the Host-cult won a higher importance in the faith, a 
greater weight began to be attached to the showing of 
the Sacrament. The literature of edification impressed 
upon the faithful the idea that at Mass the Supreme 
Being was met face to face ; 6 and superstition associated 
important advantages with such a meeting. One could 
not, so it was said, be exposed to any misfortune if one 
began the day by waiting upon God at the Mass-table. 7 

All this testifies that the worship of the Host took 
on the same character as the worship of relics. The 


result of this was naturally that men were not content 
with the hasty glimpses of the holy object which could be 
caught at the elevation. If the laity had had its way, 
" le bon Dieu " would, without doubt, have been per- 
petually exposed in the church without any covering. 
The priests, however, could not permit the impression of 
the Holy of holies to be weakened by a too frequent 
repetition. Therefore in everyday life the God, i.e. the 
consecrated wafer, was enclosed in a tabernacle, but 
the pious were satisfied by the institution of an 
" expositio sanctissimi " upon an altar in the church on 
special festivals. 8 On these occasions the same im- 
plements were naturally made use of as at the Corpus 
Christ! processions. It is from a monstrance that the 
Host radiates its divinity over the church. Just as the 
eucharistic God was often spoken of by Eoman Catholic 
authors as a king, so the monstrance was compared to a 
throne. When it stands erect on the altar, it is a 
" throne of grace," on which the transformed bread 
receives the worship of the faithful. 

In their form, as has been pointed out, the oldest 
monstrances correspond with the relic-showers. 9 Their 
most important portion consists of a cylindrical or 
polygonal crystal glass which encloses the Host. The 
latter rests inside the glass on a semicircular gold 
piece, the so-called lunula, which is also frequently 
named Melchisedek, in memory of the first priest who 
carried on his hand a sacrifice of bread and wine. 10 The 
glass again is surrounded by a richly-ornamented chasing 
in fine metals. During the Gothic period this chasing 
usually represented a simplified cross-section of a church. 
Later the forms became more capricious and fantastic. 
In some cases, great works of sculpture were produced 
in enamelled gold and silver, representing, for instance, 


John the Baptist carrying on Ms arm a lamb, which 
in its turn supports a little transparent Host-shrine. 
The Renaissance introduced circular monstrances, and 
the Baroque period gave rise to the type which is still 
prevalent in the Church : a great flaming sun, enclosing 
the Host in its centre. This type, as the interpreters 
explain, commemorated the Psalmist's words, " In sole 
posuit tabernaculum suum." n The Gothic forms are 
unquestionably the most graceful and noble, but it is 
easy to understand that the modern monstrance, by 
reason of symbolical associations, appeals more power- 
fully to the minds of believers. 

It is not necessary to describe in detail any indi- 
vidual Host-monstrances. However interesting these 
implements may be for the history of artistic craftsman- 
ship, yet they teach us nothing new about religious and 
aesthetic ideas. There is only one of these Host- 
receptacles to which we need to direct our attention, 
namely, that which is pictured in Raphael's "Disputa." 
In itself, indeed, this monstrance is not particularly 
notable, for it has the ordinary Renaissance shape of 
a circular gold frame resting upon a candelabra-like 
support ; but the manner in which the " Supreme 
Good " has been introduced into the composition is in 
more than one respect suggestive. 12 

The painting, as is well known, is horizontally 
divided into two halves. In the upper half, which 
represents heaven, the centre point is occupied by the 
Saviour, with God the Father above Him and below 
Him the dove of the Holy Ghost, descending towards 
earth in a cloud. By the side of the Trinity we 
see, first and foremost, Mary and John the Baptist, and 
after them, in a long circle, the prophets and saints. 
This circle has its complement, in the lower half of 


tlie composition, in the great figures of the Christian 
Church a truly motley assembly in which even personal 
friends of Eaphael have received a place. The centre 
point, round which all these shapes are grouped and 
which thus corresponds to the heavenly circle's centre 
point, the Saviour Himself, is an altar crowned by 
the shining monstrance rising above the heads of the 
wise men. As the Host is exhibited here, it literally 
constitutes, in the expression of the Catholic dogmatists, 
" a hyphen between Heaven and earth." Again, the 
dove, descending beneath the Saviour's feet towards 
the altar, illustrates the same idea of the work of the 
Holy Ghost in effecting the sacramental incarnation, 
which in mediaeval ritual was expressed by the movable 
shrine in the shape of a dove. Finally, the great men 
who all turn towards the monstrance not, as is usually 
supposed from a misunderstanding of the title of the 
fresco, in a dispute, but rather in unanimous worship and 
invocation 13 imply by their gestures and expressions 
that the eucharistic miracle is the highest and greatest of 
all the miracles on which they have had to test their 
power of thought. Thus in his composition Raphael has 
concentrated the thought which lay at the basis of the 
whole Catholic Mass doctrine : that the Host was the 
supreme point between Heaven and earth, the riddle of 
all wisdom and the centre of all faith, and the thing 
which, above all others, was worthy to be worshipped, 
hymned, and glorified. 



Vierge portant, sans rompure encourir, 
Le saerement qu'on celebre a la messe. 
En ceste foy je vtieil vivre et mourir. 

Ballade faiU a la requeste de sa mere. 

ITS the foregoing chapter we have been concerned with 
Church implements, which by a free use of terms might 
be called Host-shrines. The monstrance in which the 
eucharistic God is placed when borne in procession or 
exposed for worship on the altar, is indeed a covering 
for holy contents ; yet it is not a dwelling-place, but 
only an occasional harbourage for the Supreme Good. 
In religious importance, therefore, it cannot be compared 
with the God-houses, in the word's most literal meaning, 
which were erected and fitted up to preserve the Church's 
supply of consecrated wafers. These so-called " ciboria " 
or tabernacles are in their form, their embellishment, and 
their symbolical import the most characteristic of all the 
products of the Church's artistic handiwork. 

Even during the first centuries the custom had been 
adopted of consecrating a greater number of wafers than 
was needed for one holy meal, but there are no indis- 
putable proofs that this precious reserve was kept in the 
church itself. The priests took the Sacrament home 
with them, and even the laity were allowed to take away 



consecrated Hosts, that they might be able to make a 
last communion if they were surprised by enemies. 1 The 
holy objects were wrapped in cloths which were hung 
round the neck, or were placed in small boxes which 
were carried about the person, in the same way that an 
amulet or a reliquary is carried. 2 During the times 
when persecution raged most fiercely, this kind of por- 
tative Host-shrine was an indispensable ritual implement. 
The more the Church was compelled to conceal its exist- 
ence, the more zealously did people cling to that which 
was above all other things a sign of the community's 
union with the Supreme Being. Care for the Host 
could even lead to martyrdom, if we may believe the 
legend of Tharsicius, the young acolyte, who gave his 
life to save the eucharistic God. 3 If it was not thought 
advisable to give the Sacrament a public and isolated 
place, it was instead hidden, as carefully as one hides 
one's dearest possession. In this respect the customs of 
pious Catholics have been the same during all perse- 
cutions. Thus we might cite, as analogous to the old 
Host-receptacles, the small boxes carried on the person in 
which the Ho]y of holies was preserved by the imprisoned 
priests during the Commune in Paris. 4 Most famous of 
all these secret " ciboria," however, is the little silver box 
which S. Fran9ois de Sales kept hidden under his mantle 
when he walked through the streets of Thonon and with 
prearranged signs drew his congregation to follow him 
secretly, so that, unknown to the Calvinists, they might 
worship the holy Host. 5 

It is, however, natural that, when once they felt 
secure from persecution, men wished to prepare for the 
Sacrament as worthy a place as possible. After Con- 
stantine had secured recognition for Christianity if not 
as far back as the earlier periods of transient peace 6 


it was considered most proper that "God's body" 
should be preserved in " God's house." A depdt was 
instituted in the church for the holy reserve, from which 
the priests could provide themselves with Hosts if they 
were unexpectedly called to a sick person and had not 
time specially to consecrate new bread. Thus the 
Catholic temple became what in contrast to the Pro- 
testant it still is : a room in which God is not only 
spiritually present on special occasions, but in which He 
dwells continually in a sensuous and visible form. 

The evidence as to the manner in which the holy 
reserve was kept in the churches during the earliest 
period is both incomplete and contradictory. It seems 
most probable that the Hosts, like the relics, were 
originally enclosed in boxes which had served some 
worldly or pagan purposes. After the Christians had 
begun to employ their own craftsmen, special receptacles 
in imitation of old models were probably made for the 
Sacrament, i.e. small holy " hiders " which, to a still higher 
degree than the heathen shrines, gave reason for the 
name of " cista mystica." 7 It is by no means easy, 
however, to decide if all the " pyxes " of stone, metal, 
or ivory now shown in museums under the name of 
eucharistic implements really had any connection with 
the Mass -ceremony. 8 What we ought to be able to 
assume, however, is, that the Host- vessel was placed 
near the altar. Where this was crowned by a " ciborium " 
roof, the shrine for the holy reserve was hung over the 
Mass- table as a " suspensorium." Here the Holy of 
holies was visible throughout the church, and at the 
same time inaccessible to any blasphemous approach. 9 
The Sacrament swung between Heaven, i.e. the vault of 
the " ciborium " roof, and earth, which " was not worthy 
to be touched by so precious a gift." When, as was men- 


tloned in the last chapter but one, the " suspensorium " 
received the shape of a eucharistic dove, the form and 
position of the Host-shrine harmonised completely with 
the Mass-symbolism. 

When the hanging shrines were not used, another 
worthy and protected place was naturally sought for 
the eucharistic God. In a number of churches the Hosts 
were kept in movable boxes, which were set up on the 
Mass-table itself, and which perhaps because they had 
formerly been hung from the "ciborium" roof con- 
tinued as partes pro toto to be called "ciboria." 10 In 
other churches the vessel for the holy bread was placed 
in sacrament - houses fixed to the ground, and as a 
rule built at the side of the altar. This arrangement, 
which in Germany and Italy gave rise to important 
works of art, was common during the later Middle 
Ages ; but it was abandoned during the sixteenth cen- 
tury, after special ecclesiastical assemblies had decided 
that the shrine for the holy reserve should be kept 
behind the altar, within the great reredos, 11 which 
during the high and late Eenaissance took on more 
monumental forms than ever before. That piece of 
sacred furniture which had originally borne remnants 
of saints thus became, before all, a Host -preserver. 
The old strife for pre-eminence between the relic-cult 
and the Mass-cult was closed, and the altar-sacrament 
had won its decisive victory when it occupied the central 
place on the wall which had been reserved for the bones 
or pictures of saints. Like a hidden, and yet to pious 
observation always discernible, eye, the Host shines out 
from the altar monument, and the whole church decora- 
tion appears to the faithful as a frame around the Holy 
of holies, which rests in the heart of the building. The 
sacrament-house has disappeared, but instead the temple 


itself has become a single eucharistic tabernacle, which 
is made and embellished to " lodge worthily " the God 
who is present in the Host. 12 

Where the holy reserve, in accordance with the 
older custom, did not occupy this dominating posi- 
tion, care was always taken that the pious might be 
able to find it without difficulty. A lamp burns day 
and night before God's dwelling, 13 and the little sanc- 
tuary is often further distinguished by a conope, i.e. 
a kind of curtain or baldaquin, which is an infallible 
sign of the presence of the Supreme. " Wherever thou 
seest this curtain," exclaims Father Eio in his book on 
the furnishing of churches, " bow thy knee and worship. 
Magister adest et voeat te." 14 Nor do the faithful 
omit to signify by bowing and kneeling their reverence 
for the temple's " praecellentissimus ac nobilissimus 
omnium locus." 15 In the Catholic religion, therefore, 
one can literally speak of a " devotion before the 
Tabernacle." How profound is the reverence for the 
covering of the Holy of holies may be seen from 
the example of the pious monk Suso, who never 
failed to choose a circuitous way past the sacrament- 
house when he betook himself through the church 
to or from his cell. "He who has a dear friend/' 
such were the words in which he accounted for his 
habit, "who dwells in his street, will gladly go a 
little further/' "um eines lieblichen Erkosens wegen." 
When the same Suso, in his scrupulous piety, reproaches 
himself for having failed in respect towards the Sacra- 
ment, he especially repents that he so often stood 
thoughtless before the place where the Host was 
guarded, and he compares his own lack of devotion 
with the overflowing ecstasy of David, who "joyfully 
and with all his might danced before the Ark of the 


Covenant, which nevertheless contained only earthly 
bread and earthly objects." 16 This comparison is worthy 
of notice as a proof of the close connection of ideas 
between the Tabernacle and the Old Testament Ark, 17 
and from this connection we may conclude that the 
Host -preserver also, like the lofty sanctuary of the 
Covenant, was regarded as in itself a holy object. 

It is not necessary, however, to refer to any literary 
proofs that the dwelling-place of the Sacrament occupies 
a predominant place in religious and aesthetic emotional 
life. This circumstance appears clearly, no less in the way 
in which the tabernacle has been fitted and embellished 
than from the symbolical ideas attached to it. For all 
the types of tabernacle, however manifold and different 
they may be, possess certain qualities in common, giving 
them an aesthetic interest. It need hardly be said that 
careful endeavours have been made to keep the shrine 
for God's body as pure as possible. According to 
ecclesiastical edicts its inner walls must be completely 
covered with white silk, and kept in as good and as clean 
a condition as possible. 18 Its outer sides are adorned 
with pious zeal, and it is evident that the craftsmen 
sought in their work to do the utmost that devotion 
and skill combined could achieve. Thus there are 
certain of these small temples which afford the observer 
more matter for admiration than the great houses around 
them, i.e. the churches in which they are erected. 

In a number of cases the shrine has even assumed 
not only the character, but also the dimensions of an 
independent building. Adam Krafft's famous sacrament- 
house, nearly 20 metres in height, in the Church of 
S. Lorenz in Nuremberg, could actually not have been 
placed in the church, unless the top of the slender 
building had curved itself along the roof of the church. 


Such a tabernacle Is indeed paradoxical in its abnormal 
development in the vertical direction. But the thin, 
slender tower which, rocket-like, first shoots up along 
the vault column, to bend later in a lovely curve just 
where it reaches its culmination is in any case so 
gracious in its peculiarity, so sumptuously trimmed 
with elegant lace-work in stone carving, and so richly 
decorated with small life-like and entertaining pictures 
from all the principal subjects of sa'cred history, that 
in our surprised and fascinated contemplation we forget 
every criticism. 

If we wish to see harmonious, proportional, and less 
extravagant solutions of the problem of how to 
enclose worthily the Holy of holies, we may look at 
any of the Florentine wall tabernacles. 19 All the naivete 
and grace that make the Tuscan sculptors of the second 
rank Desiderio da Settignano, Benedetto da Maiano, 
or Luca della Eobbia so matchless in their art have 
been combined in these small cabinets of marble or 
majolica ; and the disposition of the liturgical furniture 
is as ingenious as it is decoratively effective. We see 
before us, let into the wall, a Renaissance portal, which 
through the illusion of perspective impresses one as 
leading into a deeply-hidden Holy of holies. The arch 
above the door is usually occupied by the dove of the 
Holy Spirit, which thus stretches its wings over the 
inner room. By the side of the door stand watching 
angels in small niches. They often carry a scroll with 
inscriptions from Thomas Aquinas's Communion cycle, 
" Ecce panis angelorum." The entire portal is framed 
by infant angels or angels 7 heads, and beyond by 
luxuriantly rich garlands, such as only artists of della 
Eobbia's school could carve. All this is so joyful, 
childlike and gracious, that the decoration, if analysed, 


must be admitted to agree but little with the lofty 
seriousness of the Christian religion, and especially of 
the Holy Sacrament 

Considered as works of art, these Renaissance taber- 
nacles represent the most noteworthy of all types of the 
sacred cupboard, but this type cannot convey com- 
plete illustration of the symbolism of the Host-shrine. 
In order to know the dogmatic and poetic ideas which 
attach to the aesthetic products, we must turn from 
Italian and German Eenaissance sculptures to some 
older and often much less artistic, yet symbolically 
more important tabernacles ; and we are compelled to 
pass by the purely artistic element in the embellishment, 
in order to fix our attention upon the meaning of the 
forms and decoration. The first thing we notice in 
examining the form of mediaeval tabernacles is that 
they are usually lofty and slender. Therefore the 
sacrament-house in S. Lorenz is far more typical of this 
kind of liturgical furniture than are the cabinets of 
Italian Eenaissance. The prominence given to the 
vertical direction, which made Adam KraffVs creation 
so marvellous, is to a greater or lesser extent the 
characteristic of the majority of Host - preservers. 
Whether the tabernacle is boastfully costly, like the 
high silver temple which Juan de Arfe wrought for the 
Cathedral of Seville and adorned with stately Eenais- 
sance colonnades, 20 or unpretentious, like the small 
wooden wafer-houses in certain French and Northern 
country churches, 21 men have most frequently sought 
to give to the abode of the Eucharist the shape of a 
tower. This type of tower is as significant for the free- 
standing Host-preservers as was the form of a church in 
the case of relic-shrines. Among the many names by 
which the room for the holy reserve is denoted in the 


older liturgical literature we find more often than any 
other turns, i.e. tower. 22 

It cannot have been due to accident that precisely 
this form was considered specially suitable for taber- 
nacles. "We must suppose that some important religious 
ideas were associated with the conception of a tower. 
To understand this association of ideas, we must acquaint 
ourselves with the tower's symbolism. 

A tower is an inaccessible building, and this type 
has therefore been used by preference in the erection of 
ancient treasuries. When as is the case, for example, 
in the German churches on the Rhine the Host had 
been placed above men's heads in a strong tower taber- 
nacle, 23 the Sacrament had been given a dwelling-place 
in which it was secure from insult or robbery an 
eventuality that had always to be reckoned with, since 
the Holy of holies was often stolen, to be misused for 
magical purposes. 24 When the tabernacles were small 
and movable, however, this practical point of view 
cannot have prevailed, but it is probable instead that 
the tower form was thought to convey a symbolical 
warning of the shrine's precious contents. It was easy 
to recall how the tower, by reason of its impregnability, 
had been used as a simile in ancient poetry when it was 
desired to express the idea of invincible might. The 
Psalter and the Book of Proverbs offer many examples 
of the use of this comparison, which naturally were not 
unknown to the mediaeval ritualists and craftsmen. 
Again, the doctrine of the Host, as has been shown step 
by step, was for the Catholic Church both the most 
precious and the most highly valued of all religious 
ideas, as well as the most strongly fortified, i.e. the most 
energetically defended, of all dogmas. It was natural, 
therefore, that the eucharistic God should be most 


efficiently protected in a shrine having the form of a 
tower. And it was by a consistent expression of the 
same idea that this shrine was in many cases surrounded 
by small towers and a battlemented wall, i.e. by archi- 
tectural motives which further heightened the impression 
of a strong, well-defended, and impregnable fortress. By 
the same association of ideas the eucharistic dove was 
sometimes surrounded by small pinnacles and miniature 
towers. 25 

Among the movable tower tabernacles, often carved 
in ivory, which had their place on the altar itself, there 
are many, however, which are not provided with pinnacles 
or walls. If we examine these Host-preservers more 
closely, we find that the idea of fortification has not 
been expressed in them at all. They cannot be regarded 
as fortified precious shrines, whose inaccessibility it 
was desirable above all things to illustrate through the 
decorative motive. The tower type must therefore, at 
any rate in these cases, have another function than that 
of conveying the impression of power and security, 
i.e. there must be attached to the idea of a tower some 
symbolical thoughts other than those which refer to the 
dignity of the Sacrament and the invincibility of the 
Mass doctrine. What these thoughts are can easily be 
found if we examine the place occupied by the tower in 
older Christian art. 

A tower-like building is one of the objects most 
often met with in old Christian reliefs, ivory carvings, 
wall-paintings, and miniatures. Especially in sepulchral 
art-works is the narrow and lofty house common. If 
we know the subjects of the compositions, we under- 
stand that the building is designed to represent a grave. 
In all the numberless reliefs and paintings portraying 
the raising of Lazarus, the dead man steps out from 


a small house having the form of a tower. 26 In the 
significantly rarer early Christian and mediaeval repre- 
sentations of the visit of the Marys to the tomb, the 
tomb, if not a tower, is at any rate a lofty and detached 
building. 27 It is not impossible that just such a type of 
grave was used in the East at the time of Jesus, but 
it is not necessary to form a definite opinion as to this 
archaeological problem. The important thing is that 
during the first Christian centuries and a large part 
of the Middle Ages, people seemed to have imagined 
that the Saviour was placed in an upright grave which 
was either hewn out of a rock or was a detached tower 
the latter, we may say in parenthesis, being a form 
of grave still to be met with here and there during 
quite late periods of religious painting. 28 

The grave being thus regarded as a tower, it is easy 
to suppose that the small tower-shaped Host-preservers 
were considered as a kind of grave. This supposition 
is strengthened as soon as we turn to ancient liturgical 
literature. According to the Catholic idea, the " ciboria " 
enclose not bread but the body of the God-man ; and 
as long as this body is hidden in the Host-shrine, it is 
preserved there as in a grave. " Corpus vero Domini 
ideo defertur in turribus, quia monumentum Domini in 
similitudinem turris fait scissura in petra" ("But the 
Lord's body was laid in a tower, because His grave was 
hewn out of the rock in the likeness of a tower "), we 
read in the old Gallic liturgy. 29 In the ceremonial by 
which " ciboria " are consecrated for their office, they are 
spoken of as " corporis Christi nova sepulcra," that is, 
as new graves for Christ's body. 30 Eohault de Fleury 
has even found a sentence of Bede's, in which the 
venerable author states that the " ciborium " ought to 
be worshipped with still greater respect than would be 


given to the actual grave of Christ. " For," he says, 
" the new grave preserves the Saviour's risen and living 
body, while the old one only enclosed His corpse." 81 

That artists too had a clear idea that the Host- 
preserver was a kind of grave Is quite evident from the 
decoration with which these shrines -were adorned. The 
burial and resurrection of Christ are frequent motives 
in the reliefs introduced on the walls of " ciboria," 82 and 
the same motives are continually found in the carvings 
on tabernacles attached to walls. Italian Renaissance 
art offers numberless examples of this. 33 It may be men- 
tioned also, at least as a curious coincidence, that the abode 
of the Host is not only adorned with pictures of the 
holy grave, but is often erected on the same plan as the 
great monuments to princes and holy men which occupy 
the walls in Renaissance churches. Just as the altar 
itself, with its superstructure, leads one's thought back 
to the old hero graves, so too the architecture of the 
tabernacle affords a striking resemblance to the archi- 
tecture of the house of the dead. At the end of our 
research, we stand before the same building which 
formed the starting-point for the first chapter in this 
part of our work. 

The symbolism of the tabernacle, however, cannot 
be completely explained by those ideas which are as- 
sociated with the conception of a grave. It was 
indeed natural that the shrine which, preserves the 
Host, i.e. the Saviour's body, should be associated with 
the holy grave, in which G-od's body had for a 
time rested after the completion of the Atonement; 
but it was more in consonance with religious thought to 
connect the Host- preserver with another holy room 
which had been an abode of the incarnate God. For if, 


on the OBe hand, the Saviour had been hidden " after 
His sacrificial death " in a grave, and if the grave had 
thus become a precious shrine, yet, on the other hand, 
before entering the world in human form, He had been 
hidden a still longer time in His Virgin Mother's womb. 
Mary is therefore the foremost of all coverings of holy 
contents. She is praised by poets and preachers as a 
temple of God, and her beauty and virtues are glorified 
with precious epithets, which are the poetical counter- 
parts of the costly objects with which decorative art 
embellished the reliquaries and Host-preservers. There- 
fore Durandus expresses a logical conclusion of pious 
reasoning when he deliberately says in his Rationale : 
"And mark well that the room in which the conse- 
crated Hosts are enclosed betokens the glorious Virgin's 
body." 34 

This line of thought Las not left many traces in 
plastic art, but it is probable that the faithful were 
reminded of the Virgin by the mere outer shape of the 
tabernacle. The tower which had lent its form to the 
Host-preserver was, as will appear from the following 
chapters, one of the standing attributes of the Madonna, 
and Mary's person had been associated in numberless 
hymns with the conception of a tower. In many cases, 
also, deliberate attempts have been made by means 
of pictures to emphasise the connection between the 
Sacrament and the Madonna. Both on fixed and on 
detached tabernacles the Annunciation has often been 
portrayed, and the greeting words of the announcing 
angel engraved. 35 There are also some small Host- 
shrines shaped as statuettes of the Mother of God. 86 
When the custom of preserving the Host in the altar- 
pieces themselves had commenced, the thought could 
with still greater ease pass over from the eucharistic 


God to the incarnation of the Highest in human form, 
and to the human being in whom He had His abode. 
The paintings above the Mass-table, indeed, represented 
not only scenes from the life of the saints whose relics 
were guarded at or on the altar and events from the 
great Passion story, which was repeated in the renewed 
sacrifice of the Sacrament, but they also portrayed the 
great and holy tabernacle : Mary, the Virgin Mother. 

When followed to its logical conclusion, however, 
the line of thought by which the Host was identified 
with the God-man led to some further associations of 
ideas which were important for the whole of religious 
and aesthetic life. If Mary and the Tabernacle had a 
common characteristic in that they both enclosed the 
Deity, the same characteristic could be accorded also to 
those who in the Communion partook of the body of 
the Highest. The priest who daily celebrates Mass 
and thereby appropriates the Sacrament in both its 
forms the bread and the wine is regarded in con- 
sequence of this as a dwelling-place of God. He is a 
sacred shrine, which even externally we may think of 
the Catholic Mass robes is quite as expensively deco- 
rated and adorned as any tabernacle or reliquary. Quite 
literally he appears to Catholic ideas as a Host-preserver. 
" Special hiders of God's body," Birgitta calls the priests ; 
and she asserts, with an exaggeration which is found 
also in S. Bernard's writings, " that their office is higher 
than the angels " since they touch with their hands and 
mouth Him whom the angels would fear to handle. 37 
In Thomas Aquinas's Mass doctrine this thought is ex- 
pressed still more unmistakably. The wine, he says, 
must not be given to laymen, since God's blood must 
be preserved in specially costly vessels ; but the priest 
is a vessel of solid gold, adorned with the precious 


stones of the virtuous. 38 " How great and honourable is 
the priests' calling/ 7 cries the author of De imitatione 
Christi^ " since with holy words they consecrate the God 
of glory, and bless Him with their lips, hold Him in 
their hands, receive Him in their own mouths, and offer 
Him to others. How clean should the hands be, how 
clean the mouth, how holy the body, and how spotless 
the heart of the priest to whom the Lord of purity so 
often enters." S9 All the ideas connected with the imple- 
ments of the Mass are, it seems, applied also to the 
celebrant of the Mass. We have only to read how 
S. Bernard specifies the duties and rights of priests. " To 
the Levites it is said, purify yourselves, ye who bear the 
Lord's vessels (Isaiah lii 11), but to you it should be 
said, purify yourselves, ye who are the Lord's vessels. 
In you is buried the honourable and glorified body that 
once was buried lifeless at Jerusalem." " Woe to thee if 
thou hast not laid Him in a new or at any rate renewed 
grave, i.e. in a body that is pure from sin, or if thou 
hast sinned, purified through repentance and penance. 
Woe to thee if thou hast not buried Him in a clean 
shroud, i.e. in a conscience that has been purified and 
freed from every spot/' The rock grave in which none 
had been buried save the Highest, and the clean wrap- 
pings with which Joseph of Arimathea covered the dead 
Saviour, serve as similes for the celebrant's undefiled 
virtue. 40 

For one who, like S. Bernard, wrote for priests, it was 
natural to insist primarily on the demands for purity. 
Those authors, on the other hand, who addressed 
the laity, laid most stress upon the holiness of the 
celebrants and the reverence due to them by reason of 
their calling. By no fault or offence could the priests 
entirely forfeit the rank they acquired from their con- 


nection with God. 41 S. Francis of Assisi has expressed 
more sincerely and more intimately than any one else 
the veneration of the faithful for those who daily bear 
the Supreme Being in their bodies. il If" he says in 
his testament, " I possessed all the wisdom of Solomon 
and met some poor minor priests out in the country 
side, I should not like to preach without their permis- 
sion. Them, and all other priests, I will fear, love, and 
honour as my lords, and I will not look upon their sin, 
for I see God's Son in them, and they are my lords. 
And I do so because here on earth I see nothing of the 
Divine Son of God save His most holy flesh and blood, 
which the priests partake of, and which they alone dis- 
tribute to others/' The brothers of the order, according 
to Francis's instructions, should even be prepared to kiss 
the hoofs of the horse ridden by a priest. 42 When 
we read these pious outpourings we understand how, 
according to Catholics, the celebrant by the eating and 
drinking partook of a holiness that made him literally 
a being worthy of worship. 

The same ideas must naturally be applied, if in a 
lesser degree, to the communicating laymen. Every 
man who partakes at Mass of God's body is transformed 
thereby into a covering of the Supreme Being. He 
does not become holy, but he acquires a high dignity, 
and is weighted by a heavy responsibility. The pious, 
who prepare themselves for Mass, seek therefore with 
all their power to make themselves fit, in the religious 
expression, to offer their sinful bodies as a dwelling-place 
for God. Accordingly, just as in the arrangement of 
the Tabernacle, the Holy Place was shielded from defile- 
ment with anxious and solicitous reverence and was 
adorned with devout zeal, so in their own persons men 
desired to avoid all uncleanness and to deck themselves 


as well as possible in order to receive God in a worthy 
tabernacle. 43 In this aim, it was said, they imitated the 
Madonna, who humbly, reverently, and piously had 
offered her bosom to the Lord of worlds. In the 
chief devotional book of the Middle Ages, De imitatione 
Christi, " the disciple," preparing himself for Mass, ex- 
pressly compares himself to the Mother of God : " Lord 
God, my Creator and Eedeemer, with such great affec- 
tion, n reverence, praise, and honour, with such great 
thankfulness, worthiness, and love, with such good faith, 
hope, and purity, I desire to receive Thee this day, as 
Thy most holy Mother, the glorious Virgin Mary, received 
and desired Thee when, after the angel had announced 
to her the mystery of the Incarnation, humbly and 
piously she answered: 'Behold the handmaid of the 
Lord, be it unto me as Thou hast said/ " ** The glorious 
Virgin who housed the Supreme in the pure and lovely 
temple of her being was thus the pattern for all believing 

To the mystic who wrote the Imitation of Christ 
the external dignity was only a symbol for the inner 
state of mind. The pious ought to receive the Incarnate 
God into their bodies adorned with virtues and cleansed 
from sin. The idea that the Highest c'ould be enclosed 
in a human being led thus to a striving which was not 
merely aesthetic, but which also, if followed out in all 
its results, might have succeeded in winning a far- 
reaching ethical significance. It is not, indeed, probable 
that the moral applications of the Mass doctrine were 
known to the great majority of believers, but in the 
ritualistic authors many proofs can be found that the 
symbolism of the tabernacle was understood in a purely 
mental sense. Durandus, for example, speaks of the 
Host-shrine as corresponding to man's memory, which 


carefully harbours in its repository all God's gifts to 
the race. 46 

The conception of the Sacred Shrine which lay at the 
root of the symbolism of the altar, the reliquaries, and 
the tabernacles, has thus been more and more extended. 
It embraces, as appeared in the first chapters of this 
research, many peculiar architectural and decorative 
objects, which by reason of certain dogmas were con- 
sidered sacred by those confessing a certain form of 
religion. But it includes also another covering which is 
precious by reason of the contents it may enclose. This 
last sanctuary is a sacred shrine which, independently of 
religious assumptions, is worthy of being reverenced by 
every one : the body of man and the soul of man, the 
noblest subject for all art and the finest groundwork of 
any adornment. 

The symbolism associated with these coverings and 
their contents will be the subject of the latter half of 
this work. There, in accordance with the nature of the 
task, architecture and the decorative arts will no longer 
be touched upon. It is in the representations of paint- 
ing and sculpture, and above all of poetry, that we must 
seek Catholicism's ideal type of physical and pioral 
beauty, i.e. the human Virgin, who by reason of her 
grace and her virtues was found worthy to be the 
Mother of God. 




Wherfore in laude, as I can best and may, 

Of thee and of the white lily flour, 

Which that thee bare, and is a maide alway, 

To tell a storie I wol do my labour ; 

Not that I may encresen hire honour, 

For she hireselven is honour and rote 

Of bountee, next hire son, and soules bote. 

CHAUCER, The Prioresses Tale. 

IN the first part of this work an account has been 
given of a number of symbolical ideas derived from the 
doctrine of the consecrated wafer's identity with the 
Godhead. It has been shown that Catholic ritual 
and ritual art meet around that mystery through which 
the Highest reveals Himself to men, and allows Himself 
to be appropriated by them in the shape of earthly 
bread. It has also been shown that the same doctrine 
of the Sacramental transformation, which gave their 
sanctity to the altar -place and to the altar imple- 
ments and an awful and mighty meaning to the 
altar ceremonies, has also led to the dwelling-place of 
the Host being associated in the minds of the pious 
with the Mother of God, i.e. with the tabernacle of 
God's human body. Through this association our 
inquiry was immediately transferred to another idea, 
which was as important for religious art and religious 
and aesthetic life as was the Mass doctrine. The 



Sacramental incarnation in the altar - miracle has its 
correspondence in the birth, at oace natural and super- 
natural, of the Deity as a man. This mystery is for 
Catholic art, Catholic poetry, and Catholic devotion as, 
important fundamentally as the great Mass mystery. 

Just as the table and instruments of the Mass are 
the holiest of all earthly objects, so Mary, i.e. the in- 
strument through which the divine birth was made 
possible, is the holiest of all earthly beings. The 
symbolical ideas attached to the great Sacrament fre- 
quently have their counterparts, even in the minutest 
details, in the symbols of the Incarnation ; and the 
state of mind with which the pious regard the Mother 
of God is in many respects similar to the devotion 
towards the altar-miracle. The cult of the Madonna is 
based, like that of the Host, on the idea that the 
Supreme Being entered into relationship with earthly 
elements. The earthly elements, the bread and wine or 
the human flesh, become by reason of this relationship 
the objects of an adoring veneration, and the venera- 
tion in each case expresses itself in an anxious care 
for the inviolability of what is holy. 

Our account of the Mass doctrine has shown that 
the Sacrament gave rise to a ritual science, which 
made the altar-service a model of earnest and careful 
cleanliness. The altar is a table, and the Communion 
is a meal ; but the table and its implements are ideal 
types of all household goods, and the meal consists 
in an eating and drinking from which it is sought to 
abstract all gross elements. The appropriation of the 
eucharistic God becomes an act in which nutrition is 
idealised and in which the biological phenomenon 
achieves to use the expression of the pious its 
sanctification. Through a similar aesthetic and religious 


idealisation, the second fundamental process of life lias 
been raised to a higher plane in the cult of the 
Madonna. Mary is a mother, who conceives and gives 
birth to and suckles a child ; but the child is a God at 
the same time as it is a man, and according to the 
religious idea its holiness must not be profaned by too 
close a contact with what is earthly. Just as in the 
handling of the eucharistic God in Catholic ritual the 
utmost care was taken to avoid any wasting or defile- 
ment of the Holy of holies, so in Catholic dogmatics 
pious labour and subtle arguments have striven to 
isolate the idea of God's life from the ideas of the low 
and unclean elements which are thought to be inherent 
in natural generation. Thus the Madonna becomes the 
model for all mothers, an ideal type which serves as a 
pattern for earthly women, but which cannot be in any 
way confused with them. The principle of the in- 
violability of what is holy is carried so far that it 
ends in a paradox. That Mary should be a real 
mother to her Divine Child was demanded by pious 
devotion ; but the worship of the Holy of holies 
required at the same time that she, as the Mother and 
fostress of God, should be spotlessly pure. Therefore, 
the Catholic process of thought logically led to the 
doctrine of a woman in whom motherhood was freed 
from all earthly and material elements. The processes 
of life are sanctified in her person, but that person 
stands so high as to be quite independent of human 
conditions. For the Madonna is indeed a mother, but 
she is at the same time a virgin. 

It is in the union of these opposites that we must 
seek the fundamental trait in the Madonna-type of the 
Eoman Church. Such as this type meets us in poetry 
and painting, it is a product of an aesthetic activity, 


but even in this case the artistic production is based 
upon dogmatic development. Just as we cannot fully 
understand the decoration of the Church without know- 
ing the theology of the Mass, so we cannot rightly com- 
prehend the poems and pictures of the Madonna if we 
have not made ourselves acquainted with the doctrine 
of the Holy Virgin's personality. To a considerable 
extent, therefore, the statements we are about to make 
in the following chapters are based upon a study 
of the purely theological literature of the Middle Ages 
and early Christianity. It has, however, not been 
thought necessary to give space in this work to a detailed 
account of doctrinal history. The development of 
dogmas is treated, therefore, only in a hasty and com- 
pressed introduction, in which the reader will, as far as 
possible, be spaxed explanations of mere Church history. 

Many learned battles have been fought out over the 
date at which the worship of the Madonna commenced. 
Without examining the arguments brought forward 
by experts, we may take it for granted, on good 
grounds, that the cult of Mary did not originate in 
the earliest Christian community. The idea that the 
Mother of Jesus occupied an exceptional position among 
mankind, and was thus worthy of homage by the side 
of her Son, could not have won widespread acceptance 
among the faithful so long as the immediate apostolical 
traditions were still living. The distinctive features in 
the Catholic Church's figure of the Madonna are in 
many respects so openly at strife with the narratives of 
the canonical gospels, that a far-reaching work of inter- 
pretation must have been carried out before the text of 
the Bible could be brought into harmony with the 
demands of the cult of Mary. To understand the 


course of this development, It is necessary to examine 
what is recorded of the Mother of Jesus in the oldest 

If we read through the narrative books of the New 
Testament without preconceived opinions, we cannot 
avoid being surprised at the inconspicuous place there 
allotted to Mary. In S. Mark's Gospel which accord- 
ing to most modern critics must be regarded as the 
earliest of the Synoptic Gospels the Holy Virgin is only 
mentioned once (iii. 31-35), namely, in the story of how 
Jesus replied, when told that His mother and brothers 
called for Him, " whosoever shall do the will of God, 
the same is my brother and my sister and mother." 
This utterance, which is introduced with unimportant 
variations in the first and third gospels also (Matthew 
xii. 46-50, Luke viii. 19-21), certainly does not indicate 
that the Saviour desired to raise Mary above all other 
human beings. Rather He seems to wish to deny that 
He was bound to His mother by any natural bond of 
kinship entitling her to a place of honour by His side. 1 
Such a thought is expressed still more clearly in S. Luke's 
narrative of how Jesus rebukes the woman of the people 
who lifted up her voice to praise His mother : " But He 
said : yea, rather blessed are they that hear the word 
of God and keep it " (Luke xi. 27-28). 

These utterances gain all the more importance if 
placed in connection with the fact that Mary is never 
spoken of as partaking in Jesus 7 work of teaching. The 
canonical gospels even leave us in ignorance as to the 
position His mother occupied in relation to her Son's 
mission. Were it not for the short mention of her in 
the first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles which 
refers to the time after Jesus 7 death we should not 
even know if she had attached herself to His party. 


The words of S. Mark (iii. 21), that Jesus' mother and 
friends feared that His mind was deranged, do not show 
that Mary was convinced of her Son's divine nature and 
calling ; and we seek in vain for her name in the lists 
of those who followed Jesus during the decisive events 
in His life. Only S. John's Gospel (which is generally 
considered to date from a later period than the others) 
ascribes to the mother a place by the Cross ; but not 
even here and still less in the Synoptic Gospels 
is Mary named among those who shared in the great 
events after the crucifixion. To judge from the 
canonical narrative, she was not present when Christ 
was laid in the grave; and in the story of how the 
pious women go to the grave with salves and oint- 
ments, there is special mention among these women of 
Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary, the mother of 
James (Luke xxiv. 10), but not of Mary the mother 
of Jesus. Again, when Jesus rose from the grave, He 
showed Himself first to Mary Magdalene, and after- 
wards to His disciples ; but the Bible does not tell us 
that He revealed himself to that Mary who stood closer 
to Him than either the disciples or the pious women. 

If the canonical writings, therefore, contain little 
which corresponds with all that Catholic art and theology 
tell us about the sorrowing mother, yet this does not in 
itself prove that the doctrine of the Eoman Church 
definitely conflicts with the oldest traditions. For, 
according to the Catholic explanation, the name of 
Jesus' mother has often been intentionally omitted in 
the Gospels, since it could not in any way be even 
questioned that she above all others supported her 
Son during His sufferings. 2 Such an argument, how- 
ever, can only be applied when we have to account 
for the lack of reference to the Holy Virgin. It has no 


weight as against those Bible passages in which Mary is 
spoken of, but spoken of in words which cannot be 
harmonised with the dogmas as to her distinctive char- 
acteristics. The Evangelists, indeed, leave the mother 
out of view when they portray their Master's greatness 
and suffering, and in doing so they give the imagination 
full scope to picture for itself the Madonna's part, in the 
Passion story ; but they could not do otherwise than 
notice the mother when they had to speak of God's 
human birth, and to describe His life as a human child. 
In the first chapters of the Gospels of S. Matthew and 
S. Luke, therefore, Mary is the real protagonist ; and in 
these chapters there are some expressions which would be 
entirely unintelligible if during the earliest period the 
Madonna had in reality been regarded as Catholic dogma 
would have us think her. 

"We need not, however, attach any great weight to 
the much-discussed Bible passages, in which mention is 
made of "Jesus' brothers and sisters/ 9 These words 
have, indeed, led Jewish and Protestant critics to assert 
that, after the birth of Jesus, Mary bore some earthly 
children to Joseph, and that consequently she did not 
remain a virgin throughout her life. In support of 
such a conclusion there have been quoted also those 
expressions in the New Testament in which Jesus has 
been specially described as Mary's Jirst-born son 
(Matthew i 25, Luke ii. 7). But it has been urged on 
the other side that the title " first-born," which in the 
Mosaic law carried with it a judicial privilege, was often 
applied even to sons who had no younger brothers or 
sisters. 3 It has further been advanced that the expres- 
sion "brothers" can well be understood in a wider 
meaning, i.e. as referring to half-brothers or cousins. 4 
Catholic apologists have, therefore, been able to repulse, 


with a certain success, what was to them a disturbing' 
accusation, to wit that she who had borne a God could 
later lower herself to be the mother of human children. 

On the other hand, the fact that S. Matthew, in 
speaking of Joseph's relationship to Mary (I 25), quite 
evidently refers to an earthly connection between them 
after Jesus' birth, has been a bad stumbling-block for 
the dogmatists. 5 Some authors have tried to evade 
this inconvenient expression by means of a philological 
explanation, 6 while others have chosen the safer way of 
ignoring it entirely. 7 An isolated passage can, indeed, 
be easily overlooked by the less careful critics. But it 
seems impossible, at least for one who is no theologian, 
to stifle those objections to the dogma of Mary's virginal 
motherhood which are raised by the Evangelists' accounts 
of Jesus' descent. As is well known, it is emphatically 
asserted that the Saviour was God's Son, and not 
begotten by any human father ; but at the same time 
it is stated that as a man he belonged to the old 
Jewish royal family, that he was "a lord of David's 
line." To prove his right to this title, S. Matthew and 
S. Luke produced two pedigrees, which begin, one with 
Adam and the other with Abraham, but which both 
end with Josepli that Joseph who, according to the 
doctrine of all Christian Churches, was indeed Mary's 
husband but not Jesus' father. In Luke's text the 
genealogical tree is introduced at once with an assertion 
that Jesus was, " as was believed, the son of Joseph." 
It must strike everybody that the Evangelists quote 
as proof a document which, according to their own 
admissions, has no application to the case in point. 

If we turn to theological literature, we seek in vain 
for any solution of this contradiction. Any one who has 
not previously committed himself to a definite attitude, 


can never be convinced that, as modern commentators 
assert, the pedigrees really referred to Mary and not to 
Joseph. There is only one interpretation which can 
bring clearness into this involved story, and this inter- 
pretation does not harmonise with the doctrine of the 
virginal motherhood : that people were inclined to 
prove Jesus' descent from David through Joseph (and 
did not wish to or could not find any connection with 
David in the person of Mary) must have been due to 
the fact that a relationship was earlier assumed between 
Jesus and the man whom the Church calls his earthly 
foster father. We are, therefore, justified in supposing 
that the genealogical portions of the Gospels date from 
a period when the dogma of the divine conception had 
not yet been developed. 8 

In support of this view we may refer to the doctrines 
of certain religious communities which long survived by 
the side of the orthodox Church, and which probably 
represent the opinions of the earliest generations. The 
so-called Jewish Christians, the "Ebionites," never 
recognised that Jesus had been born otherwise than as 
a man. In His resurrection they saw a miracle suffi- 
ciently great to enable them to dispense with the dogma 
of the miraculous conception, and they believed that it 
was not until His baptism that He assumed His divine 
nature. In the canonical account of the baptism we 
can still, in the opinion of some critics, recognise traces 
of such a view, which has, therefore, been supposed to 
have prevailed among the compilers of the lost original 
Gospel. 9 For that generation, or for those generations 
which adopted this view, the sacred history proper only 
began at the moment where the Gospel of S. Mark 
commences that is to say, Jesus was regarded as 
something more than a man, only from the moment 


when the dove descended over His head at His baptism. 
Mary might, indeed, appear to these Jewish Christians 
as a venerable figure for she had been mother to Him 
who was to become a God ; but she could not herself 
be considered a holy being ; she had never taken part 
in any miracle, and she was as yet no Madonna. There 
was, therefore, no occasion to occupy oneself with her 
personal life more than is done in S. Mark's Gospel. 

This first period in the history of the idea of the 
Madonna cannot, however, have had a long duration. 
In the narratives of S. Matthew and S. Luke we 
already meet with a fully developed idea of Jesus' 
supernatural birth, and it is not difficult to understand 
the original reason why the Christian faith was no 
longer able to retain the view which had prevailed in 
the earliest community. For the more Christianity 
spread among heathen peoples, the more it must have 
been influenced by the heathen way of looking at things. 
As is well known, all the ancient mythologies contained 
traditions of heroes and demi-gods who were born super- 
naturally of a divine father and a human mother. What 
is more noteworthy, there was even mention e.g. in the 
myths of Buddha, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, and Plato 
of cases of miraculous birth, in which the father had 
been a god or spirit, and the mother had been, and 
moreover remained after the birth, an earthly virgin. 
These old and precious ideas of the supernatural origin 
of great men were not willingly renounced by those 
who accepted the new religion ; 10 nor was it necessary 
to make such a sacrifice, because men thought that they 
could recognise in the Jewish traditions something 
corresponding to the heathen legends. In the Greek 
septuagint translation of the Old Testament, Isaiah's 
famous prophecy as to the young woman who should 


bear her people's Saviour Immanuel (vii. 14) was 
rendered as a prophecy about a virgin who should bear 
him. Instead of the Hebrew word alma there had been 
introduced, not its exact equivalent veavw, but the 
word T7ap0evo$. 11 Thus a fatal mistake, of which the 
seventy translators were guilty, brought about that 
confusion of heathen fables and Jewish tradition which 
still lies at the root of the creeds of all the Christian 
Churches. By applying the old prophecy to the hero 
of the new religion, it could be shown that Jesus 
Immanuel came into the world by means of a miracle 
similar to that by which the ancient gods and goddesses 
were born. In this idea the converts could find food 
for that belief in the miraculous which their own 
mythologies had fostered in them. 

We must not suppose, however, that only former 
heathens appreciated the doctrine of the Saviour's super- 
natural birth. The idea served the needs of religious 
polemics too well to be thrust aside by Christian apolo- 
gists. There had, indeed, been spread among Jews and 
heathens many slanderous tales concerning the holy 
Virgin, which could not be without effect on the ideas 
of her Son's dignity. 12 Even if it had been successfully 
proved that Mary never had any earthly lover, but 
lived as a faithful wife to Joseph, yet a struggle had 
still to be fought against all those unbelievers who could 
not see anything divine in a man whose father and 
mother, brothers and sisters, were human beings like 
themselves (Matthew xiii. 56). Both calumny and 
doubt, however, were unanswerably refuted by referring 
to the supernatural and virginal birth. Therefore the 
error of translation in the text of the Greek Bible was 
steadfastly adhered to, and all those who wished to 
correct the old mistake were persecuted. When in the 


time of Hadrian, the old Rabbi Aquila introduced into 
Ids literal rendering of the Old Testament the expression 
" young woman," instead of " virgin," he was accused of 
having attacked, with deliberate malice, one of the 
fundamental truths of Christianity. 13 The Church's 
conception soon proved victorious over all the philo- 
logical science of heretics; and when the opposition 
had been silenced, the idea of the Saviour's person 
had become quite different from that which had 
probably prevailed among the earliest communities. 
Messias, it was said, had not been born in the same 
way as other men, and therefore He, the virgin-born, 
was from His very birth, and even before His birth, a 
God. Believers needed not confine themselves to wor- 
shipping an adult Jesus who partook of a higher nature 
only after His baptism the very child was worthy to be 
honoured and praised with devout veneration. Starting 
from this line of thought, we should logically arrive at 
the dogma of Mary's sanctity, Le. at the cult of the 
Madonna, who bore God in her virgin womb. 

The agitation against the Ebionite doctrines of the 
Saviour's purely natural birth might, however, be carried 
so far as to lead to a neglect of His mother's importance. 
When people had once begun to emphasise the super- 
natural element in Jesus' real nature, they were in 
many cases driven to conceive of His whole earthly 
existence as a mere illusion. He was too high and 
great, it was said, to stand in any kind of relationship 
to His human kinsfolk. In order to defend the Church's 
doctrine, it was advantageous that Joseph could be 
looked upon as merely a foster-father ; but as a result 
of further progress in this direction Mary's position 
in the religious hierarchy was imperilled. For it was 
easy to see in her also only a foster-mother of the 


incarnate God. Indeed, it was stated by certain 
gnostic sects that God tie Father and the Holy Spirit 
had been Jesus' real parents. 14 If such a view had 
become predominant in the Church no worship of the 
Madonna could ever have arisen. It is not for an out- 
sider to determine whether religious life would have 
gained or lost thereby, but it is at any rate certain 
that religious art would have missed its most grateful 
and important subject. For the dogma which became 
the Church's dogma, after the opinions of both the 
Ebionites and the gnostic Doketists had been successfully 
crushed, is one which, better than any other, satisfied 
the demands of aesthetic production and of aesthetic 
feelings. Mary's actual motherhood was emphasised 
as against those who denied her physical relationship 
to the God-man ; while, on the other hand, her virginity 
was emphasised as against those who disbelieved in the 
Child's divine nature and supernatural birth. In chang- 
ing formulae, but with unvarying import, the philosophy 
of beauty has always raised a demand for the blending of 
ideal purity and tangible reality. This demand cannot 
be more perfectly fulfilled than in the Church's paradox 
concerning Mary : a woman who is virgin and mother ; 
who is entirely human, yet bears God in her body ; who 
is sufficiently high to be reverently worshipped, yet is 
sufficiently near to be reached by affection. The Catholic 
Madonna is a mythical creation, just as, from an agnostic 
point of view, every personal and anthropomorphic god 
is a myth; but if we judge myths merely as artistic 
creations, we must recognise that no god or goddess 
has given its worshippers such an ideal as the Mary of 
Christian art and poetry. 

It is important to establish the fact that the funda- 
mental traits in the Madonna ideal, namely, purity and 


sublimity, can be recognised already in the description 
of Mary given by S. Matthew and S. Luke. The con- 
tradictions in the accounts of the genealogy of Jesus 
prove indeed, as was said above, that the authors of the 
first and the third gospels depended upon older texts, 
dating from a time when His supernatural birth was not 
yet recognised. On the other hand, the same contradic- 
tions show that when these gospels were compiled an 
attempt was made to bring the traditions of the first 
Christian generation into harmony with a newer con- 
ception. It was this aim that lay at the foundation of the 
clumsy editorial addition at the beginning of S. Luke's 
pedigree to the effect that Jesus, " as was believed," was 
the son of Joseph. Orthodox criticism was not aroused 
by the unreasonableness of the introduction by the 
Evangelist of a pedigree, the importance of which was 
denied at its starting-point. All the features in the 
sacred narrative which alluded to a natural course of 
events were overlooked, and attention was fixed only 
upon the miraculous element in the legends of the 
Annunciation and Conception. It was all the easier 
to emphasise merely the supernatural points, because 
in the latest of the synoptic books certain expressions 
were to be found which contained an undoubted glori- 
fication of Mary's person. S. Luke speaks of her as 
"full of grace," and as "blessed among women." This 
use of terms does not, indeed, prove that Mary had 
already become the object of any cult ; but it does show 
that in the middle of the second century certain condi- 
tions necessary for the development of the Madonna cult 
already existed. 15 During this period we might expect 
to find the Holy Mother pictured in art or sung in poetry. 
However, the time was not yet come when Mary was 
to play a prominent part in Christian devotional life. 


In order that the Holy Virgin should take a 
dominating place among Christian conceptions, it was 
necessary that the ideas of her purity and sublimity 
should be emphasised more than they were in the meagre 
descriptions of the Evangelists. This result was brought 
about by the quarrels and disputes which occupied the 
religious life of the faithful during the fourth and fifth 
centuries. Here we must first take into account the 
stream of asceticism which broke over the Western 
Church at this time. The fact that men began to 
regard with fear and shrinking everything belonging 
to earthly life, favoured the development of the Mary 
dogma in a double sense. The more people saw un- 
cleanliness in the processes of human life, the more 
were they driven to accentuate the idea of the perfect 
purity of the Mother of God. She was, it was said, 
not only a virgin in her motherhood, but throughout 
her life she had been protected from every physical 
and mental pollution. Only from such a being could 
the Highest have been born without a profanation of 
His Godhead. But if the solicitude of pious thought 
for the Holy of holies thus gave an increased import- 
ance to the doctrine of Mary's absolute virginity, this 
doctrine in its turn promoted the ideas of her holiness. 
For according to the severe and life -hating outlook, 
asceticism was a bloodless martyrdom, which was quite 
as pleasing to God as a bloody one. 16 It was, there- 
fore, so men thought, by reason of personal merit that 
Mary was able to serve as Mother to the Highest. 
Previously her person had been to some extent thrust 
aside in favour of the men and women who had suffered 
death for their faith, but now her rank became as 
high as theirs. She was worshipped in cloisters and in 
the huts of hermits as the perfect model for all pious 


monks and nuns. She was regarded as the natural 
protectress of those who desired to realise in their 
lives the ascetic ideals, and her purity was glorified 
by those authors who desired to develop in their 
readers a contempt for the joys of earthly existence. 17 

Though the ascetic movement thus lay at the root 
of the ideas of Mary's sinlessness, yet it could not 
immediately influence theological literature proper. It 
was now, as always, the needs of religious controversy 
which led to the doctrine being defined in a dogmatic 
formula. For in the fourth century, as at the time 
when the gospels were written, fierce battles had to be 
fought out with unbelievers who refused to accept the 
Church's point of view. The same passages about Jesus' 
" brothers and sisters," and about Jesus as Mary's first- 
born, that had already given rise to the ancient Ebionites' 
disparaging assertions in regard to the Mother of God, 
were again brought to the fore in the fourth century 
by opponents of the ascetic morality. Thus Jovinianus, 
the friend of Hieronymus's youth, sought, by referring to 
Mary's sons and daughters, to defend earthly marriage 
against the condemnation of moralisers. In the course 
of the controversy which as a consequence flamed up 
between him and Hieronymus, the Madonna's virginity 
was demonstrated with the aid of subtle arguments 
from the Old Testament prophets. At the same time 
Ambrosius, with a less violent but equally ingenious 
dialectic, was contending against Bonosius, who had like- 
wise ventured to assert that Mary had borne children 
to Joseph after the birth of Jesus. Criticism and doubt 
could not shake the belief in the virginity of the Mother 
of God. Their only result was that the doctrine was 
held more firmly than before. 18 

The second of the two dogmas fundamental to 


the Madonna cult also received its logical justification 
and its paradoxical exaggeration during the struggles 
against "heretical errors." After the Church Council 
at Nicaea in 325 had determined that the Son was 
of the same nature as the Father, the custom of speak- 
ing of Mary as a theotdkos a Mother of God grew 
more and more common. Especially the Eastern fathers 
Athanasius, Ephraim Syrus, Eusebius, and Chrysostomus 
made frequent use of this name in their writings. 19 
Just as they did not weary of dilating upon the miracle 
of a virgin being able to bear a child and yet remain 
a virgin, so also they praised in pompous theological 
rhetoric this second wonder : that a created being had 
given birth to its own Creator. Such expressions, how- 
ever, could not but challenge the criticism of those who 
were unwilling entirely to subordinate their reason to 
faith, and the contradictions only resulted in the dogma 
winning greater power over the minds of the orthodox. 
Nestorius, the patriarch of Constantinople, was the 
advocatus diaboli, who against his will did more than 
any one else indirectly to promote the worship of Mary 
as Mother of God.** 

Jovinianus and Bonosius represented the view which 
had been held by the Ebionites. Nestorius, in his 
doctrine, expressed a conception which agreed to a 
certain extent with the assertions of the Doketists. 
Like them, he did not admit that the two natures of 
the Saviour entered into a complete union. In the 
passion and humiliation the Divine Being had no part, 
and it was in his opinion only the man that had been 
born of Mary. The idea that the Highest Himself sub- 
mitted to the conditions of earthly life was, therefore, 
an abomination against which a Christian ought to pro- 
test with all his might, and Nestorius did not hesitate 


publicly to attack those who worshipped the infant Child 
as a God and its mother as a fostress of God. His zeal 
even caused him to create a disturbance in the church 
where Bishop Proclus had preached in glorification of 
Mary theotdkos, and he was not satisfied with con- 
demning the current Madonna worship by word of 
mouth. He disseminated his views in small pamphlets 
which circulated among the Eastern communities and 
were even spread among the monks and hermits in 
Egypt. In these regions, however, he was met by an 
opponent who would not allow him to continue his 
agitation unhindered. S. Cyril, Bishop of Alexandria, 
confuted his views in a circular letter directed to all the 
cloisters in Egypt. This was the beginning of a duel 
between Cyril and Nestorius, which in fierceness and 
importance can only be compared with that between 
Arius and Athanasius. 

The decisive encounter was waged in 431 at the 
great and universal Church Council at Ephesus, at 
which the doctrine of Mary's personality and her 
relation to the Trinity were definitely fixed. There 
is no need here to go into all the parliamentary and 
unparliamentary stratagems by which either party, 
ad maiorem Dei gloriam, sought to win the advantage 
over the other. Eecourse was had, perhaps more than 
at any subsequent period, to systematic obstruction. 
Forcible steps were taken to silence opponents, and 
people did not hesitate even to imprison too contentious 
antagonists. The result of all these transactions was 
that late in the autumn, when most of the participants 
were wearied out by the debates and ill or impoverished 
by their enforced residence in a foreign town, the ortho- 
dox party that which wins bears the title for the future 
received the assent both of the Council and the 


Emperor to the doctrine that Mary was a Mother of 
God. The theot6kos dogma had Issued victoriously 
from the strife, and Ephesus could boast of being the 
birthplace of the official Madonna cult. 

It seems as if it must have been something more 
than a mere coincidence that it was from this town 
that the worship of the Virgin Mother was proclaimed. 
It was in Ephesus that the Evangelist John had lived 
during the latter part of his life, and it was with him 
that Jesus' mother found a home after her Son's death. 
For this reason a local tradition had developed to the 
effect that the Holy Virgin was buried at Ephesus. The 
church in which the Council met was the first and, at 
that time, the only church in Christendom which had 
been devoted to the worship of the Madonna. She 
had been prayed to here long before any other place 
had accorded her any prominent rank among the great 
saints. Thus the Church and the cult seem in this case 
too to have been associated with the place where the 
saint's body had been buried. 21 

There Is, however, no foundation for the supposition 
that Mary either lived or died at Ephesus. This sup- 
position, indeed, conflicts with the majority of the 
Apocryphal narratives. 22 It is easy, therefore, to see 
in the Asiatic local legends a survival of old heathen 
myths. The Madonna, so one is apt to imagine, might 
have taken in the cult of the Ephesians the place 
of some divinity which had been expelled. It would 
be neither the first nor the last time that Christian 
theology had met with an ancient tradition and absorbed 
heathen conceptions. Besides, the moment must have 
been particularly favourable for such a fusion, for as a 
result of theological speculation an idea had been formed 


of the Madonna's perfections, which, was calculated to 
make her the object of a cult similar to those of the 
heathen gods and goddesses. 

All these suppositions win convincing probability 
if we think of the kind of memories which were attached 
to the place where the great Church Council was held. 
From primitive times Ephesus had been the centre for 
the worship of a goddess who united in herself the 
virtues of virginity and motherhood : Artemis, the lofty 
divinity of hunting, of the moon, of child-birth and 
chastity. Her temple was one of the wonders of the 
ancient world, and her name one of the mightiest ii?t 
antique mythology. Even from the Bible we can get 
some idea of her greatness. When Paul tried to preach 
at Ephesus, he met with opposition from all the gold- 
smiths who gained a livelihood by selling small models 
of the city's temple. If this man, they said, is allowed 
to continue changing the people's belief, not only will 
our craft die out, but there is danger also that " the 
temple of the great goddess Diana should be despised, 
and her magnificence should be destroyed, whom all 
Asia and the world worshippeth." At this speech the 
people became full of wrath and ran together through the 
streets calling out : " Great is Diana of the Ephesians " 
(Acts xix. 24-29). 

The new religion had brought the temple of the 
goddess into obscurity even more quickly and more 
completely than could have been feared. Her magnifi- 
cence was destroyed for the space of some generations, 
and the place of her cult lost its importance. But 
when Cyril and his party succeeded in establishing the 
dogma that the Virgin Mary was the Mother of God, it 
was as if the old cry had gone forth over the world with 
a new proclamation : Great is the Madonna of the 


Epliesians. The goddess of the Christians was greater 
than Diana, her name was mightier than any of the 
heathen gods, and all the wonders of the ancient world 
were to be put into the shade by the buildings that would 
be raised by her worshippers. Even the old goldsmiths 
who demonstrated against Paul would have felt com- 
forted could they have survived until the Council at 
Ephesus. The manufacture of small temple models, 
indeed, gained no fresh importance, but it soon appeared 
that the Christian cult gave a far better support to art 
and craftmanship than the heathen religions. The 
struggles that arose over the theotokos dogma immedi- 
ately had a stimulating effect on aesthetic production. 
Pictures were made of the Madonna, in order thereby 
to confess that Mary had not been an ordinary human 
being, but a woman who had borne God in her body. 
Every one who wished to show his hatred for the defeated 
heresy procured a statue or an image of the Holy Mother 
with the Child at her breast. The form of the Madonna 
was introduced in painting or mosaic on the walls of the 
church, her likeness was set up in men's homes, and 
her picture was embroidered on garments and used to 
decorate furniture. 23 If we compare the rich production 
of pictures of the Madonna, which dates from after the 
middle of the fifth century, with the poor output of 
the earlier centuries, we can understand why many 
investigators consider the year 431 as the birth-year of 
the representations of Mary in art. Such a conception, 
however, is too much of a generalisation, and can easily 
be overthrown by referring to the particular portrayals 
of the Holy Virgin which are met with even in the 
earliest Christian art. It seems probable, on the other 
hand, that the Madonna pictures were generally wor- 
shipped as objects of the cult only after 43 1. 24 


In the history of literature and poetry, the Council 
of Ephesus marks no decisive epoch. As mentioned 
above, Mary was glorified in speech and writing as a 
Mother of God even during the fourth century. The 
fact, however, that the theot6kos dogma was determined 
as the Church's universal doctrine, caused Mary's physi- 
cal connection with the Divinity to be emphasised in 
liturgical poetry and in sermons more than ever before. 
And the confessional aim led to a preference for the 
use of just those expressions and similes against which 
Nestorius had directed his criticism. The thought that 
a created being had borne its own Creator and that an 
earthly virgin had enclosed in her womb Him who was 
greater than the worlds, was thus varied in numberless 

The ideas included in the dogmas as to Mary's 
fundamental characteristics can be worked out and 
added to indefinitely. Devotional literature has found 
in them a subject which right up to recent centuries 
showed itself as attractive as it was profitable. Any 
essentially new conceptions, however, could not be intro- 
duced into the doctrine as it was fixed during the first 
centuries. The theological development did not indeed 
stand still. On the contrary, attempts were made, and 
are still being made to-day, to strengthen logically the 
ideal conceptions of a pure and holy Mother of God. 
But all the fierce struggles concerning the Madonna's 
nature which were fought out during the Middle Ages 
and the modern period are nothing but repetitions of 
that dispute which during the second century caused the 
formulation of the texts of the gospels, and which during 
the fifth century led to the resolutions of the Council of 
Ephesus. When the final results have been attained, 


the corollaries have only been drawn of the argumenta- 
tion of earlier generations. In the course of their in- 
fluence upon one another the two fundamental dogmas 
have been accentuated by a more and more paradoxical 
formula. Mary's absolute virginity proves her worthi- 
ness to serve as a dwelling for the Highest ; while her 
capacity as Mother of God presupposes her perfect 
purity. With regard to the first dogma, the develop- 
ment reached its culmination in the doctrine that 
the Madonna was purified from sin even when in her 
mother's womb. As to the second dogma, the pious are 
still waiting for official sanction for their belief that 
Mary's body, the tabernacle of God, was freed from 
mortal laws and was taken up to heaven unchanged ; 
but this belief has none the less, as will appear from 
the subsequent chapters, been as important for aesthetic 
life as any of the dogmas instituted and formally ratified 
by the Church. 



So held she through her girlhood ; as it were 
An angel-watered lily, that near God 
Grows and is quiet. 

D. G-. ROSSETTI, Mary's Girlhood. 

IN the old French invocations to Mary there is a 
frequently recurring expression of which we are reminded 
every time we attempt to understand the treatment ot 
the Virgin in art and poetry: "Marie, ocean des graces." 
The virtues of the Madonna and the grace she wields 
have appeared to her worshippers incomprehensibly 
great. Eeligious ecstasy deprives the pious of all the 
measures by which they can gauge the object of their 
devotion. Therefore they cannot compare her with any- 
thing less than an ocean. It is the typically Catholic 
veneration that expresses itself in this rhetorical picture ; 
but it is not necessary to be a Catholic, or to share the 
feelings of the religious poets, in order to understand 
this bold simile. Even one who examines with cold 
and objectively scientific attention all the works of art 
to which the cult of Mary gave form and character is 
seized by an impression of standing before boundless 
expanses. Mary's influence on aesthetic life and 
aesthetic production that indeed is a subject vast as an 
ocean. If one approaches this wide field of study as an 
uninitiated stranger, one finds it as difficult at first to 



make out one's bearings as upon an open sea; and 
even If one succeeds In gaining a certain bird's-eye view 
of the scene, one is met by the equal difficulty of 
observing a proper balance in the treatment of so 
extensive a material. It will be necessary, therefore, 
in the following chapters to keep a sharp eye upon our 
essential purpose, so as not to be lured into delusive 

A primary measure of precaution has already been 
taken. From the preceding Inquiry it should be clear 
that no attempt will be made to deal with the whole 
of the production by which art served the purpose of 
the Madonna cult. The belief of the pious in the 
influence of the Virgin as an intercessor for mankind, 
and that worship of Mary which is based on the 
conceptions of her share in the great work of Atonement, 
fall entirely outside the scope of this work. We are 
concerned only with the pictorial and poetical motives 
in which the thought of the Virgin Mother's purity 
and sublimity have been expressed, i.e. with those 
aesthetic manifestations and ideas which are derived 
from the conception of Mary as a shrine for the 
incarnate God. In our account of this subject, in 
order to avoid a wearisome prolixity, only so many 
examples will be introduced as are necessary for the 
argument in each special case ; and to avoid repetitions, 
the examples from art and poetry will be arranged, not 
in strictly chronological order, but according to their 
logical connection with one another. 

In accordance with this plan, it seems most natural 
to begin with the legends concerning the Madonna's life. 
After the epic poems and the narrative representations 
of plastic art have been treated of, no long investiga- 
tion will be necessary to explain the manner in which 


the conceptions of the Madonna prevail in the symbols, 
allegories, and similes of lyrical poetry and devotional 

In the canonical narrative, as is well known, Mary's 
history commences with the Annunciation. The Bible 
gives us no information about her earlier life, and 
her personality is characterised only in meagre traits. 
Such a state of things, however, could not satisfy the 
Madonna's worshippers, who demanded as complete a 
knowledge as possible of her fortunes. It was quite 
unavoidable, therefore, that the Mother of God, like the 
less important saints, should become the subject of 
many legends ; so the imagination of believers made 
claims that had to be met by adding to the Bible 
texts. The legends of the Madonna were still more 
necessary than those of the saints, because the gospels, 
even in their final edition, retained many contradic- 
tions which provoked the criticism of doubters. Even 
if the orthodox, as mentioned above, could themselves 
be convinced by S. Luke's attempts to mask the 
old traditions which lay at the root of the pedigrees, 
yet there were outside the community many inquirers 
who had an eye for the weak points in the sacred 
history. The difficulty of finding a refutation of the 
attacks of these blasphemers in the canonical gospels 
has clearly contributed to the origin of the oldest 
known legend of Mary: the Apocryphal, so-called 
Protoevangelion, which was, as early as during the 
first centuries, often quoted by the Fathers in their 
contentions with unbelievers. 

In the Protoevangelion, or as it is also called, the 
Gospel of James, Mary is the chief character, and her 
life is described in a manner designed to forestall 


all heathen or heretical interpretations. In order that 
this history, with its emphasising of the Madonna's 
perpetual virginity, might win an increased authority, 
it was ascribed to James the younger i.e. to the 
very Apostle whom the doubters asserted to have 
been a younger son of Mary. In order, while retain- 
ing the dogma of Jesus 7 supernatural birth, to pre- 
serve the doctrine that he was born of David's line, 
the Mother of God herself was represented as a 
descendant of David a hypothesis which, we may say 
in passing, has been adopted in our own days by many 
Protestant theologians. Further, in order that no doubt 
should exist as to the Madonna's absolute purity and 
holiness, she too, it was said, was born into the world 
in a manner which, if not actually supernatural, was 
at any rate unusual and supernormal. After the model 
of the Old Testament stories and of the narrative of 
John the Baptist's family, Mary was made the child 
of a mother who throughout her earlier life had been 
barren. As a correspondence to Zacharias and Eliza- 
beth, Joachim and Anna were introduced: a pious 
couple who grieved over their childlessness and finally 
received, through messenger angels, the promise of the 
birth of a holy child. Like the parents of Samuel, 
Samson and John, Joachim and Anna dedicate their 
child to God's service. Mary becomes a female 
Nazarite, who takes the vow of chastity for the whole 
of her life, and her marriage with Joseph is made out 
to be a feigned marriage which cannot give rise to 
doubts of her virginity. 

Such is the general tendency of the book which is 
the fundamental writing of the Catholic cult of Mary. 
Although the Protoevangile has never been officially 
recognised by the Church, it has often been quoted by 


the side" of the New Testament narratives. Special 
Church festivals have even been instituted to com- 
memorate events which are mentioned only in this 
Apocryphal gospel of Mary. As regards art and poetry, 
" James's " history of the Mother of God has literally 
been a canonical writing. Daring the Middle Ages it 
was the basis of numerous metrical lives of Mary, and 
it afforded material for the series of pictures of the 
Madonna's history which were so often represented in 
painting and sculpture during the Middle Ages and 
Renaissance. It is the Protoevangile, therefore, which 
should form a natural starting-point for every portrayal 
of the Holy Virgin's life ; * and there is all the more 
reason for giving a detailed account of this writing, 
because the oldest legend of Mary's life is none too 
well known in Protestant countries. 

" James's narrative of the birth of God's most holy 
mother Mary " begins with a little family romance con- 
cerning the Virgin's parents. We learn that Joachim, 
who is to be her father, is a wealthy and respected man, 
who generously shares his superfluous riches with the 
poor. He has been accustomed, over and above that 
part which he was compelled by law to offer in the 
Temple, to give a part to God as penance for his sins, 
and a part to the people. By reason of his piety 
and his rank he has also so it would appear from 
the text, which is here obscure in its brevity the 
privilege of offering his gift before anybody else. 2 On 
one occasion, however, when on the Lord's Day he 
enters the Temple to make his offering, he is pushed 
aside by "Reuben," who considers that Joachim has no 
right to enjoy any kind of precedence. This Reuben, 
of whom no further details are given, is probably a 
Jewish father who can boast of a numerous family, 3 


for it is said that he looks Joachim in the face, and 
contemptuously addresses him as the man "who had 
not given any offspring to Israel." The scorn which, 
according to Jewish ideas, was implied by such an 
accusation sinks deep into the pious man. 4 When, 
further, after having consulted the nation's registers, he 
finds that he is actually alone in not having "given 
any offspring to Israel," he is seized with a bitter 
sorrow. The only thing that can comfort him is the 
thought of Abraham, to whom God sent a son even 
in his ripe old age. He resolves, therefore, to seek 
help from the Lord, in order, if possible, still to be 
delivered from the dishonour that oppresses him. 
Without even taking leave of his wife, he withdraws 
to the desert to fast for forty days, and he makes 
a vow : " I will not go down from this mountain, nor 
take any food or drink, before the Lord my God hath 
visited me, and prayers shall be my food and drink." 

In Joachim's home, however, his wife Anna has 
waited in vain for his return from the Temple. She 
does not know whither he has gone, and she thinks she 
has lost him for ever. She does not grieve only for the 
absence of her husband ; she is a Jewish woman, and 
therefore she laments in a twofold song of mourning : 

Bewail must I my widowhood, 
And bewail must I my childlessness. 

By this lamentation, however, she breaks " the Lord's 
day," which ought to be celebrated by happy thoughts, 5 
and when Judith, her servant, tries to cheer her she 
only answers with bitter words. Then Judith turns 
upon her with the same reproach that Eeuben had 
directed against Joachim : " Why should I wish you 
any evil for not listening to my words, since the Lord 


Himself hath closed thy womb and not given thee any 
offspring in Israel ? " 

The correspondence in the stories of the husband 
and wife is complete. Anna, too, is grieved at heart 
when she is reminded of her barrenness, and she, too, 
finds her only comfort in the thought of the old parents 
in the patriarchal history who were freed from the 
shame of childlessness in their old age. Heavy as her 
heart is, she dresses herself out of respect for the holy 
day? in her bridal dress, and washes her head and 
goes for a walk in the garden. With a direct appeal to 
the miracle which God had once before allowed to take 
place, she beseeches Him for the good fortune she has 
so long had to dispense with. "Hear my prayer! As 
Thou didst bless Sarah's womb and send her a son Isaac." 
But the prayer gives her no relief, for everything she 
sees around her reminds her only of her humiliation. In 
the laurel tree above her head some sparrows chirp in their 
nest, and the earth is filled with the abundant fruitful- 
ness of beasts and plants. Anna cannot endure all these 
impressions, and bursts out into a bitter song of lamenta- 
tion. She has been born, she sings, for a curse in Israel, 
she who cannot even be compared with the birds of the 
air or the beasts of the field. She alone is unfruitful, 
while both the land and the water bring forth their 
fruit in due season, and praise the Lord. 

At this point the narrative, without any warning, 
takes quite a different colouring. An angel appears 
and proclaims that Anna shall bear a child who shall 
be known throughout the world. Anna answers with a 
promise that her child shall be offered as a gift to God, 
and that she will perform a holy service to Him all the 
days of her life. After the angel some earthly 
messengers enter to announce Joachim's return ; for 


he, too, has learned through an angelic vision that his 
prayer has been heard. He hastens home with new 
offerings from the mountain : ten pure and spotless 
lambs for God's Temple, twelve fat calves for the priests 
and the elders, and a hundred goats for the rest of the 
people. When he approaches with his herds, Anna 
stands at the door to meet him. She ran towards him, 
the story goes, fell upon his neck, and said : " Now I 
know that God, My Lord, hath richly blessed me. For 
lo ! the widow is no more a widow, and I that was 
childless shall bear a child." Joachim spends the first 
day resting at his house. The next day he drives his 
offerings to the Temple, and there, by seeing the token 
on the priest's frontal, gains a renewed confirmation 
that his shame has been removed and that his gift is 
acceptable. 6 

When the time is accomplished, Anna brings forth 
her child. Although, according to the Jewish idea, she 
had reason to lament that this child was not a son, she 
thankfully praises God for His gift : " My soul does 
magnify the Lord." T When the appointed days were 
ended, Anna washed herself and gave the child the 
breast and named it Mary. That is all that the Gospel 
of James tells us about the birth of the Virgin. 

The little child grows up, however, and even in 
earliest childhood proves that it is unlike other children. 
When Mary was six months old, the story runs, her 
mother put her on the ground to see if her limbs would 
support her, and the girl, who was as precocious as 
Buddha and Osiris, not only stood upright, but took 
seven steps and then returned to Anna's bosom. 8 Then 
her mother lifted her up and vowed : " As the Lord 
liveth, Mary shall not touch earth again until she has 
been taken to the sacred precincts of the Temple/' It 


is the ascetic idea of purity which appears here, and 
which from this moment becomes more and more 
prominent in the narrative. In fact, at the age of six 
months Mary becomes a little cloister maiden, who lives 
apart from the world's pollution. For Anna prepared 
her bed-chamber as a holy place, sheltered from any- 
thing low or unclean, and she called to her the 
spotless daughters of the Hebrews to preside over the 
child's recreation. In their company Mary spends her 
early years. Only once, it seems, did she leave her 
little sacrarium. When her first birthday was cele- 
brated, Joachim made a great banquet, to which he 
invited the " priests and the scribes and the elders and 
the whole people of Israel," and he brought Mary to 
the priests and high priests, who blessed her with the 
highest blessing, than which there is none higher. Then 
Anna carried the child back to its holy room, gave it 
the breast, and sang a song of praise to God who had 
taken away her humiliation. With triumphant pride 
she addressed him who had scorned her husband : 
" Who announces to Reuben's sons that Anna feeds a 
child at her breast, hear, hear ! ye twelve tribes, that 
Anna suckles a child." 

When Mary grew older, her parents had to fulfil the 
promise which had first been given at Anna's annuncia- 
tion. Joachim wishes to transfer the child to the Temple 
when she is only two years old, but Anna urges a 
year's postponement, in order that the little one may 
not long for her father and mother. When this time 
has gone by, Mary leaves her home for ever, accom- 
panied by her parents and playfellows. These latter, 
at Joachim's direction, walk before her with lighted 
torches, that she may not turn out of the path or 
be attracted away from the Temple. The old man's 


anxiety, however, lias apparently been superfluous, for 
when the child reaches the Temple, she goes of her 
own accord into the holy rooms. The priest, it is said, 
received her with blessings, kissed her, and let her sit 
on the third step of the altar. " And then God poured 
out His grace over Mary, so that she danced in on her 
little feet and all the people of Israel loved the child. 
And her parents went home full of wonder and thankful- 
ness to God that the child had not turned after them. 
But Mary grew up in the Temple of the Lord like a 
pecking dove and received her food from the angels' 

We see how the cathartic ideas influence every 
detail in the story of Mary's life. The pure being who 
lived in a pure room must not be defiled by any earthly 
food. Only the manna which was made in heaven, and 
was the food of angels, might enter the body that was 
to be the dwelling for God. Thus both physically and 
spiritually the Holy Virgin is separated from all other 
created beings. 

In this connection, however, the author of James's 
Gospel is guilty of something that may be regarded as 
at least an inconsistency. However spotless the chosen 
one may have been, no exception was made on her 
account to the rule which forbade all full-grown women 
to be seen within the holy Temple walls. It was perhaps 
due to an oversight that Mary was not represented as 
freed from the " impurity " of her sex, but we can also 
imagine that the priests were considered to have been 
ignorant of her absolute virginity. However we like 
to explain it, the gospel expressly states that when 
Mary was twelve years old the priests took counsel as 
to what course they should adopt " in order that she 
should not defile God's sanctuary." It was decided that 


the High Priest should pray for Mary in the Holy of 
holies and await a revelation from the Highest. And 
the Lord made known His will : all widowers were to be 
summoned to the Temple, each bringing with him a 
staff, and he on whose staff a sign appeared was to 
have Mary to wife. The Virgin's husband, i.e. the 
warder of God's new tabernacle, would thus be selected 
by a choice similar to that which led to Aaron becoming 
Israel's high priest (Numbers xvii.). 

When the heralds go through the land with bassoons 
to summon the widowers, the aged Joseph throws down 
Ms axe and hastens to the Temple. 9 He is the last 
to receive his staff back from the High Priest, but 
when he takes the staff, a dove flies out of it, and 
settles upon his head. The judgment of God has 
decided that he shall take the Lord's virgin into his 
charge. He excuses himself, indeed, by referring to 
his advanced age, which would render him ridiculous as 
the husband of so young a wife; but the High Priest 
does not admit of evasions, and Joseph submits to the 
oracle and takes Mary with him from the Temple. 
Characteristically enough, he none the less regards his 
duty so lightly that he immediately returns to his 
building work and leaves his young ward alone in the 
house. " God will protect thee while I am away," he 
says to her at parting. 

Mary's connection with the Temple was not ended, 
however, by her marriage. The priests resolved to 
have a new curtain made for the sanctuary, and this 
work, according to the author of James's Gospel, was to 
be carried out by unspotted daughters of David's line. 
When the priests tried to make up the necessary 
number of spinners, they remembered Joseph's young 
wife, "who was pure before God." It is here that the 


Apocryphal narrator Introduces his mention of Mary's 
royal descent. The Virgin presents herself in the 
Temple with the other daughters of David, to receive 
her share of the work. The scarlet and the fine purple 
threads fall to her lot. She does not work, however, 
with the other women, but takes the material with her 
to her home ; and it is while she is engaged upon this 
church work that she receives the Annunciation. 

" James/' however, with his love of angelic visions, 
was not content with one annunciation. Mary receives 
her first tidings one day when she went to the well to 
fetch water. She does not indeed meet an angel, but 
she hears a voice saying, " Hail to thee, gracious one, 
the Lord is with thee ! Blessed art thou among 
women/' "And she looked to the right and to the 
left, to see where the voice came from, and went 
trembling into the house, and put the vessel away from 
her, and sat down to spin her purple " ; and when she 
had spun the distaff out, an angel appeared to her and 
announced the great tidings. His greeting corresponds 
in the main with S. Luke's story. The only noteworthy 
difference is that according to James it is the word of 
the Almighty which will bring about the miraculous 
conception. And Mary answers Gabriel with words 
which constitute a slight yet significant variation of 
the New Testament's text, " Behold the handmaid of 
the Lord before Him, be it unto me as thou sayest." 
It seems as if it was desired to emphasise the Madonna's 
dignity by pointing out that only before the Highest 
need she bow as a handmaid. 10 

After the chapter on the Annunciation, the Proto- 
evangile follows in the tracks of the canonical narrative. 
Between the angel's greeting and the visit to Elizabeth, 
however, an episode has been inserted relating how 


Mary leaves her finished work with the High Priest, 
and is then, for the third time, blessed by him. She 
stays three months with Elizabeth, and afterwards 
secludes herself in her home, to conceal her condition 
from the children of Israel. Mary, it is said, is sixteen 
years old when these mysterious events take place. 

At this time Joseph returns from his building work. 
His despair and indignation when he sees how little 
Mary has been able to take care of herself during his 
absence are described in much greater detail than in the 
canonical narrative. He dare not believe in the Virgin's 
assurances of her innocence, but, on the other hand, he 
does not wish to expose her to the condemnation of the 
Israelites as an adulteress. If what she bears in her 
womb really came from the angels, and she was never- 
theless handed over to justice, the blood of an innocent 
person would be upon his head. The safest plan, 
therefore, would be to separate himself secretly from 
Mary. As in S. Matthew's Gospel, however, Joseph is 
enlightened by an angel vision that it is by the prompt- 
ing of the Holy Spirit that his ward is about to become 
a mother. When he has thus become convinced of 
Mary's virtue, it yet remains for husband and wife to 
justify themselves before the Temple folk, for accord- 
ing to the Protoevangile, it was only a formal marriage 
which united Joseph and Mary. 11 The priests demand 
to receive the Virgin back just as Joseph had taken her 
from the Lord's Temple, and they bitterly reproach 
Mary for having degraded her soul and forgotten her 
God, " she who had been brought up in the Holy of 
holies, and received her food from the hand of angels, 
and danced before God and heard His praises." 12 By 
submitting to and successfully undergoing the prescribed 
ordeal the drinking of cursed water Joseph and Mary 


are released from condemnation, although it does not 
clearly appear from the narrative If the priests and 
people were really convinced of their innocence. 

The journey to Bethlehem is accounted for and 
described in the Protoevangile in the same way as in 
S. Luke's Gospel The Apocryphal narrative is merely 
more detailed than the canonical texts. "We see how 
Joseph saddles his ass and lets Mary ride it. One of 
his sons leads the animal, while the father walks along- 
side. During this journey a miraculous sign appears, 
by which, as is so often the case in the legends, the 
later events of the sacred story are indicated to any 
one who understands how to interpret the omens. 
When Joseph, the story runs, looked up at Mary on one 
occasion, he saw that her face was sorrowful, and he 
thought sympathetically that she was pained by what 
she carried in her womb ; but when he turned round 
a moment later she was glad and smiling. Mary herself 
explains this enigma to him. It was not, thus we must 
understand the story, any physical sensations that hurt 
her, who "should not give birth as other women." 13 
Her sorrow and her joy originated in a presentiment of 
all that must happen when her Child has been born, and 
when for His sake the world has been divided into two 
opposing camps. For, she says, referring to the story of 
Rebecca in the book of Moses (Gen. xxv. 22), " I see two 
peoples with my eyes the one is full of lamentation and 
mourning, and the other is full of joy and gladness." 

According to the Protoevangile the travellers do not 
reach Bethlehem before the Child is born. In the midst 
of the journey Joseph is compelled to lift Mary down 
from the ass, and look for a place to shelter her. He 
finds a cave into which he leads his charge, and there 
he leaves her in the care of his sons. He himself goes 


out to seek help in the neighbourhood of Bethlehem, 
and while he is away the great wonder takes place. The 
whole of nature is arrested in its course, when God is 
born as a man. " I saw,' 7 says Joseph for in this chapter 
he is abruptly introduced as the narrator "that the 
vault of heaven stood still, and the birds were motion- 
less. Some workmen who had gathered around a dish 
for their evening meal were checked in their occupation, 
and gazed petrified towards heaven. The flocks of 
sheep that were being driven did not stir a step, and 
the shepherd, who raised his hand to strike them, stood 
fixed in his threatening attitude till, in a moment, 
everything resumed its natural course." Thereupon 
Joseph meets a midwife coming down from the moun- 
tain, and he tells her of his young bride who has become 
a mother through the workings of the Holy Spirit. 
Then she asks, Is that true ? He answers, Come and 
see. When they have reached the place where he left 
Mary, the cave is overshadowed by a bright cloud. 
The woman believes in the miracle, and understands 
that it is Israel's Saviour who has been born. " In the 
same moment," thus Joseph continues his tale, " the 
cloud disappeared from the cave and a great light shone 
forth, so strong that our eyes could not bear it; and 
after a while this light too disappeared, whereupon the 
Child became visible, and it came and took its mother 
Mary's breast." But the pious woman praised the day 
which had let her see the great miracle. 

In contrast with this woman, who is probably 
designed to be a type or symbol of pious humanity 
she questions, indeed, but lets herself be instructed 
by the sign the Protoevangile has introduced a repre- 
sentative of sceptical unbelief. Salome, an Israelite 
midwife, meets the believing woman, who is wandering 


home from Mary's grotto. When she hears from her 
that a virgin has borne a child, she answers, " As truly 
as my G-od liveth, unless I have examined her, I will 
not believe that a virgin can have a child/ 7 Like 
the Apostle Thomas, she will not be convinced by 
anything but by the witness of her own hands. Her 
pusillanimous doubt is punished ; the hand which dared 
to probe what she ought to have believed without 
proof is paralysed and withered at the same moment 
as she is convinced of the miracle. But when doubt 
confesses its error, the sin can be forgiven and the 
penalty removed. Therefore we are told that Salome's 
hand regained its power of motion when, on the advice 
of an angel who revealed himself in the cave, she lifted 
the Divine Child upon her arm and worshipped it in 
faithful devotion. That "James," in this episode, 
desired to attack the theoretical theologians of the 
time is clear from the words he makes Salome speak 
when she proceeds to examine the Virgin Mother ; 
" Prepare thyself, it is no small struggle that awaits 
thee." The word struggle, as A. Meyer has pointed out, 
can only refer to the struggle which the dogmatists 
fought out over the question of Mary's virginity. 14 

In the chapter on the worship of the Magi, the Proto- 
evangile does not depart in essentials from Matthew's 
account. The only notable difference is that the homage 
does not take place in a stable at Bethlehem, but in the 
cave where the Child was born. The manger is men- 
tioned later, for it is said that Mary, in order to conceal 
the Child from Herod's emissaries, wraps it in linen and 
places it in " an ox's manger." The God-man escapes 
the danger, but Herod's persecution is turned instead 
upon the little John, in whose person he fears the pre- 
dicted King of Israel. By a miracle Elizabeth and her 


child are also delivered, for a mountain opens in order 
to Mde them ; but Zacharias is murdered in the Temple 
to satisfy the despot's vengeance. 

This abridged review, in which we have striven as 
far as possible to employ the expressions of the anony- 
mous narrator, is based upon a translation of the oldest 
known edition of the Gospel of James. The original is 
a Greek manuscript written by some pious but unlearned 
man, who gives himself out to be a Jewish Christian. 
That he did not, however, himself belong to the chosen 
people appears from Ms palpable ignorance of the geo- 
graphy of Palestine, and from the mistakes of which he 
is guilty in his description of the Jewish Temple cere- 
monies. 15 On the other hand, it is clear that he has 
a familiar knowledge of Hebrew literature, for Old 
Testament models can be detected in every chapter of 
his book, 16 and a purely Jewish atmosphere lends poetry 
to his treatment of the romance of Joachim and Anna. 

By the side of these Hebraic elements there are some 
features which testify to an acquaintance with the life of 
the classical nations. The celebration of birthdays was 
unknown among the Jews and the earliest Christians, 
but common among the Eomans. No pure virgins lived 
in the Temple at Jerusalem, but the Egyptians had their 
priestesses of Isis, and the Romans their vestals. 17 The 
stories of Mary's precocity and of the birth of the Divine 
Child in a rock cave were probably based on old heathen 
myths. That Nature, again, is arrested in her course at 
a critical event is a common motive in folklore, which is 
well known to all students of popular legends. 18 It was 
thus from many different sources that the anonymous 
author, with none too great discrimination, collected 
the material for his story; but he understood how to 


make use of all the various elements for Ms purpose. 
Every feature in the narrative serves to emphasise just 
those qualities of the Virgin Mother which his oppo- 
nents wished to deny. Naive and fantastic as the 
Gospel of James is, it is at the same time an effectively 
calculated piece of polemic writing. It was and remained 
an invaluable weapon in the dogmatic discussions as to 
the nature of the Madonna. 

It is, indeed, from the dogmatic literature that we 
have to seek information as to the date of the writing. 
According to A. Meyer, James's narrative is quoted by 
the Fathers from the close of the fourth century. Even 
in so early an author as Origen, we find quotations from 
a certain " Book of James/' the tendency of which seems 
to have corresponded with that of the Protoevangile. 
Justin Martyr, again, brings forward certain information 
and arguments which recur in the Apocryphal legend. 
This circumstance does not, of course, justify the assertion 
that the writing had appeared in its final shape in his 
time, or even in that of Origen, but it proves that legends 
concerning Mary circulated among the faithful at the 
beginning of the second century. 19 It must be left to 
experts to decide at what moment these legends were 
fitted together to form the gospel which bears James's 
name. Here we have only to mention that even the 
earliest edition of the Apocryphal writing is evidently 
composed of various older constituent parts. The 
narratives of Zacharias and Elizabeth, which close the 
gospel, are thus thought to spring from a special cycle 
of legends, some fragments of which have been inserted 
in the Mary history proper. In this history, again, 
attempts have been made to distinguish two parallel 
legends, one of which portrayed Mary primarily as a 
Temple virgin, while the other above all accentuated 


her royal origin. The junction of these two legends 
may be discerned., we are told, In the chapter which 
tells how, when Joseph left his home, Mary receives the 
commission to work the Temple curtain. 20 The twofold 
Annunciation is explained by the fact that these two 
separate narratives have been fused into one, 21 and the 
same circumstance further explains the curious state- 
ment that Mary was sixteen years old when Joseph 
returned from his building work, although she was only 
twelve when he left her. Even if we cared to entertain 
the improbable assumption that the worthy carpenter 
abandoned his charge for so long a time, yet it would dn 
any case be strange that James should not have more to 
tell us about Mary's life during these four years. 

More important than the pre-history of the Proto- 
evangile, which can only be built up by an examination 
of the oldest manuscripts, is the history of this book. We 
know that the narratives of Mary's birth, childhood, and 
marriage were early disseminated in the Eastern Church 
in Syrian, Armenian, and Arabic translations. The 
miracles were magnified and embroidered in new varia- 
tions, some of which are so sharply separated from the 
original text that they must be regarded as new and 
independent works. In this way arose the Latin gospel 
ofpseudo Matthew, from the period between the fifth 
and sixth century ; the Arabic gospel of the Saviour's 
childhood from the seventh century ; the Latin gospel of 
Mary's birth, which is considered to be still younger than 
the last-named writing ; and the Coptic legend of Joseph 
the carpenter from the fourth century. 22 When, during 
the latter Middle Ages, poetry began to treat religious 
subjects in modern languages, the old narrative became 
the subject of further reconstruction ; and it gained a 
new and concrete expression, and an increased power 


over the minds of the faithful, through being illustrated 
in devotional books and on the walls of churches. Thus 
there developed from the Gospel of James a pious 
romance, which was composed and completed during 
centuries and was illustrated by the foremost artists of 
the Catholic Church. 

It is this romance which will be treated chapter by 
chapter in what follows. The different garbings of the 
old legend will afterwards be noticed in our account of 
the representations of the story of Mary in art and 
poetry. In examining these aesthetic manifestations 
we shall also have an opportunity of giving an account 
of the pious tales which were written to complete the 
Bible narrative of the later events in the Virgin's life. 


Bi contro a Pietro vedi seder Anna, 

Tanto contenta di mirar sna figlia, 

Che non muove occhio per cantare osanna. 

DANTE, Paradise, xxxii. 

are told in S. Luke's G-ospel that Mary, when she 
received the greeting from the messenger angel, asked : 
" How shall this be, seeing I know not a man ? n The 
Virgin did not doubt, say the commentators, for she 
could not be guilty of any weakness in her faith ; but 
quite humbly she uttered her surprise at a miracle which 
she could not yet understand. 1 The aagel, again, recog- 
nised the justness of her astonishment, and willingly 
answered her question. The Holy Spirit should come 
over Mary, and the power of the Highest should over- 
shadow her ; and by way of further explanation he 
added : " And, behold, thy cousin Elizabeth, she hath 
also conceived a son in her old age : and this is the sixth 
month with her, who was called barren. For with G-od 
nothing shall be impossible." 

That a barren woman might conceive a child in her old 
age was not, indeed, so incomprehensible as that a virgin 
should give birth without having known a man ; but 
the lesser miracle paved the way for the greater, and, so 
to speak, gave a justification for it. Any one who was 
persuaded by Elizabeth's motherhood that for God 



nothing was impossible could more easily believe that 
Mary had been overshadowed by the Highest Himself. 
The tardy fraitfulness of her old kinswoman would 
strengthen the Virgin's certainty that she had "found 
favour before God." Thus S. Luke represents the events 
at the Annunciation, but it is quite possible that by 
letting the angel recount the history of Elizabeth he 
also desired to combat the doubts which might arise 
among the readers of his own narrative. 

The authors of the Apocryphal legends make use of 
such argumentation to a still greater extent According 
to their account, the miracle of Jesus' birth had already 
been prepared for by His mother's birth. "James/' 
indeed, does not give any particulars as to the ages of 
Anna and Joachim, but it seems more than probable 
that these two, who had given up all hope of having 
children, were old, like Zacharias and Elizabeth. In the 
Apocryphal Evangelium de nativitate Marian, it is 
even expressly said that Anna had been married twenty 
years before the birth of Mary, 2 and the artistic com- 
positions agree with the religious poems in representing 
the Virgin's parents as aged. Nature had thus, according 
to the pious conception, departed from her ordinary 
course when the Mother of God elect was brought into 
the world. The supernatural fruitfalness was to a certain 
extent explained through its happening to a house where 
unusual conceptions characterised the family. But this 
was not all. By the extraordinary circumstances of her 
birth, Mary was placed on a par with some of the most 
famous characters in Hebrew history. 

Isaac, to wit, had been born of a woman who had 
reached so advanced an age that she herself doubted 
the prophecy concerning her motherhood (Gen. xvii.- 
xviii). Manoa's wife was sterile, and, like Mary and 


Anna, she had received through an angelic vision the 
promise of the birth of her son Samson (Judges xiii.). 
Finally, the story of Samuel's parents resembles that of 
Joachim and Anna, as only a model can resemble a faith- 
ful copy (1 Sam. L-ii.). 3 Thus, Israel's wise judge, one 
of its patriarchs, and its national hero had all been born, 
if not by a miracle, at any rate by an exception from the 
ordinary course of events. They, and Mary with them, 
had partaken of that distinction which popular imagina- 
tion so often ascribes to its favourite figures ; for, 
according to a common superstition which is visible in 
many well-known legends, the heroes and the great 
prophets are from their very origin independent of 
natural laws. 4 That life had set aside its ordinary con- 
ditions for Mary's sake, and allowed an old and barren 
woman to bear a child, must therefore have been con- 
sidered a confirmation of her greatness. 5 

The advanced age at which Joachim and Anna 
became parents might, however, influence the idea of 
the Madonna's personality in yet another way. It must 
have been easy to assume that the old couple could no 
longer experience earthly love. The child born to then: 
must therefore have been weighed down by original sin 
to a lesser extent than other children. 6 In this way, it 
may be argued, the legend of Mary's birth must have 
promoted the doctrine of her original sinlessness ; and, 
indeed, in mediaeval authors we often find passages in 
which Mary's purity is explained by referring to the 
passionless relationship between her parents. These 
arguments, however, would not in themselves have 
achieved real importance unless the old Gospel of 
James, in another and more indirect way, had exercised 
a powerful influence upon the development of the idea 
of the Madonna. 


To explain this influence we must first observe the 
cult in which the worship of Mary expressed itself. In 
this case, as in so many others, it was the liturgy that 
conveyed the influence of the legends to the dogmas. The 
critical events related in the Protoevangile's account of 
Mary's life were celebrated by the Church with special 
festivals, and as some of these festivals could not be 
justified by existing dogmas, new doctrines were set up 
merely in order to account for them. 

The oldest of the festivals which refer to the Apoc- 
ryphal history is that of Mary's birthday. It is stated 
by competent investigators that, as early as the sixth or 
seventh century, the Eastern Church honoured the 
Mother of God with a festival on her birthday. During 
the course of the seventh century this festival which 
was celebrated on September 8th was introduced 
at Rome. Afterwards it gradually spread among the 
Western communities, and in the ninth century it was 
universally recognised throughout Christian Europe. 7 
At first it does not seem to have aroused misgivings 
among theologians. It was thought quite natural that 
believers should thank God for the gift of that being 
who was to be mother of the Highest Himself; but 
after the dogmatists began to make the Church calendar 
the object of a stricter study, it could not be concealed 
that the festival of September 8th separated itself in 
one important respect from all the other saints' days. 
For the Christian festivals were not celebrated on the 
days when the saints or martyrs entered this sinful and 
impure world, but on the days when, by their death, 
they were "born into Heaven." However piously a 
man might have lived, yet his earthly birth was too 
polluted for the community to be able to celebrate its 
memory. From this rule there was only one departure ; 


and that was, indeed, an exception which confirmed 
the rule. 

John the Baptist was the only person so highly 
honoured as to have the memory of his entrance into 
life celebrated. In his case, however, certain reasons 
could be quoted to explain his exceptional position 
among the saints. For of him the angel had pre- 
dicted : " he shall be filled with the Holy G-host even 
from his mother's womb" (Luke i. 16); and of him 
S. Luke says in the chapter on the Visitation : " When 
Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped 
in her womb ; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy 
Ghost" (i 41). The Saviour's forerunner, who had 
been miraculously conceived by an old and barren 
woman, 8 had thus received a divine sanctification in 
his mother's body even before coming into contact with 
the outer world. He was 7 pure when he was born, and 
accordingly there was nothing incorrect in the Church's 
celebration of the first day of his life. 9 It was only 
right that all the other saints should give place to him 
who had seen the light of day as a sinless being. 

The Mother of God, however, had received her 
festival day once for all, and it was difficult even for the 
strictest dogmatists to deprive her of this honour. It 
was simpler and more in consonance with the ideas of 
the Madonna's worshippers to let the liturgy remain, 
and to suit the doctrine to its needs. Indeed, there was 
nothing over-bold in supposing that God gave His own 
mother a part of the same intra-uterine sanctification 
which had been granted to John and which had earlier 
been accorded even to Jeremiah (Jeremiah i. 5). Mary, 
too, it was said, had been purified when in her mother's 
womb, and she too had been sinless at her birth. 
S. Bernard, the Madonna's glorifier par excellence, was 


the first to bring forward this idea, and in doing so, he 
quoted as a decisive proof of Mary's purity the very 
festival which was celebrated on September 8th. " Her 
birth," said he, " would not be the occasion for a festival 
if she had not been born holy." 10 

With this assertion S. Bernard completely broke with 
Church tradition. However much the Virgin's virtues 
had been exalted, and however definitely her freedom 
from all real sin had been asserted, it had none the less 
been held that it was only when God became incarnate 
in her womb that she was released from original sin. 11 
The new view, however, was so acceptable to the 
Madonna's worshippers that before long Mary was 
universally regarded as holy from her very birth. This 
was the first result of the influence exercised on dog- 
matic theology by the liturgy, which was based upon 
the Protoevangile's narrative of Anna's miraculous 

The old legend was, howeve? also through the 
mediation of the liturgy to influence the doctrine of 
the Virgin's original purity in a still more thorough 
manner. Some centuries after the Madonna's birthday 
was recognised in the "West, there came from the East a 
new festival, which not only was an exception from the 
other holy days, but actually stood in direct opposition 
to the existing theological point of view. This festival 
was celebrated on December 8th nine months earlier 
than the sacred birthday and its purpose was to com- 
memorate Mary's conception. 

In ecclesiological literature we find no certain infor- 
mation as to the time when the Eastern Church began 
to celebrate the conception of the Virgin. This festival, 
indeed, seems to have been confused by a number of 


authors with, the birthday, 12 which is all the more in- 
telligible since, with regard to the earliest periods, the 
date of neither of the two festivals can be fixed. 13 
Moreover, the question has been still more involved 
by reason of the fact that in a number of Eastern com- 
munities the Virgin's birthday was regarded as a holy 
day, on which homage was done, not only to Mary but 
also to Anna. 14 The greater the importance achieved by 
the Madonna cult, the more difficult it became to wor- 
ship another saint on one and the same day. We may 
therefore imagine it is advanced here only as an 
hypothesis that out of solicitude for the rank of the 
two saintly women concerned, the Church reserved a 
special festival for the cult of the Virgin's mother, and 
chose for it the day on which according to the Gospel 
of James the barren woman had received the angel's 
annunciation, and embraced her husband in the glad 
knowledge that " she who was childless should bear a 
child." This festival ^which, significantly enough, was 
at first called " S. Anne's Conception day " 15 served 
only, like Mary's annunciation feast, to give the faithful 
an opportunity to express their gratitude for the miracle 
which God bad permitted. To the Eastern Christians, 
who had not adopted Augustine's severe doctrine of 
original sin, there was no cause for misgiving in the 
fact that this miracle referred to a natural and earthly 

Between the eighth and twelfth centuries (it is 
safer not to express ourselves more definitely) the 
feast of the Conception seems to have won a recognised 
place in the calendar of the Eastern Church. 16 The 
manner in which it was thence transferred to Europe 
has not hitherto been made clear. All that we know 
with certainty is that, as early as the first half of the 


eleventh century, the feast was celebrated In two 
cloisters, at Winchester and in Canterbury Cathedral. 
During the twelfth century, Abbot Anselm, who was 
a nephew of the saint from Canterbury and who has 
often been confused with his great namesake, came 
forward as an ardent champion of the new festival, 
and his efforts were crowned with such success that 
a Council in London gave its official recognition to the 
day of the Conception. 17 It should be mentioned, how- 
ever, that Anselm's endeavours were effectually assisted 
by no less a person than the Holy Virgin herself, who 
on several different occasions expressed herself in favour 
of the liturgical innovation. 

Thus, as early as the preceding century, the pious 
Abbot Elsi had been saved from great peril at sea on 
promising to work for the institution of a festival of 
Mary's Conception. When the storm was raging at 
its worst, says the legend, and Elsi was sending up 
burning prayers to Mary, he saw walking over the 
waves towards the vessel a man with a reverend bear- 
ing and a pontifical decoration on his head. The 
stranger presented himself as a messenger from the 
Queen of Heaven, and commanded on her behalf that 
Elsi should every year recite in his church, on the 
Conception day, the office for the birthday feast, with 
this alteration, however, that the word " birth" should 
everywhere be changed into the word "conception." 18 
According to other legends, a sinful monk and a clerk 
received from the Madonna forgiveness for their sins, 
upon condition that they should celebrate her Concep- 
tion day and persuade others to do so. 19 

It was only natural that a festival which had 
received such recommendations should spread rapidly. 
Before long, Mary's Conception was celebrated in 


certain churches in the north of France, and about 
1128 the canons in Lyons resolved to keep December 
8th as a holy day. This date is worthy of mention, 
because it marks one of the most important turning- 
points in the history of the doctrine of the Madonna. 

As soon as the feast of the Conception had been 
introduced into the Gallic liturgy, it was necessarily com- 
mented upon by the scholastic theologians. Attempts 
were made, as had been done earlier in the case of the 
birthday feast, to work out the relation of the new 
festival to dogmatic principles. The first man to under- 
take such an attempt was S. Bernard, the same author 
who had deduced from the celebration of September 8th 
the doctrine of Mary's sanctification in the womb. On 
this occasion, however, this strict theologian was not 
inclined to allow the liturgy to give rise to any new 
doctrines. He was a devout worshipper of Mary's 
sanctity that he had shown clearly in his writings ; 
but he could not approve of homage being rendered 
to the Virgin at the very moment of her conception. 
To make this instant the object of commemoration 
was in his opinion to rebel against the Church's doc- 
trine that every human being was conceived in sin. 
Mary's birth was pure and worthy to be held sacred 
S. Bernard inculcated this dogma now as before 
because the stain of original sin had been removed from 
her before she came into the world ; but she could not 
have been sanctified before the conception, because 
she did not then exist, nor during the conception, 
because this was in itself sinful. The Conception 
festival, therefore, was in conflict with the fundamental 
doctrines of religion, and an enlightened Church, such 
as that at Lyons, ought not to have followed the 
example of certain ignorant and superstitious com- 


munities by celebrating a feast of this kind. Suck was 
the tenor of an indignant letter which S. Bernard 
sent to the canons at Lyons, after learning that they 
had begun to keep December 8th as a holy day of the 
Church. 20 

It seems as if S. Bernard thought he could kill the 
new festival by a reductio ad absurdum. He could not 
imagine, it seems, that people had taken into account 
all the dogmatic consequences to which the celebration 
of the Conception day might lead. It is indeed prob- 
able that many pious Christians were first aroused by 
Bernard's letter to the consciousness that they were 
setting themselves in conflict with the Church's doctrine 
of original sin every time they glorified the Madonna's 
conception ; but when they were informed of this, they 
were by no means willing to give up the popular feast. 
Bernard had overlooked the fact that a cult-form may 
be reduced ad absurdum, but may flourish none the less. 
His plea led, therefore, to a repetition of the same 
phenomenon which can be observed during every stage 
of the history of the worship of Mary. The doctrine 
grew stronger under its vindication against those who 
attacked it, and the protests of the traditional dog- 
matism merely served to expose the old dogmas. If, it 
was argued, the celebration of the Conception festival 
implied that a conception could be regarded as sinless, 
then that of Mary was free from sin. Herewith the 
worship of G-od's tabernacle had reached its extreme 
consequence. The covering of the Highest was not 
even in its origin soiled by any earthly stain, and Mary 
was regarded as pure, not only from her birth, but from 
the first moment of her existence in the womb. 

This idea, however, could not be advanced as a 
mere postulate. It must have a theological explana- 


tion to bring It into harmony with the Church's point 
of view, 21 and a persistent fight had to be waged 
against the scholastic authors who stubbornly opposed 
the doctrine that an earthly being could at its very 
origin be freed from inherited sin. If it had not been 


possible to use the term " conception " in a twofold mean- 
ing, the new dogma would probably never have been 
recognised, for the idea that human generation had 
even in a single case been sinless could not be accepted 
by any orthodox and logical thinker. This was soon 
realised by the champions of the new doctrine, who 
were wise enough to transfer the discussion to a fresh 
field. This could be done all the more easily since 
mediaeval science established a distinction between 
two different conceptions : a first one, in which the 
foundation of the child's organism was laid; and a 
second, the so-called animation, in which the soul 
united itself with the embryo. In a sermon which 
circulated under S. Anselm's name, but which prob- 
ably dates from the time after S. Bernard's letter to 
the canons at Lyons, a notable attempt was made to 
utilise this physiological distinction in support of the 
doctrine of the Madonna's absolute and original purity. 
The unknown author, like the majority of the unlearned, 
was disposed to worship both the natural and the 
spiritual conception of the Virgin, but he did not 
demand that his opponents should admit him to be 
right in both these respects. If, he said, the Church 
could not, without denying its theory of original sin, 
do homage to the first conception, nothing ought to 
prevent a recognition of the second moment's sanctity ; 
and if it was once conceded that the physical element 
had been purified before or during the instant of anima- 
tion, it followed that Mary had been sinless from the 


very beginning of her existence as a human being, i.e. 
as a creature with a soul, and her spiritual conception 
was unstained. 22 

The assertions in this sermon correspond closely to 
the doctrine that was one day to be officially recognised, 
but, as we know, more than 700 years passed before 
the Church gave its sanction to the worship of the 
" Conceptio immaculata." Even in the milder form 
given by the theory of pseudo- Anselm, the dogma 
met with opposition from practically all the theologians 
of the Middle Ages. Alexander Hales, Bonaventura, 
Albertus Magnus, and Thomas Aquinas opposed both 
the festival of December 8th and the doctrines that 
could be deduced from it. It is easy to understand 
why the scholastic dogmatists could not be brought to 
make any concessions, even by the acutest investiga- 
tions of what had taken place before, during, or after 
the animation of the embryo. For the doctrine of Atone- 
ment and Original Sin, which had prevailed in the Church 
ever since the time of Augustine, could not admit that 
any creature, with the exception of the Virgin-bom 
Saviour, was pure from its very origin. What settled 
the question was, as has been pointed out by M. Herzog, 
the substitution of Anselm of Canterbury's purely judicial 
doctrine of offence and redemption for the physiological 
idea of original sin which bad dominated Western theo- 


logy for a thousand years. 23 The English Father was 
thus indirectly even if in a different sense from what 
was meant when he was confused with his nephew or 
with the unknown pseudo- Anselm the most power- 
ful promoter of the belief in the Virgin's immaculate 

It was also through Anselm's disciple, Duns Scotus, 
that the new dogma was brought into harmony with 


the scholastic system. As it was no longer considered 
so Scotus unfolded his argument that sin was some- 
thing inevitably communicated at conception to every 
earthly creature, i.e. something transferred in a purely 
physical way from parents to children, but rather that 
original sin was inherent in the soul, it was not incon- 
ceivable that God had made an exception from the 
general rule in favour of His own Mother. Even with 
Mary redemption was necessary here an objection of 
S. Thomas was confuted but in her case it had not 
destroyed sin but prevented it. If the possibility of 
such a preventive atonement was once admitted, every- 
thing pointed to the probability of its having been 
granted to her who was and must be purer than any 
other earthly being. 

The arguments of Scotus paved the way for the 
Conception dogma. Many of the learned theologians, 
indeed, continued to oppose it, and the Dominicans in 
particular made it a point of honour to uphold the 
doctrine of their master, S. Thomas ; but Duns Scotus 
had his own mighty Order, the Franciscans, to back him. 
With them were associated all those pious believers who 
were indifferent to theological distinctions but all the 
more zealous in their worship of the Madonna. This 
party further gained powerful scientific support from the 
University of Paris, which had at an early date embraced 
the Franciscan point of view. The Popes soon found 
themselves compelled to recognise officially the feast of 
December 8th, and as soon as the liturgy had once been 
tolerated, it was all the easier to work for a correspond- 
ing dogma, against the validity of which unanswerable 
theological arguments could no longer be quoted. The 
earlier authors, who had opposed the Immaculate Con- 
ception, were carefully " edited " and interpreted, until 


finally all their objections were explained away. 24 The 
hymns of the Eastern poets, in which Mary's pure and 
immaculate motherhood was glorified, were further taken 
as a proof of the Virgin's immaculate conception. All 
that had been said in regard to the " active conception" 
through which the Divine Child partook of human life, 
was applied to the " conceptio passiva " with which 
Mary's own life began. It could thus be said that it 
was a time-honoured doctrine which received its con- 
firmation when in 1854 the bull Ineffabilis Deus made 
the Immaculate Conception a Eoman Catholic dogma, 
the truth of which no one had a right to doubt. Mary's 
animation thus explained the Church, following the 
thesis of the pseudo-Anselm was immaculate and 
pure ; but her body had been formed in a natural way 
and her human conception was not holy. Such is the 
import of the notable act by which Pius IX. contributed 
the final word in the seven-hundred-year-old discussion 
as to Mary's absolute and original purity. 

The whole of the dogmatic development which has 
here been summarised as shortly as possible, falls 
properly within the sphere of theological history, but it 
is obvious that an idea, such as that of the Madonna's 
immaculate conception, must have been of eminent im- 
portance as regards aesthetic life. The notion of purity 
is not only a moral, but also and primarily an aesthetic 
notion, and it is the idea of a necessary connection 
between religious holiness and the aesthetic ideal of 
purity which ultimately compelled the Madonna wor- 
shippers to consider Mary as pure even in her conception. 
It is, therefore, to be expected that in the manifesta- 
tions of poetry and art we shall find many reflections 
of the dogmatic ideas as to the Virgin's conception. 


The succeeding investigations will fully confirm this 

The theological definitions, indeed, could not directly 
influence aesthetic production, for they were far too 
abstract and intellectualist ; but the popular fancies 
which germinated from the thought of an immaculate 
conception could all the better be utilised by art. 
Pious devotion expressed itself, not in dogmatic ideas, 
but in legends and pictures. The " simple-hearted and 
ignorant," who were scoffed at in S. Bernard's letter, 
would never have been able to justify their faith by 
scholastic arguments, but they could clothe it instead 
in a visible form which was to themselves poetically 
convincing. They corrected and completed the old 
traditions in order to bring them into harmony with 
the claims of religious and aesthetic feeling. In this 
work they were not troubled by any theological mis- 
givings. Their ideas of atonement and original sin 
were far too indefinite to be any hindrance to imagina- 
tion, and they did not worry about the distinction be- 
tween the different moments of conception. It was not 
in physiological theories that they sought the explana- 
tion of the Virgin's original purity, but in the popular 
legend of the lives of her parents. In this legend new 
motives were introduced to explain the miraculous 
element in Mary's birth ; and every trait was removed 
which could arouse the thought that even in the 
beginning any stain had clung to her who was to 
be a tabernacle of the Highest. Thus, as a parallel 
to the theological edifices, a narrative of Mary's con- 
ception was constructed in which everything was holy 
and pure. In this narrative Anna was the protagonist. 

4The ideas concerning Anna had, indeed, been inti- 
mately associated from the earliest times with the 


thought of the Immaculate conception. As has already 
been pointed out, it was Anna's festival which gave 
rise to the first formulations of the Conception dogma. 
In those districts where the agitation in favour of this 
dogma was most zealous, Anna also was worshipped 
with particular devotion ; 25 and during those periods 
when the question of the Virgin's original purity 
occupied all men's Blinds, her mother also became 
the object of special attention on the part of the pious. 
The appreciation of Anna's purity rose and fell with 
the development of the Conception dogma. When the 
earlier explanations of the conception were prevalent, 
i.e. when even the " human conception " was regarded 
as immaculate, the Virgin's mother was accorded a con- 
siderable and, in some interpretations, even an absolute 
freedom from stain. Later, when scholastic theology 
formulated the dogma of the immaculate animation, 
Anna necessarily lost her exceptional position among 
earthly mothers, but she was still worshipped as sacred 
before others, because it was in her body that the miracle 
of the spiritual conception had taken place. 

The simplest and most radical way of asserting 
the Madonna's original purity was to make her birth as 
miraculous as that of the Divine Child, i.e. to represent 
her also as "conceived by the Holy Ghost." In the 
Gospel of pseudo-Matthew it is even said that the angel 
declared to Joachim, " thy wife has [during thy absence] 
conceived a child " ; and in a variation of this text, it is 
expressly said that Anna was " blessed by the Holy 
Ghost." 26 This idea was naturally useful to those 
authors who worked for the doctrine of the holy 
family's purity. When Johann Trithemius, in his 
Tractatus de laudibus sanctissime Anne, published 
in 1494, glorified the pious grandmother, he used 


expressions which show that, in his opinion, Anna also 
was completely free from every earthly stain ; 27 and the 
Neapolitan theologian, Imperiali, formulated dogmati- 
cally a theory which was authoritatively condemned in 
1677, and according to which Anna, like Mary, had 
become a mother without having through childbirth 
ceased to be a virgin. 28 

This theory would undeniably have provided a simple 
solution of the problem of Mary's conception, but it is 
none the less easy to understand why the authorities of 
the Church refused to recognise it, and why it did not 
win any considerable number of adherents even among 
the ignorant. It is true that by applying to the mother 
all that the Bible told about the daughter, the future 
temple of God could be represented as pure from its 
foundation ; but this merely pushed the difficulties one 
step back. Mary's organism, even if created in a super- 
natural way, must at any rate have received its material 
from her earthly mother, who had herself been borne in 
earthly love and who, therefore, had the stain of original 
sin ; and behind her stood other mothers, who had all 
been conceived in sin. If it was desired to remove every- 
thing impure from Mary's being, the work of purification 
could not cease at any arbitrary point ; to be effectual 
it must be continued through all earlier generations. 
There was some amount of reason in supposing one 
miracle through which a child had come into the world 
without an earthly father, but if two such miracles were 
once postulated, it would be necessary to assume many 
more. This had been pointed out by S. Bernard, 
probably with reference to theories such as Imperials, 
and in this case no one could refute his argument 

To avoid this long and monotonous series of similar 
perpetually - repeated supernatural births, extending 


through all earlier generations, only one expedient was 
conceivable : the human genealogy conld be broken 
off at a convenient point in order to attach the 
Virgin's race to a holy origin by a connection which 
was purer than natural generation. Such an ex- 
pedient was too audacious for learned theologians, but 
popular imagination is not wont to hesitate in- making 
use of this kind of supernaturalness. In the old 
treasury of tales, stories could be found of gods and men 
who had no earthly parents at all ; and by combining 
these fables with the history of Mary, it should have 
been possible to free the Mother of God from every 
profaning contact with the fallen race. Indeed, in the 
old French legend of Anna and Fanuel, an attempt 
has been made to clear away all sinful ancestors from 
S. Anna's pedigree. Although this attempt has by no 
means been carried out consistently, it is nevertheless 
worthy of consideration as an example of the pious 
endeavour to rewrite the history of Mary in a romantic 
spirit. 29 

Curiously enough not even this legend could avoid 
making the mother of Mary's race a sinful being, but 
she is at any rate made as pure as an earthly creature 
ever was. She is the daughter of Abraham, twelve years 
old, a girl who was more beautiful than any other and 
white as a hawthorn -blossom, with sweet mouth and 
smiling eyes. The father of the race, again, is not a 
man at all, but a tree and as such the most wonderful 
that ever grew on earth. For when the gates of Eden 
were closed, the legend tells us, God rooted up the tree 
of knowledge and planted it in Abraham's pleasure- 
garden, and He announced to Abraham that He Himself 
would one day be crucified on this tree, which had 
caused man's fall. Before that, however, a knight 


should be born of the blossom, who would give life to 
the virgin in whose body God should take human form. 
So one day, when the young girl is wandering in her 
father's garden, she plucks one of the blossoms of the 
tree and smells it. No more is needed for the miracle 
to take place, for she is impregnated with the scent. 
Like so many other innocent women in the legends, she 
is accused and condemned by the people, who doubt her 
tale of the miraculous effects of the blossom ; but when 
she is carried naked to the stake to be burned, the sticks 
are changed into roses and lilies which cover her body, 
and the flames become birds which send up sweet song. 

The child who is borne by the girl grows up and 
becomes a mighty king, S. Fanuel. It is he who rules 
over the tree from Paradise, and with its fruits he heals 
disoase and wounds among all who seek his help. 30 But 
he, like his mother before him, comes to experience the 
tree's miraculous fertilising power. For once, when he 
cut one of its fruits, he was incautious enough to wipe 
the knife on his leg. The sap impregnated Ms thigh, 
which swelled up and became larger and larger until, 
in " the fulness of time," the abscess opened and gave 
place to a female child the child which later, after 
many adventures, was to be Joachim's wife and mother 
to Mary. At this point in the narrative we expect to 
meet with a new miracle, by which Anna should give 
life to the Holy Virgin by a miraculous conception ; 
but just at the link by which Mary's birth should be 
connected with the earlier supernatural productions, 
the series of miracles is suddenly broken off, and the 
legend shows quite unmistakably that Mary is a real 
daughter of Joachim, born in his marriage with Anna. 81 

The author of Le Romanz de S. Fanuel obvi- 
ously did not understand how much he might have 


made of Ms subject. He has borrowed, perhaps from 
oriental legends, the motive of the fertilising scents 
and saps, and he has seen how well this motive har- 
monised with the idea of a being in whose life nothing 
impure might have place. None the less lie has, in con- 
tinuing his history, omitted to make use of the traditions 
which would have given his writing a logical consist- 
ency and a coherent idea ; and, most peculiar of all, he 
has chosen for this continuation one of the most realistic 
variations of the tale of the marriage of Joachim and 
Anna. It is true that the earlier-cited text, according 
to which Mary was conceived by the Holy Ghost, forms 
an exception among the legends ; but the general view of 
Mary's origin corresponds far better with the doctrines 
of an immaculate conception than the portrayal we 
find in the story of Fanuel. If the pious bards and 
artists usually represented Joachim as Mary's father, 
yet they have often interpreted his fatherhood in a 
spiritualised way. They have removed from the 
" human conception " everything that did not harmonise 
with the idea of something spotless and clean. 

An example of how this idealising fiction could be 
carried out was to be found in some revisions of the 
narrative of the meeting of Joachim and Anna in the 
G-ospel of James. In the oldest record of the Apocry- 
phal legend, which was the foundation for our summary 
in the preceding chapter, it is stated merely that Anna 
waited for her husband at the door of their house, and 
there ran to meet him and fell upon his neck. But, 
according to the Historia de nativitate Mariae, Anna 
is warned by the announcing angel to betake herself to 
" the gate that is called the golden/' there to meet her 
husband. She has a long time to wait for Joachim, 
however, and even becomes despondent before she sees 


him approaching with his herds. 32 In the Evangelium 
de nativitate Mariae, again, the two reach the place 
simultaneously, and this happens in fulfilment of an 
express prophecy of the angel. " Make thyself ready/' 
the angel warns Anna, "and go to Jerusalem; and 
when thou hast come to the gate which is called the 
golden because it is gilded this shall be to thee a 
sign that thy husband, for whose safety thou art 
troubled, is coming to meet thee. If this happens, then 
know that what I announced to thee shall without 
doubt be fulfilled." 3S 

We see how the situation was made more signifi- 
cant, first by the scene being laid in a public place, 
near the splendid town gate, which throws its golden 
shimmer over the meeting of the pair ; and, secondly, 
by the fact that Joachim and Anna, without any pre- 
arrangement, meet at the very place indicated by the 
angel. Such a meeting is in itself a little miracle 
which prepares the way for the other one foretold, that 
"she who was childless should bear a child." It can 
easily be understood that the pious, having once begun 
to worship Mary's conception, took a further step and 
made the greeting at the golden gate still more 
miraculous. Previously, when with devotion they 
remembered the aged woman who, full of glad hopes, 
ran to meet her husband, people thought of the 
promise given to Anna ; for the promise they now 
substituted the fulfilment. By this alteration it was 
possible, without postulating any divine origin for Mary, 
to remove from her history all the markedly earthly 
and human moments which did not harmonise with 
the idea of her absolute purity, and the old legend 
hereby received a final remodelling by which it was 
brought into perfect agreement with the doctrine of the 


Immaculate Conception. The Holy Virgin, it was said, 
was, indeed, born of Joachim and Anna, but she had 
not been produced in the same way as other human 
beings. Her spark of life was kindled in the golden 
moment when Anna met her husband at the gate of 
Jerusalem. She had been created, pure and immaculate, 
from the kiss of two affectionate parents. 34 The con- 
ception was simultaneous with the greeting, and that 
which the angel had announced was fulfilled at the 
moment when Anna fell upon Joachim's neck. In 
some religious poems the angel was even made expressly 
to prophesy this miracle also. Thus a glass painting at 
S. Gervais is explained by the following device : 

L'ange aussi a Adrift espleuree 
Nonga qu'a la porte dore 
Concepveroifc de son "bon espoux 
Le fruict ealeu pardessus tout 35 

It is important to familiarise ourselves with this 
mystical view of the relationship between Joachim and 
Anna, if we wish to understand the illustrations of the 
Apocryphal narrative in pictorial art. As is well known, 
the Virgin's parents attracted to a high degree the atten- 
tion of religious painters. The Gospel of James, indeed, 
embraces a wealth of poetical motives which in them- 
selves must have exercised a powerful influence upon the 
pictorial imagination, but this circumstance cannot 
by itself explain why scenes from the pious tale were 
so often represented in painting. The Christian artists 
had not the choice of subjects in their own hands, as 
their work was decided for them by those who ordered 
it. 36 These, again, i.e. the churches, the monastic orders, 
and the individual pious patrons, were guided not so 
much by aesthetic as by dogmatic considerations. When 
they desired to have their walls decorated with pictures 


from tlie history of S. Anna, this was chiefly due to the 
fact that her person was then the subject of learned specu- 
lation and pious devotion. In this respect Mary's parents 
profited by a state of affairs that was uniquely favour- 
able. For just at the time when the Protoevangile had 
achieved a widespread popularity by reason of the theo- 
logical discussion on the Conception doctrine, religious 
painting commenced its perhaps most important period. 
Thus it has happened that the legend of Joachim and 
Anna furnished the motive of some of the most signifi- 
cant works of the early Kenaissance. 

The Apocryphal stories about this pious couple had, 
indeed, been illustrated before : in the two notable 
manuscripts which contain the homilies of the monk 
Jacob ; in some old paintings of the eighth century in 
the church of S. Paolo at Rome, which was destroyed by 
fire in 1823 ; in a Greek menology of the year 1025 ; 
and probably also in other compositions of which we no 
longer have knowledge. 87 It is only from the thirteenth 
century, however, that representations of the history 
of Joachim and Anna become common. The earliest in 
time, and the foremost in rank among these Renaissance 
works, is the series of pictures which Giotto painted on 
the walls of the Arena Chapel at Padua. No one has 
attained to the dramatic power, the firm and almost 
tangible visualisation, and the glory of colour with which 
he gave life to the legend. All the younger painters 
of Giotto's school, who portrayed the lives of Joachim 
and Anna, have merely followed in their master's steps, 
but there is much naive ingenuity, and many enter- 
taining features also, in their method of treating the 
subject. The narrative gains in intimate poetry as 
soon as it is taken up by those unknown German 
painters, "der Meister des Marienlebens " and his 


anonymous disciples, and it finally develops Into a 
monumental family romance when with a greatness 
which can be compared with Giotto's, in spite of all the 
dissimilarity in method it is illustrated by Albrecht 
Diirer in his engraved " Marienleben." 

In the majority of these series, the same situations 
have been represented. Joachim's humiliation in the 
Temple, and the angel's appearance to him, are met 
with in nearly all the old Italian frescoes. On the other 
hand, Anna's Annunciation, Joachim's journey to the 
mountains and his offering at the hermit's hut, each of 
which occupies its section in Giotto's series in the Arena 
Chapel, have not appealed to many of the later painters. 
None of them, however, has omitted to represent the 
meeting at the golden gate. This motive has further 
been treated in numerous single pictures, and retained 
its popularity right up to the close of the sixteenth 
century. It is, indeed, easy to understand why the 
patrons of Church art considered the meeting of Anna 
and Joachim a suitable subject for religious painting. 
We should do these pious and serious men a wrong if 
we believed that they allowed themselves to be guided 
by merely aesthetic considerations. The artists might 
value the purely pictorial possibilities of their work, but 
their patrons thought first of its theological import. 
For them it mattered little that all the poetry of ancient 
legend had been compressed into that chapter which 
describes Joachim's return with herds and herdsmen 
following, and Anna's waiting for him surrounded by 
her serving-women, and the affectionate greeting of 
the two amidst the white woolly creatures. They did 
not understand that James's narrative here takes on the 
tone of an oriental pastoral, which leads the thought to 
the old love-scene where Isaac, out in the fields, found 


his Rebecca in the midst of camels and steep. What to 
them was most important of all, and what made the motive 
suitable for Church decoration, was that the meeting at 
the golden gate was considered as an illustration of the 
dogma of Mary's immaculate conception. 88 What was 
portrayed was not an ordinary family scene, but a 
miracle by which the purest of all living beings was 
produced. In some cases it even happened that the 
dogmatic significance of the paintings was expressly 
emphasised by providing them with an inscription : 
Taliter concepta est beata Maria. In other cases tho 
artists themselves took care that the deeper meaning 
of their compositions should be understood. 

Thus it appears indubitable that it was in order to 
direct attention to the miraculous conception that some 
painters represented an angel bending down from heaven, 
and with his hands pressing Anna's and Joachim's heads 
together. Such divine assistance was more than super- 
fluous, had it been only an ordinary caress that was 
represented; but we can easily understand why an 
angel should guide the couple to that kiss which gave 
life to Mary. By this heavenly apparition, therefore, the 
pious must have been reminded of the Virgin's stainless 
origin when they looked at the G-iottesque frescoes in 
the cloisters of Santa Maria Novella at Florence, or when 
they stood before Vivarini's picture in Santa Maria 
Formosa at Venice. Still more important in its religious 
symbolism is a little picture in the University galleries 
at Oxford, in which behind the figures of Joachim and 
Anna with a little angel floating over their heads we 
see a slight and almost incorporeal female figure clad in 
white : the image of the virgin, say the interpreters, 
who was to be born of the couple's embrace/ 

It is improbable that the painters, even when they 


neglected to suggest the great miracle by such outer 
means, were unconscious of the fact that they had to 
represent something more than an ordinary genre 
motive. We can hardly be mistaken in supposing that 
the mystical meaning of the theme influenced them to 
endow their compositions with that loftiness which 
continually marks the pictures of the meeting at the 
golden gate. Whether Joachim takes his wife under 
the chin, as is the case on the seal of the French brothers 
of the conceptions, 41 or only presses her hands, as in 
Benvenuto di Giovanni's predella in the Accademia at 
Siena, or grasps her by the elbows or shoulders, as in 
Giovanni da Milan o's and Taddeo Gaddi's compositions 
in Sta. Croce at Florence, or bends forward towards her in 
an embrace as in Carpaccio's picture at Venice, or kisses 
her and places his cheek against hers as in Giotto's fresco 
at Padua, we imagine that we see how the artists tried 
to render a caress which was light and pure, but which 
by reason of the unique miracle was as powerful in its 
effects as the most elementary expressions of earthly 

That it was theological dogma which gave their 
popularity to the pictures of Joachim and Anna's 
meeting, also appears clearly from the fact that from 
the close of the sixteenth century these pictures become 
more and more rare. As has already been mentioned, 
Mary's physical conception was then no longer looked 
upon as holy, but the greatest weight was laid instead 
upon the purity of her animation. The old and popular 
view, indeed, prevailed in art a considerable time after it 
had been abandoned in learned discussions ; but it proved 
impossible in the long run to allow the painters to 
represent an idea which was no longer recognised by 


dogmatic speculation. The orthodox authors of the 
counter-Keformation protested with indignation, there- 
fore, against the scene at the golden gate being made a 
motive for devotional pictures. When Mary's immacu- 
late conception was to be illustrated, the embrace of 
her parents ought not, they said and it is still said 
to-day to be represented, and only Mary herself, who 
alone partook of miraculous purification, should be 
portrayed. Mary who tramples upon the serpent's 
head, or Mary who is carried by the moon or surrounded 
by the sun, thus became the symbols, none too clear or 
enlightening, by which the theological dogma was made 
visible. 42 Anna and Joachim could no longer be brought 
into direct connection with the doctrine of the Immacu- 
late Conception, because their relationship was viewed 
as one of marriage, in the proper meaning of the word. 
As such it had, indeed, been described in many of the old 
legends and poems. 

If accordingly it was no longer proper to see a 
miracle in the affectionate greeting of the couple, yet the 
marriage of which the Virgin was the issue might still 
be regarded as purer than any other earthly connection. 
Piety solicited such an interpretation, and the legends 
lent support to it Here, indeed, was the place to employ 
that argument which has been cursorily touched upon 
in the beginning of this chapter. In the case of the old 
couple who had become parents by a deviation from the 
ordinary course of nature, no earthly passion could be 
supposed. Thus Mary's purity appeared to be fore- 
shadowed, if not actually determined, by the passionless 
relations of Joachim and Anna. 

The most notable expression of this idea dates from 
the time when the Conception doctrine had not yet 
won any generally accepted recognition. In her visions, 


S. Birgitta makes the Holy Virgin explain how she had 
been conceived without sin. The manner in which the 
Swedish woman, who had herself been wife and mother, 
understood the union of the pious couple is so character- 
istic that her words deserve to be given without abridg- 
ment : " And when it had been announced to them by 
the angels that they should give life to the Virgin from 
whom the health of the world should come, rather 
would they have died than unite in carnal love. For 
lust was dead within them. And, indeed, I tell you that 
they united out of pious love and in obedience to the 
words of the angels, not from any lust but against their 
own will in godly submission." 43 

S. Birgitta was not alone in asserting that Mary's 
parents obeyed the angel against their will. According 
to some later authors, Joachim and Anna were so taken 
up by their love of God that they could not feel any 
earthly love. By one of those bold similes which occur so 
frequently in religious literature, the ecstasy of their faith 
is compared with Noah's intoxication, which made him 
unconscious of the fact that he was embracing his 
daughters. 44 More beautifully, however, and less absurdly, 
the relationship is described by a prophetess of modern 
times, Anna Catharina Emmerich, who in one of her 
visions had a revelation of how " die heilige Jungfrau sei 
in vollkommener Lauterkeit und heiligem Gehorsam 
von ihren Eltern erzeugt worden, welche sodann mit 
steter Enthaltung in hochster Andacht und Gottesfurcht 
zusammengelebt hatten." * 5 

As we see, to those who did not wish to regard her 
as a virgin, Anna became an ideal type of the virtuous 
wife and mother. Her marriage, it was said, was more 
meritorious than virginity; for when she who would 
rather have died than live in earthly love, obeyed the 


angel's command, she gave an example of humble 
dutifulness. S. Birgitta had learnt from the Mother of 
God herself to venerate this sacrifice of Anna's. " If," 
so Mary told her in a vision concerning her parents' 
marriage, " if any one wished to fast, and was ordered by 
his superior to eat, and out of obedience ate against 
his will such eating would be more praiseworthy than 
fasting." 46 Thus Anna was a right-minded Christian 
matron, who followed the commands of nature but 
obeyed them only as a duty ; and to popular imagina- 
tion she actually appeared as a martyr to this duty. For 
it seems, indeed, as if her worshippers considered her 
subserviency so praiseworthy that they could not be 
content with one example of it. As if further to 
emphasise her obedience, legends were written telling 
how she submitted to the constraint of several new 
marriages after becoming Joachim's widow. 47 These 
legends, however, were calculated to appeal to pious 
minds also in another respect, for if it were supposed 
that Mary's mother founded several families, a certain 
order could be brought into the genealogy of the holy 
house. The half-brothers and sisters of the Madonna by 
reason of Joachim's great age, it was difficult to suppose 
that he could have been the father of many children 
might have produced cousins to Jesus; and, according to 
the time-honoured view, there was justification for sup- 
posing that the Bible referred to cousins, when it spoke 
of those " brothers of our Lord," who, as has already 
been mentioned, caused the learned so much misgiving. 
Therefore, James the elder and John, together with 
Simeon, Judah, Joseph and James the younger, were 
made out to be grandsons of S. Anna. Their mothers, 
according to the legend, were two Marys, one of whom 
married Zebedeus, and the other Alpheus. The latter's 


wife was tlie daughter of Anna and Cleophas, and 
Zebedeus's wife was the daughter of Anna by her last 
husband, who bore the name, rather unusual for a man, 
of Salome. On behalf of this peculiar genealogy, with 
its three daughters of one mother, all bearing the same 
name, naturally no. support could be cited either in 
literature or in early tradition, but none the less there 
were serious Churchmen who zealously defended the 
fabulous pedigree. The theologians of the Sorbonne 
even declared it a heresy to doubt the doctrine of 
"Anna trinuba et tripara." Anna herself, it was said, 
had, in 1406, introduced in a vision all her numerous 
offspring to her worshipper, S. Colette, i.e. the Belgic 
nun Beata Coleta Boilet. 48 

After it had thus been proved that Jesus had grown 
up in a circle of numerous relations, religious painting 
began to depict the holy family in its entirety, from 
Anna, with her three husbands, down to James the 
younger. German art particularly offers many examples 
of such " Sippenbilder." 49 They are group portraits, 
in which the pious cousinship has been collected in a 
great family gathering. The children, as is usual in 
such compositions, have their place on the floor, while 
their mothers, with the tenderest infants on their laps, 
sit in a row on a long bench and gravely watch the 
games of the growing generation. Behind the seats, the 
fathers are grouped in courteous retirement. In the 
very midst, beside her daughter and her divine grand- 
child, Anna, the mother of the house, the prolific German 
matron, is enthroned. We imagine we are looking at a 
worthy burgher family which has had its portrait taken 
en groupe, for the figures are obviously painted from 
models, and the dresses and furniture are rendered with 
the photographic faithfulness typical of old German art. 


The fact that the compositions illustrate the sacred story 
might easily be overlooked, were it not for the quiet 
and devotional expression on the faces of the uncles 
and aunts. There is, however, a little detail which, 
gives the attentive observer an indication of the sub- 
ject of the pictures, for on the children's playthings 
a prophecy of the fate they are to experience can be 
deciphered. They amuse themselves indeed, according 
to the manner of their age, with rattles and hobby- 
horses and soap-bubbles, but at the same time they are 
occupied by more serious things. James the elder, the 
patron saint of all pilgrims, leans upon the staff which, 
according to mediaeval legends, was to accompany him 
on his long journeys. James the younger is busy with 
the club which would one day kill him; and Simeon 
Zelotes fingers the saw with which his body was to be 
cloven, as one cleaves a board. Thus by means of their 
symbolical attributes the pictures tell of the sacrifices 
which the children were to make for their great kinsman, 
and of the way in which Anna's family, by suffering, 
was to bear witness to the divinity of Mary's Child. 50 

It was, however, only during a short time that 
the pictures of the " heilige Sippe " enjoyed their popu- 
larity. After the first decades of the sixteenth century, 
the representations of the Holy Family become more and 
more rare. Theological authors now expressed their 
disapproval of Anna's numerous progeny being depicted 
in religious paintings. The subject was no longer 
fashionable, because the dogmatists had once more 
altered their views of Anna's personality. The leading 
authorities gave their support to those authors who saw 
something painful in the idea that the Virgin's mother 
had abandoned her widowhood. In spite of the Sorbonne 
and the visions of Coleta, the belief in Anna's later 


marriages was completely abandoned, and it was now 
sought to shew that the expressions in the Bible in 
regard to Mary's sisters and brothers did not in any 
way conflict with the view that Anna had been married 
only once. 51 

The notion of the degree of Anna's pnrity has, it 
seems, undergone many changes, but her sanctity has 
not been dependent upon the varying theories as to the 
conception. Whether Anna was regarded as a virgin, 
who had been overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, or as a 
mother whose only child had been produced by a kiss, 
or as an honourable wife, who in earthly marriage had 
given descendants to as many as three different men, 
she was always worshipped as one of the very fore- 
most among the Church's saints. Her cult increased 
continuously during the later Middle Ages, and she was 
honoured more universally than at any other time just 
before the Reformation, i.e. at the very period when the 
legends as to her trinubium enjoyed their greatest 
popularity. It was only natural, further, that every 
gain for the doctrine of the Madonna's greatness should 
call forth an increased veneration for her mother. Inde- 
pendently of what was thought of Anna's own history, 
the mere fact that the purest being had been conceived, 
or rather animated in her womb, must have conferred on 
Anna a kind of secondary sanctity. 

In this respect, too, the pious applied the same 
concrete reasoning that has left its mark upon all 
Catholic symbolism. In the Old Testament descriptions 
of how God's Temple was built out of costly and pure 
materials (1 Chronicles xxix.), men saw references to 
Mary, who was formed without spot and grew up with- 
out being even for a moment defiled by sin. 52 And if 
Mary was a Temple of God, because she had borne 


the Highest in her womb, so also Anna's body was a holy 
room, because in it the Virgin's shape had been formed. 
She, too, was a shrine, in which precious contents had 
been enclosed, and in her person, too, the shell was 
sanctified by the kernel. We have only to read how 
Anna is glorified in the Jungfru Marie ortagard : 53 
" how great is the praise of the mother Anna, for she 
is God the Father's most glorious treasure-chamber, in 
which He concealed the purest and -most perfect gold 
of His divinity, which is the greatest treasure of all 

This naive idea has also been expressed in pictures, 
for there are works designed to illustrate the Immaculate 
Conception, which represent S. Anna in such a way 
that we can distinguish in her body a little embryo 
with hands pressed together, and surrounded by a 
glory. In a French " livre d'heures " of 1510, the artist 
has even gone so far as to place Mary, bearing the 
Christ child at her breast, in Anna's open womb. 54 To- 
day, indeed, religious prudishness seeks to prevent such 
pictures being painted and exhibited in churches, 55 but 
there is no doubt that the pious often thought of 
S. Anna as a casket for Mary. She was the covering of 
the covering, and was less pure than her daughter, for 
she stood a step farther away from the holy contents ; 
but it was in any case her body which provided the 
material for God's Temple. Therefore it was a natural 
idea that led to her being constituted the patron saint 
of the furniture-makers. Just as these used their best 
skill in manufacturing the Church cabinets in which the 
eucharistic God was kept, so Anna in her womb had 
produced the chamber for the God incarnated in human 
form. 56 We see how the shrine symbolism perpetually 
pervades the religious view. 


The holiest of all contents conveys its holiness to 
the body in which it has been enshrined, and accordingly 
Mary's body becomes in its turn a sacred content, which 
confers distinction upon its covering. In the doctrine 
of her relationship to Anna, the same thoughts are 
repeated which are associated with the relationship 
between the Saviour and His mother. Thus Anna 
becomes a kind of Madonna of the second order, to 
whom a number of the Holy Virgin's functions are 
transferred. Both in art and theology many curious 
results are to be found of this reduplication of the 
Madonna concept. 

The thought has received its most noteworthy 
expression in those devotional pictures which in Italian 
art are called "S. Anna metterza," and in Germany 
"Anna selbdritt" In these the two mothers have been 
represented together with the Holy Child. In a number 
of cases Anna and Mary are placed side by side, and the 
infant Jesus reaches from the Virgin's bosom towards His 
grandmother ; 57 but in other pictures Anna sits behind 
her daughter on a higher seat, so that the composition 
culminates in the aged woman's venerable form. The 
second shrine stands outside the first, in an arrange- 
ment which brings to mind the boxes in an oriental 
box-game. The eyes of the pious spectator can turn 
from the Divine Child to her who bore and gave birth 
to Him, and afterwards to the being in whose womb 
His mother was produced. As genealogical illustrations 
these pictures are of insurpassable clearness ; from the 
theological point of view they show unmistakably the 
gradation in the relationship of the holy person to the 
Highest, and by their way of placing the figures they 
render the subordination of daughter to mother evident 
to the beholder. 


In this last respect, however, the compositions here 
described have given rise to criticism. It is not, it has 
been said, consonant with true piety that she who bore 
only a human being should receive a higher place than 
the Mother of G-od. On the other hand, Anna could not 
be introduced between the Child and the Virgin, and the 
younger woman could not be raised above the older. It 
is not inconceivable, as Mrs. Jameson supposed, that it 
was in order to solve this involved question of rank 
that recourse was had to the expedient of letting Mary, 
with Jesus, sit upon Anna's knee. 58 Such an arrange- 
ment which gave rise to many grotesque pictures, 
but was also the basis for that miracle of grace 
and harmonious grouping created by Leonardo in his 
S. Anna faithfully expresses the theological view of 
the Virgin's mother. Anna bears Mary, whose figure 
is often dwarfed to the proportions of a little girl, in 
the same way that Mary bears Jesus ; and just as it 
is through Anna that the Divine Child has His outer- 
most connection with the world around, so it is in many 
cases through her person that suppliants first address 
themselves to the Highest. When Madonna worship 
reached its culmination, it might happen that the Virgin 
was regarded as too lofty for people to dare to make a 
direct appeal to her. In such cases they sought in Anna 
a mediator between mankind and the Madonna, and the 
aged woman filled the same r61e in relation to her 
daughter as did the latter in relation to Jesus. 59 It 
should be mentioned, however, that the doctrine of 
Anna's work of intercession never won general recogni- 
tion in the Church. It did not serve any real need, 
because for the majority of her worshippers Mary 
retained so much humanity that they could appeal to 
her with good courage in all their troubles; but this 


did not prevent Anna from continuing to be one of -the 
saints most frequently invoked^ and men from appealing 
to the Highest in many cases through her mediation. 60 

Thus, just as Anna took over a share of Mary's 
influence, so also she has borrowed many of the charac- 
teristics that were especially distinctive of her daughter. 
In the legends of Anna's life, which were disseminated 
among the faithful during the fifteenth century, re- 
flections of the old narratives of Mary's childhood can 
clearly be traced. Anna, too, is described as a pure and 
shy young girl, who grows up under the protection of 
her pious mother Emerentia, and she, too, even during 
her early years, is a model for aU Christian women. 
What is related in these old and secondary stories is in 
itself of considerable Interest, but it need not occupy us 
in this connection. For all that has been written about 
Anna's virtues is only a pale reflection of the poetry 
with which the faithful have surrounded the figure of 
Mary. It is Anna's rdle to serve as a preparation for 
those miracles which the world was to see in Mary's 
person and fortunes. About this preparation enough 
has now been said, and it is time to pass over to the 
story of her in whom all " types " and " examples " 
were to find their fulfilment. 



Maria, du jetzt em Kindlein bist, 
Das sanget der heiligen Mutter Briist, 
Die Kinder gern alles versclieiiken, 
Drum wollest auch meiner gedenken. 
Mein Groblieit, die wollest verzeihen, 
Tiel Gnade dafiir mir verleihen. 

PEOCOPIUS, Mariale festivals 

(Des Knalen JPunderhorn). 

THE old Gospel of James is, as has already been pointed 
out, a didactic writing, which, to its purpose falls mainly 
within the sphere of dogmatic polemics and ascetic tracts. 
We can clearly, and unfortunately often only too clearly, 
observe the intention that guided the author when he 
composed his mosaic of Biblical texts and Eastern 
legends It is difficult to attribute to him any striving 
after aesthetic effect, at any rate as a conscious factor, 
and whatever literary merits his work possesses are 
derived in many cases from his models rather than from 
his own imagination. To a great extent the same 
judgment applies to the majority of the later revisions 
of the Apocryphal gospel, in which the theological and 
moralising element generally plays a more important part 
than the narrative pure and simple. It would, however, 
be none the less more than unfair to pronounce these 
devotional writings destitute of all independent merit 
and all aesthetic attraction. 



However strictly the authors might be occupied by 
what they had to prove and by what they had to hold 
up as examples to their readers, they could not help 
being influenced by their subject. They tell their story 
with an evident and contagious interest, and we see that 
they themselves were carried away by the beautiful 
legend. There are few of them who do not abandon 
the didactic attitude when they have to describe the 
youthful Virgin's grace and the charm of her being. It 
seems as if the Patristic seriousness was softened and 
the severe faces lit up by the smiles with which old 
people regard the manifestations of young life. How- 
ever severe an ascetic may have been, he could not 
resist the magic with which the innocence of childhood 
works its enchantment. 

It was, moreover, a part of the duty of pious litera- 
ture to meditate upon the Holy Virgin's childhood. 
Ascetic pedagogy began with the earliest years of life, 
and even at her tenderest age Mary must stand as a 
model for all pious women. The more the demands of 
monastic life were increased, the greater became the 
need of a moral " example " in which all these demands 
were fulfilled. That suggestion of priggishness which 
already makes itself felt in the Protoevangile's descrip- 
tion of Anna's daughter, becomes still more accentuated 
in the later versions. If in the oldest legend Mary was 
a kind of female counterpart to the Jewish Nazarite, 
in mediaeval writings and songs she became a little 
nun who instinctively adopted all the rules of the 
cloister, even before they had been formulated. 

The second predominant quality in the Mary type 
of the Protoevangile her absolute purity was also 
more and more clearly set forth by the mediaeval writers. 
Just as in the Mass-ceremony the ritual cathartic was 


developed at the same time as the Idea of the Sacrament's 
identity with the Highest was worked out, so too the 
idea of the Madonna's absolute spotlessness necessarily 
acquired increased importance when men had accustomed 
themselves to see God even in the child she bore and 
gave birth to. Moreover, there came another influence 
which caused men to work with unwearying zeal for 
the idealisation of Mary. If in handling the altar imple- 
ments it was necessary to ward off all profanation and 
defilement threatening the Holy of holies, it was 
a still more important and far more difficult duty to 
preserve the purity of the living tabernacle. For 
the human existence in which God and His mother 
had been planted was in the Christian view more soiled 
than anything else. At each step, therefore, of the 
Madonna's development, it must be specially shown 
how she was unlike all other women, and how she alone 
was raised above the unclean race. Eeligious imagina- 
tion had to create an ideal picture, which separated 
itself in all its characteristics from concrete reality. 

What this work implies we understand clearly, if 
we acquaint ourselves with the literature in which 
mediaeval asceticism's hatred of life is expressed. 
Poems, sermons, and theological treatises unanimously 
assert how little earthly things merit appreciation. It 
is not necessary, however, to examine these writings 
separately, since all that has been said in different places 
as to the misery of life is insurpassably summarised 
in a little book which is typical of the gloomy world- 
philosophy of the Middle Ages : Innocent III.'s De 
contemptu mundi. This book probably represents the 
most pessimistic estimate of existence that has ever 
been made. No one has dared to expose the animal 
element in human existence so unmercifully as the old 


Pope. That which appears to the "children of the 
world " as the mystery of life is investigated by the 
ecclesiastical critic of life with a closeness that is terrible 
in its brutal realism. Love, birth, and death are pro- 
cesses that are each in turn equally loathsome. The 
blossoming veil,, behind which the machinery of life is 
working, cannot mislead one who is at war with life, and 
who will not see in it anything but its grossest basic 
phenomena. Thus Innocent's looks do not rest on the 
rosiness of cheeks, or the roundness of arms, or the 
freshness of the skin, but only upon what is hidden 
behind the fair surface ; and his outlook upon life has 
not even the greatness of gloom. He does not describe 
the skeleton, the dead man which we all bear within us, 
and which becomes more and more prominent as its 
clothing is worn away from the carcase ; but he describes 
with bitter satisfaction that which is more horrible than 
the skeleton, because it is alive : all the forges for 
burning and decomposition which work under the 
covering of the fair exterior. Man is for Mm, and for 
all mediaeval moralists, a being who comes into the 
world in shame and impurity, who lives amid contagion 
and dirt, and who becomes only more repulsive as 
he grows older. Not only is he a polluted vessel 
for disgusting contents, but he also affords shelter 
on his body for other unclean creatures, for vermin 
and parasites, the kinds and varieties of which are 
described by Innocent with a completeness which 
probably exhausted mediaeval zoological science. 1 

Such was, according to the ascetic view, the race 
with which the Highest had to unite Himself, and such 
is the life He had to experience. In contrast to this 
idea, so horrible in its realism, had to be described the 
woman in whose body God could take up His abode 


without being defiled. It was impossible to emphasise 
Mary's purity without a constant reference to that un- 
cleanliness against which her figure stood out in sharply- 
defined contours. Even earliest childhood, which in our 
view is so innocent, was in Church theory defiled by all 
the lowness of earthly life. Therefore, to convince 
people of the spotlessness of the growing child, it was 
necessary to dwell upon the most unimportant details 
of her life, and this very striving after the greatest 
possible refinement led to an indiscretion in the por- 
traiture which often appears positively outrageous. The 
pious authors felt secure in the consciousness that the 
Madonna saw the good-will that guided their descrip- 
tions, and probably they have often proffered that 
excuse which one feels the need of repeating, both on 
their behalf and one's own, before beginning an account 
of the treatment of Mary's life in mediaeval literature : 
Mein Grobheit, die wollest verzeihen. 

It is only in a critical analysis, however, that the 
different elements in the pious ideas as to the infant Mary 
can be distinguished from one another. In the poems 
and legends themselves the childlike grace, the virtues 
and the purity, fuse into a poetic figure as harmoni- 
ous as any creation of the free artistic imagination ; and 
this figure retains its features so unchanged that all the 
earlier and later versions may be regarded as variations 
of the same legend. 2 Again, the illustrations of pictorial 
art, as a rule, follow the narrative so closely that they 
can without difficulty be treated together with the 
poetical descriptions. 

It is also from pictorial representations that we have 
to start in our review of the Virgin's life. For unlike 
the birth of Jesus, the first scene in Mary's life has not 
served as the motive for any detailed literary narratives. 


From the beginning of the seventh century, indeed, a 
yearly festival was celebrated in Europe in memory of 
Mary's birth, with which event, in the view of the 
Church, the great work of Atonement commenced. 8 
Sermons and hymns expressed the joy of the community 
over the birth of that being who in her virtues sur- 
passed all things created. Yet in all that was said and 
sung on these occasions, men confined themselves to 
some rhetorical declamations about the Madonna's great- 
ness. The Apocryphal gospels devoted only a very 
short space to Anna's child-birth ; and the later writers 
of legends do not appear to have found any occasion to 
embellish this narrative with any new and noteworthy 

Quite different was the case with the pictorial arts. 
Painters and sculptors knew well how to avail them- 
selves of the profitable subject presented to them by 
Anna's child -bed. Indeed, the birth of the Virgin is 
a motive frequently treated in Christian art. It won its 
popularity during the period when the Madonna dogmas 
occupied all men's minds, i.e. during the early Renais- 
sance, but the subject had been illustrated long before. 
The oldest known representations are to be found in a 
Greek menology of the year 1025, and in the remark- 
able manuscripts containing the homilies of the monk 
James, which are likewise thought to date from the 
eleventh century. 4 The method of treatment naturally 
varies at different times and places : from the familiar 
genre of the German painters to the monumental sim- 
plicity of Giotto and his pupils, and to the ceremonial 
and pompous style of Ghirlandajo's frescoes. In spite of 
their differences, however, all these compositions have 
certain elements in common. The mother is usually 
represented lying in her bed, while some serving-women 


or friends converse with her, and the nurses prepare 
a bath for the new-born child. 5 In these respects the 
disposition is quite complete in the Greek menology, 
and it is even possible that, as Venturi asserts, the 
composition in this manuscript is derived from still 
older models, i.e. from antique reliefs representing the 
birth of a child. The attendant women by Anna's bed 
would correspond, according to this Interpretation, to the 
three Parcae, and the nurse at the bath would be the 
successor of the slave who, In heathen art- works, takes 
care of the children of gods and heroes. 6 

Whatever we may think of such a theory, it is certainly 
remarkable that artists so often represented Mary's bath 
in spite of the fact that It is not mentioned in literature. 
G-rimouard de S. Laurent has even expressed a strong 
disapproval of this detail in the compositions, and if 
we try to place ourselves at the Catholic point of view, 
we can quite understand his pious indignation. The 
bath and the washing implements are, indeed, a super- 
fluous, not to say an unwarranted, apparatus in Anna's 
sick-room. Even if the authors did not definitely 
express themselves as to the course of events at the 
Virgin's birth, yet it is clear, from all they tell us of 
Mary, that there cannot have been any need to purify 
that being who, even in the womb, had been free from 
every stain. 7 Besides, it had been revealed to S. BIrgitta 
by the Saviour Himself, that His mother at her birth 
was "so fair that no pollution was in her." 8 The only 
motive which could be assigned for the unnecessary 
purification would be that on this occasion also, as so 
frequently during Mary's later life, there was a deliberate 
intention to disguise her special position in creation, by 
allowing her to become the object of the same treatment 
as other children of men. But even such a measure of 


precaution must have been superfluous, for the absolute 
purity of the Virgin had been recognised by her enemies 
from the very first moment. Thus in the continuation 
of the revelation just referred to, S. Birgitta tells how 
the devils understood who it was that had been born : 
"They looked so sorrowful and felt so unhappy that 
it was as if a voice had cried from hell, saying, c A 
virgin is born who is so virtuous that she surpasses 
all that is created in the kingdoms of heaven and of 
earth.'" 9 

It cannot have been long before Mary's miraculous 
qualities were revealed to others than the devils. All 
the references to the first years of the Virgin, which are 
to be found in the endless and highly-detailed descrip- 
tions of the epic poems of Mary, testify clearly that she 
was not an ordinary suckling. We are told in the Vita 
Beate Virginia Marie et Salvatoris Nostri rhythmica 
(from the thirteenth century) that her parents were never 
disturbed in their rest by her crying or weeping, and that 
her dressing never gave any trouble to her nurses, for 
she was cleaner than could be believed " multo plus 
quam credi possit." Walther von Eheinau who during 
the fourteenth century carried out with praiseworthy 
patience a poetic rendering into German of the Latin 
poem expressly asserts that no stains, "gross noch 
klein," were ever seen upon her clothes, either when 
she was undressed to be put to bed or when she was 
lifted up out of the cradle. 10 Not only was she clean 
in her habits, but she was also admirable in the whole 
of her behaviour. She was nourished at her mother's 
breast, for, says Brother Philip, Anna was in this respect 
also a pattern which all German mothers ought to 
imitate ; u but Mary took her food without greediness 
and her meals were never too rich. 12 Thus, even when 


she was in long clothes, she knew how to exercise the 
virtue of moderation. 

When she had learnt to talk Mary was never 
guilty of any childish and wearisome prattle, but gave 
intelligent and kindly answers whenever spoken to, 
and never uttered an evil word about anybody. 13 She 
avoided noisy companions, like a child who understands 
how to preserve its dignity. She must also have taken 
great care of her little person, for it is specially stated 
that her hands were white and her nails clean. 14 But 
with all her eminent and intelligent precocity, she was 
not one of those little pedants who have a depressing 
effect on those around them. It is true that she laughed 
seldom, but whenever she smiled, " the expression of 
her mouth was accompanied so charmingly by that of 
her eyes, that it was a joy to see her." 15 Her sympathy 
made it easy for her to be sorrowful with the sorrowful, 
but she could also be glad with the glad. 16 And the 
mere sight of her awoke gladness, for her countenance 
shone so brightly, says Gautier de Coincy, that one 
could scarcely endure to see it. 17 It was, to quote the 
old Swedish legend, as white as snow, and so luminous 
that one could light a candle from it. 18 

"When the poets of the thirteenth and fourteenth 
centuries thus represented Mary as a model for all 
good children, they introduced into their description 
many features from the ethical ideas of their own 
time. What is essential in these poems, however, is 
based on an ancient tradition founded by the Church 
Fathers of the first centuries. Thus in his treatises on 
virginity, Ambrosius describes in detail the exemplary 
habits of the holy child. 19 He asserts that Mary was 
sparing in her food, but lavish in pious works, and that 
when at any time she had been exhausted by fasting, 


she took nourishment only in order to preserve her life, 
but not to satisfy her hunger. She never slept, he says, 
more than was necessary, and while her body rested, her 
soul was at work, repeating during sleep what she had 
read, or preparing to continue, as soon as her sleep was 
broken, the occupation commenced during her waking 
hours. 20 She never left home except to go to church ; 
she worked alone and hidden in her room; and she never 
walked in the streets without companionship. These, 
and many other proofs of Mary's virtuous nature, are 
brought forward by Ambrosius to encourage his feminine 
readers to imitation. "May, therefore, Mary's virgin 
life," he expressly says, "be described for you in a 
picture which like a mirror reflects the ideal of chastity 
and the essence of virtue. May you draw from this 
picture examples for your own life, which show you 
in a perfect model what you have to correct in your- 
selves, what you have to avoid, and what you have to 
strive after. 

" The first thing you should zealously appropriate is 
the nobility of your model. "What is nobler than God's 
Mother, what is more resplendent than she who was 
chosen out by Heaven's resplendent King ? What is 
more chaste than she who bore a child without physical 
conception ? How can I tell of all her other virtues ? 
She was a virgin not only in her body but also in her 
soul who did not let any stain soil tier pure heart : 
humble in mind, serious in her words, intelligent in 
her thoughts, slow to talk and swift to learn ; building 
her hope, not upon uncertain riches, but upon the 
prayers of the poor ; zealous in her work, reverent in her 
utterances, and seeking the principles of action not from 
men, but from God. She injured no one, wished all 
well, was reverent towards all her elders, and was not 


envious of those of her own age ; she avoided quarrels, 
sought after reason, and loved virtue. When, indeed, 
did she hurt her parents even by a look, when had she 
a different opinion from her relations, when did she 
humiliate an inferior, ridicule a weaker, or avoid one 
who sought her help ? she who sought only such society 
where innocence never need blush and where respect was 
never set aside. Never was a severe expression seen on 
her face, never anything disrespectful in her bearing, never 
were her gestures other than comely ; her walk other 
than dignified, nor her voice other than gentle. And 
thus the shape and movements of her body pictured 
forth the purity of her soul. For" here the pious 
Father addresses a direct exhortation to his female 
readers " in a beautiful house one ought to meet beauty 
even in the ante-chamber, and at our first entrance 
we ought to be assured that nothing soiled dwells in 
the inner apartments, but that the soul's loveliness, 
unhampered by all physical bonds, can shine forth like 
the light from a lantern." 

In spite of all his asceticism, Ambrosius, as we see, 
knew well how to appreciate the significance of external 
beauty. In this respect his description corresponds 
with the view of the Virgin held by all the early 
Christian and mediaeval authors. The worshippers of 
the Madonna have always regarded her body as a clear 
lantern from which the purity of the soul shines forth 
unhindered In voluminous descriptions and with ex- 
tensive repetitions, they have set forth how the Virgin 
was, even physically, more admirable than any one else, 
but it is seldom that these lists of Mary's perfections suc- 
ceed in waking any living image in the reader's mind. In 
their anxiety not to pass over a single feature, the pious 
authors have made inventories of the elements of her 


beauty, instead of giving a pictorial description of what 
theologians call the " union of graces in the Madonna's 
person." We learn, to mention some striking examples, 
that Mary's eyebrows were neither too long nor too 
short, and extended beautifully over the eyes ; that her 
teeth were white and even, without cavities or stains, 
and shining Eke ivory; that her nose was straight 
and her nostrils (of course Mary's childhood is here 
described) were never in need of wiping ; that her 
voice was pleasant and her breath " sweetly aromatic " 
but we do not see before us the being of whose beauty 
we are to be convinced. 21 

The only thing we retain of the extensive descrip- 
tions, as, for example, in the Vita rhythmica and in 
Walther von Eheinau's German paraphrase of this poem, 
is an impression of Mary's movements. She walked, 
it is said, with an upright bearing, but her head was 
always a little bent, as befits a modest virgin, who 
should not hold her neck too straight; and all her 
behaviour, her walk and her gestures, were decent, 
courteous, and modest. 22 In this humbleness of Mary 
lay undoubtedly, according to the Catholic view, the 
foremost cause of her possession of that living and com- 
pelling beauty, whose name, gratia, at once signifies 
grace and charm. It was by her humbleness, more than 
aught else, that she drew the Highest to take up His 
abode in her body. 23 For what He first looked to was 
not mere physical beauty <c non treccia d' oro, non 
d ? occhi vaghezza," as Boccaccio sings in his sonnet to 
the Madonna ; but the modesty of a humble mind : 

Ma T nmiltade tua, la qttal fa tanta, 
Che pote romper ogni antico sdegao 
Tra DIo e noL 

By the same qualities Mary won the love of men, when 


she went out with bent head and with neck bowed in 
graceful modesty. In the mediaeval ideal of woman- 
hood, grace and modesty were indissolubly united, and 
the higher the rank of a woman, the greater was the 
value set upon her modesty. Thus it is said in the old 
Schackta/velslek concerning the modesty of queens ; 24 

Then som ar howisk j sina hoga 
aff blyghet skal iiennes enne loga, 
aff alia kropsins daglikhet 
meat tha skiner blygJIkhet. 

{< She who is courteous in her mind, with shyness shall her face be 
shining; of all the beauties of the body, none is more shining than 

In the case of Mary, however, this charming 
modesty must have been coupled with a quiet and 
dignified security, in a union giving personal distinc- 
tion to her entire being. It was, indeed, by an act of 
childish courage that she aroused admiration when she 
was brought to the Temple, and on this occasion her in- 
vincible charm was for the first time revealed to " all the 
people." Accordingly both art and poetry have found, 
from a purely aesthetic standpoint, an invaluable motive 
in the story of the Virgin's visit to the Temple. 

In the Eastern Church a festival had been instituted 
during the ninth century, perhaps even during the 
eighth century, to commemorate Mary's "presentation." 
In Europe, indeed, this festival has not achieved any 
general popularity, but in many places it has been 
celebrated with pious ardour, and efforts are still being 
made to win a wider recognition for it. 25 To an outsider 
it may seem as if the occasion were too unimportant to 
give rise to any special Church ceremonies, but such a 
judgment disregards the ability of Catholic authors 
to introduce a deep meaning into things which to us 


appear relatively insignificant. We need only read how 
Abb6 Broussolle explains the feelings with which the 
French priests regard the Presentation festival : " When 
on this day we walk up to the altar, there to renew 
our promises to the Church , we call to our minds the 
example of the Holy Virgin, who when she was still a 
little child, walked up the steps of the Temple without 
once looking back." 26 It is the idea of a holy and irrevoc- 
able initiation into religions mysteries that has made 
Mary's visit to the Temple so favourite a subject for 
pious meditation. Probably the same idea also led to 
churches being named after the Madonna's achievement 
on the holy staircase Maria ad gradus and to her 
zeal in reaching the Temple chambers being described 
at length in most of the legends and poems concerning 
the Virgin. In the office for the feast of the Presenta- 
tion, the coming to the Temple is spoken of as a 
solemn and serious act, an ascensio mantis Domini, i.e; 
an ascent to the "mountain and house of God/' 27 The 
" miracle" of the three-year-old child being able with- 
out help to dance up the high steps, does not seem, 
however, to have acquired any great importance in 
literature. In some authors the occurrence has even 
been considerably modified. According to Brother 
Philip, for example, the presentation only took place 
during the Virgin's seventh year, 28 while the Vita 
rhythmica and Walther von Eheinau retain the original 
chronology, but in order to make the scene more natural, 
make Mary crawl up the staircase like a child. 29 

In pictorial art, the coming to the Temple has 
plaved a yet more important rdle than in litera- 
ture. Before the time the beginning of the fifteenth 
century when Mary began to be represented as being 
taught to read by Anna, it was the only scene from 


the Virgin's childhood that had been portrayed. The 
motive also was particularly suited for treatment in the 
decoration of churches. For the Inhabitants of cloisters 
nothing could be more edifying than the picture of the 
female novice, who so willingly exchanged the home of 
her childhood for the Temple, and in addition the subject 
oiBFered many opportunities for artistic representation 
a stately Temple architecture, priests In gorgeous robes, 
the young girls who followed the Virgin on her leaving 
home, and the crowds of people admiring the confident 
and graceful bearing of the tender creature. 

In oriental art the narrative of the Protoevangile Is 
Illustrated with an exact fidelity to detail The torch- 
bearing girls, for instance, are minutely painted on 
Byzantine manuscripts, such as the Greek nienology of 
the year 1025 and the homilies of the monk James. In 
the illustrations to the latter manuscript, the Virgin is 
followed by Solomon's sixty warriors, who by their pres- 
ence lend increased dignity to the procession. " Mary 
advances," so runs the text to this picture, " and purifies 
the earth by the touch of her feet. She is not adorned 
with costly apparel, but the mantle of her Innocence 
makes her fairer than the virgins following her, even 
as the light of the sun darkens the stars/ 130 This con- 
trast between the Madonna and her suite has been 
sacrificed by the European painters. In their pictures 
we see no long procession, but only the Virgin herself, 
ascending the stairs. Taddeo Gaddi and Giovanni da 
Milano, indeed, with a touching inability to render the 
childish proportions, have portrayed before the Temple 
some dwarf-like figures, who probably represent Mary's 
playfellows; but with the later painters, as also with 
Giotto, even these remnants of Mary's following are 
absent. If the compositions thus became less rich in 


detail, on the other hand the technical skill of the artist 
has rendered possible a more expressive representation 
of the chief moments of the situation. The Mary of 
Gaddi and Giovanni da Milano still walks In quite an 
ordinary way up the steps ; in Gaddi's picture, the 
Virgin, contrary to the legend, turns tack towards her 
admiring friends ; and there is neither grace nor dance in 
the German painter's pictures of the visit to the Temple. 
Ghirlandajo, on the other hand, makes the Virgin run up 
the stairs with light steps, and we see from her flutter- 
ing garments how eager she is to reach the priest 
awaiting her. Carpaccio has not attempted to render 
any dancing movement, but has instead made Mary a 
serious aspirant, who with bowed head and a candle in 
her hand humbly approaches the holy place. In Cima's 
representation, we are impressed above all by the con- 
scious security with which the Virgin, erect and firm, 
ascends the high steps. Tintoretto, again, has achieved 
a powerful effect by letting her delicate form outline itself 
freely against a cloudy evening sky. No one, however, 
has succeeded in giving such an impression of God having 
really poured out His grace over Mary, as Titian when 
he painted the little Madonna, who, surrounded by a 
halo, walks up to the Temple with one hand carrying 
her dress and with the other one pointing in the direc- 
tion of her ascent. Her walk shows dignified grace 
and happy confidence; she Is serious and at the same 
time childlike ; a Nazarite who understands the high 
import of mysteries, but at the same time a little girl, 
whose innocent and inimitable grace make her " dear to 
all the people of Israel." 81 

In some renderings of the presentation, the artists 
have not been content with picturing Mary's passage 
up the Temple stairs. They allow us to look into one of 


the inner rooms of the Temple, in the background of the 
picture, in which the Virgin is received by the High 
Priest, or kneels with him before the altar. 32 Such a 
representation of two successive moments in one picture 
was not unusual in mediaeval art, and the fact that 
Mary performs her devotion at a Christian altar cannot 
be regarded as a disturbing anomaly. On the contrary, 
at least one Catholic art critic has had some little 
misgivings because the Virgin has been represented in 
some cases as praying before the Jewish Ark of the 
Covenant. Thus Grimouard de S. Laurent points out 
in his Gruide de Vart chretien that Israel's Palladium 
had disappeared during the Babylonian captivity ; and 
even if it had been preserved, it would be inconceiv- 
able, he says, that the Temple servants should allow 
Mary to enter a room which only the High Priest had 
a right to visit. All these circumstances, however, are 
brought forward by the orthodox author merely in order 
that he may be able to assert more vehemently how 
justifiable and how natural it was in symbolical com- 
positions to represent Mary before the Ark of the 
Covenant. The artists and spectators ought only to 
remember that such a subject cannot be grasped other- 
wise than mystically. Even if no earthly being per- 
mitted a woman to enter the Holy of holies, the angels 
may have often transported Mary into that chamber, 
which was, as it were, made to receive her ; 83 and nothing 
could be more significant to theological thought than the 
idea that the new Ark, which was to contain the gospel, 
was placed before the shrine which hid the tables of the 
law. This ingenious idea has been rhetorically expressed 
by Bossuet in a sketch for a sermon : " Open, Temple, 
thine eternal gates ; behold the Church that is represented 
before the Church, the sanctuary before the sanctuary, 


and the real Ark, In which. God Himself rests, before the 
figurative Ark, in which He is symbolically enclosed." 84 
The poetic editors of the Mary legend have strangely 
enough failed to notice the symbolism contained in the 
meeting between the old and the new Ark. On the other 
hand, however, they have known well how to describe the 
Madonna, whose person is perpetually associated in the 
theological system with the Mass-miracle, as a pro- 
tectress of the altar and of altar implements. Together 
with the other virgins, Mary takes care that the cloths 
of the Mass-table are always kept intact and clean. It 
was purposely forgotten that the Jewish sanctuary was 
not a Christian temple, and the Virgin was portrayed 
as the ideal for a Catholic sacristan. During her 
residence in the Temple Mary not only perfected her- 
self in that ideal domesticity demanded by the care of 
the holy linen, vessels, lamps, and candles, but she was 
also initiated into all the mysteries and prophesies that 
were to receive their explanation and fulfilment in her 
person. It was the Temple priest who gave her that 
instruction which the Renaissance artists, contrary to 
all tradition, made her receive from her mother Anna ; 
and the priests found in Mary a diligent pupil, who 
absorbed without difficulty all the theological knowledge 
that had been revealed to the Jews of the Old Covenant. 
She knew all the books of the Bible, and could interpret 
both their literal and their hidden meaning. How im- 
posing is the impression of her learning that we receive 
from the description In the Vita rhythmica : E5 

Omne vetus testamentum fuit ei notum, 
Sic quoque cito capidbat intellectum totum, 
Sensum tropologici, mistici, moralis, 
Nee non anagogici sive literalis ; 
Totam saeram paginam cum pMlosophia 
Celestis sapiente didicit Maria. 


It was also only natural that neither texts nor com- 
mentaries could offer any difficulty to her who, even in 
childhood, stood in close relationship with the Highest, 
Mary lived only for sacred service, in communion with 
God and His angels. These latter awoke her daily, 
when as the Protoevangile informs us they brought 
her the heavenly food which alone was worthy to nourish 
her " viscera sacrifera." 36 Mediaeval imagination loved 
to dwell upon these angel visits, and Wernher von 
Tegernsee even indicates that Gabriel entertained a 
virtuous " Minne " for the Holy Virgin. 37 This assertion 
certainly was not thought shocking during the period 
of romantic love-poetry, and it must not be inter- 
preted as implying any kind of doubt as to the Virgin's 
absolute chastity. She was pure in mind and thought, 
and in this respect, too, she was a model for the pious 
brides of Christ she had dedicated her " Magdthum " 
to the heavenly Bridegroom. Therefore she felt over- 
whelmed when she learnt that she had been promised 
to a man. She would rather have died than be exposed 
to an earthly marriage, for the Highest was so we are 
told by Brother Philip "her joy and her mirth, her 
laughter and her weeping, her life and death, and the 
mirror of her eyes and her soul's light " : 

ich mac von die gescheiden niht, 
du "bist min "and ich bin din, 
ich wil immer "bi dir sin. 38 

When, finally, Mary consented to go with Joseph, this 
was only due to the fact that an angel appeared and 
assured her that Joseph, too, was pure and chaste, and 
that he would be a watchful guardian of her virtue. 

It had already been stated in the Protoevangile 
that, according to the agreement of both parties, 
the connection between Joseph and Mary was to be 


only a feigned marriage. This view was held by the 
leading mediaeval theologians. The nuptials between 
the holy pair were regarded as a purely formal ceremony, 
and special reasons were thought out to account for the 
fact that Providence had found It needful ever to guide 
the Virgin Into a relationship which, at any rate for the 
world, looked like a marriage. S. Bernard has ingeni- 
ously summarised these motives under seven heads. The 
mystery, he says, had to be concealed from the devils, 
whose attention would have been aroused if an unmarried 
and virtuous Virgin had borne a child. The pious 
husband had to protect Mary's virginity ; and he could 
give her all the help she needed during her earthly life. 
Through Joseph the Divine Child's descent could be 
attached to a human line, and this also served to 
divert unwarranted curiosity from its mysterious origin. 
Further, her marriage protected the Virgin from calumny; 
and the fact that she, too, had been a wife sanctified the 
position of married women. Finally, by her nuptials 
Mary testified in favour of the Catholic Church's sacra- 
ment of marriage. 39 

This last argument is in Itself sufficient to explain 
why the patrons of Catholic art were so willing to 
decorate the walls of churches with pictures of the 
nuptials of Mary and Joseph. The holy wedding, as is 
well known, has been one of the most popular subjects of 
Christian painting, and the renderings of it by lo Spagna 
and Raphael are too familiar to need description. As this 
motive did not afford opportunity for artists to reveal 
any new sides of Mary's personality, it is not necessary 
to dwell on it further here. All the different composi- 
tions correspond in their essentials. Mary stretches out 
her hand towards Joseph's ring shyly and seriously, and 
we understand that only obedience induces her to bind 


herself in a union which, at any rate outwardly, is a 
marriage ; while Joseph receives her into his care with 
humility, but shows nothing of the joy or pride of a 
newly -wedded husband. One is tempted to imagine 
that he has learnt that he is only the representative 
of a lofty and absent bridegroom. Mary's nuptials 
constitute, indeed, a marriage by proxy. Her earthly 
husband will guard the Lord's tabernacle on behalf of 
the Highest, and the simple craftsman will offer his 
home and his name to the Son of God. In virtue of 
his profession, he was, even better than any one else, 
entitled to represent the real father of Mary's Child, 
for it must not be thought that there was no reason in 
his being a carpenter. Sicardus Cremonensis has, with 
a sublime play upon words, explained why the Divine 
Man chose Joseph for His earthly foster father : 40 " He 
preferred to be called the carpenter's son, rather than 
let His mother be stoned as an unmarried child-bearer ; 
and in truth He was the son of a carpenter, but of Him 
who carpented the sun and the morning red." 



Ma vorrei mi mostrastl 11 volto e i gesti, 
L' ranil risposta e quel casto timore, 
L 1 ardente carita, la fede viva 
Delia Donna del cielo, e con clie onesti 
Desiri ascolti, accetti, onori, e scriva 
I divini precetti entro nel core. 

VITTOBIA COLONHA, Rime sacre e moralt. 

THE Catholic legends have not much to tell about 
the marriage of Joseph and Mary, but it is easy to 
imagine how the faithful regarded the relationship 
between them. The fact that Mary was nominally a 
wife, and that Joseph had been wedded to her, did not 
prevent the pious couple from being considered a model 
for all Christian ascetics. Hagiographic literature 
offered many examples of men and women who con- 
cealed a monastic manner of living under the outer 
form of marriage. All that was known of these holy 
connections should be applicable to the story of the 
Madonna and her aged companion. When, after much 
persuasion, Joseph consented to be wedded to Mary, he 
gave, so it was probably believed, his hand to his 
" child-wife," or rather his young ward, and introduced 
her to a marriage such as that between Cecilia and 
Valerianus, Chrysanthus and Daria, or Henry and 
Kunigunda. He was as pious and considerate as these 



men ; but lie was besides, from a consciousness of his own 
unimportance, a humble servant of her and her Divine 
Child. Joseph, who is the patron saint of modest and 
quiet people, cannot, according to Roman Catholic ideas, 
be regarded otherwise than as a retiring head of the 
house who in no way disturbed Mary's relationship to 
the divine mysteries. After her introduction to her 
new home she remained a virgin of the Lord, just as 
when she had lived in the Temple ; and consequently 
she was, in all but name, a single woman when she 
received the heavenly message from Gabriel 

In this meeting with God's envoy we have to 
recognise the decisive event in the life of the Mother 
of God. As may easily be understood, therefore, the 
Annunciation has given matter for religious meditation, 
more than any other moment in the Madonna's history. 
The angel's promise embraced the whole of the glad 
tidings afterwards conveyed to the faithful by the New 
Testament, and in his words was found the canonical 
expression of the idea of Mary as "full of grace" 
and " blest among women." Consequently it is only 
natural that the champions of the Madonna cult should 
have glorified in picture and writing the scene when 
Gabriel " came to a Virgin in Nazareth." 

As early as the first' centuries, the Church Fathers 
wrote sermons in praise of the Virgin, which, principally 
consisted of a rhetorical piling-up of the epithets be- 
stowed on Mary, preceded by the formula of greeting 
in the angel's address. 1 The " Ave " was endlessly 
varied both in verse and prose, and the short biblical 
sentences were amplified in extensive paraphrases. 
According to this simple scheme men have for two 
thousand years unwearyingly continued to write and 
preach on the Annunciation miracle, 2 and the artists 


have illustrated the great subject with no less zeal, 
though with greater variation. 

It has been contended that the Annunciation motive 
was treated even In the earliest Christian art ; but 
it Is not certain that the two frescoes of the first 
centuries in the Catacombs of PriscUla and In those 
of Peter and Marcellinus which are brought forward 
in support of these assertions really represent Gabriel's 
meeting with Mary. 3 Even if this were the case, 
these two compositions would stand alone in the 
art-production which dates from the time previous to 
the Council at Ephesus. After the dogma of Mary's 
high position had been officially recognised, however, 
the motive suddenly achieved unique popularity. From 
the beginning of the fifth century we find It on sar- 
cophagus reliefs, on small ivory pictures, in mosaic 
work and on wall-paintings. Finally, during the later 
Middle Ages, when the Madonna cult reached its all- 
powerful position In religious life, the Annunciation 
pictures occupied an absolutely dominant place In Church 
decoration. Altar-pieces seldom lacked such rendering 
of the glad tidings ; and even If the picture Itself treated 
some other subject drawn from Christian legend, yet, 
above it, or in one of the small compartments in the 
predella under the picture, was represented the event by 
which the Virgin was chosen as a tabernacle for God. 
The outer surfaces of the doors of the altar cabinets 
usually have pictures of this mystery, which is a pre- 
paration and an introduction to all the mystical scenes 
represented on the inner reliefs and paintings of the 
cabinet. Finally, in the Church itself, the Madonna 
and the announcing angel frequently appear on either 
side of the great triumphal arch which separates the 
nave from the holy space in the choir, or they confront 


the worshipper above the middle doorway of the chief 
fagade. 4 Thus even the outer arrangements emphasised 
the importance of the Annunciation as the first great 
and fundamental miracle,, which constitutes the neces- 
sary condition for all the later events in the sacred 

It is only natural that in these numberless pictures 
there should appear many different ways of interpreting 
the subject. If, therefore, one wishes to gain a general 
view of the renderings of the Annunciation, the super- 
abundant material must be divided into groups. An 
exact classification would be difficult, if not absolutely 
impossible, to carry out, but even at the first view we 
can distinguish two types representing two essentially 
different methods of treatment. 5 

In pictures belonging to the first type the Annunci- 
ation is regarded as a mystic event, which is primarily 
important as a step in the great work of atonement. 
All historical details are unnecessary to such a concep- 
tion. Just as S. Luke, in his narrative, gives no informa- 
tion as to the immediate circumstances of Gabriel's visit, 
so the artists confine themselves to representing the two 
persons only. By this abstract method of composition 
the event is removed outside the limitations of time and 
space, and thereby gains in symbolical significance. 

The second kind of Annunciation picture is marked 
by a richer composition. The artists seek, by the aid 
of explanatory details, to give an idea, or at any rate an 
indication, of the place where the great meeting came to 
pass. Mary is portrayed not merely as a Virgin as 
such, but as a woman in a definite environment, and 
thereby the situation appears to the spectator as an 
historic event in the Madonna's life. For pictures 
of this kind the Gospel of S. Luke offers altogether too 


meagre a text. Artists have therefore been led to 
illustrate the more detailed narratives of the Apoc- 
-ryphal legends ; or they have, without any respect for 
historical facts, borrowed from their own immediate 
surroundings the milieu in which they have placed their 
characters. In many cases Annunciation pictures of 
this kind have the effect rather of German, Italian, 
or Flemish studies from life than representations of an 
universal religious motive. 

By reason of its very simplicity, the first method 
of treatment allowed an expression of the absolute 
element in the mystery. It was therefore calculated 
to appeal to those dogmatic theologians who during 
the later Middle Ages laboured still further to em- 
phasise Mary's r61e in the Atonement. This abstract 
composition further harmonised in purely aesthetic 
respects with the stylistic ideal of the Renaissance. 
It is therefore richly represented during the most 
flourishing period of Italian art Fra Angelico, 
Donatello, Piero dei Franceschi, and Perugino have 
refrained in their pictures of the Annunciation from 
portraying in any way the milieu. In Giotto's paintings 
on the triumphal arch in the Arena Chapel at Padua, 
the motive is compressed into its most essential elements, 
and even in Eomanesque churches representations of 
the Annunciation exist which are as simple as the gospel 
narrative itsel 

Of early Christian art-production, on the contrary, 
the Catacomb paintings already mentioned, and a little 
ivory plate from the period between the fifth and the 
seventh centuries (now in the Bibliotheque Rationale, 
Paris), are the only known examples of Annunciation 
pictures from which all historically descriptive elements 
have been excluded. The rest of the carvings, mosaics, 


and manuscript illustrations represent the holy event in 
a definite environment, which is either pictured in detail 
or indicated by some symbolical object. This method of 
treatment is predominant during the Eomanesque period, 
and it continues to be employed by the side of the 
simpler compositions throughout the Renaissance right 
down to modern times. The traditions and the literary 
models allowed of many variations in the method of 
representation, which can only be briefly characterised 


A clear influence from the Gospel of James is evident 
in those compositions which deal with the preliminary 
Annunciation at the well. The artists, however, have 
departed from their texts when they portrayed an angel 
as well, for according to the legend Mary only heard 
a voice addressing her. The Madonna is represented 
either as kneeling before the well, or as standing upright 
by it and letting her jug down on a line. She turns 
round frightened to the angel, who in some pictures 
descends towards her from heaven, and in others stands 
by her side on the ground. Some small ivory plates 
from the sixth and seventh centuries are the earliest 
examples of this type of picture. 6 At the beginning of 
the twelfth century the vision at the well was still 
portrayed in illustrations to the homilies of the Byzan- 
tine monk James, and the motive has received its most 
famous treatment in a great mosaic, dating from the pre- 
ceding century, in the transept of S. Mark's, at Venice. 7 
During the subsequent period, on the contrary, the sub- 
ject was completely forgotten. It is due, probably, not 
to any influence from the Protoevangile, but to a striving 
after aesthetically decorative effect, that some artists of 
the Renaissance Andrea del Sarto, Francia, Crivelli and 
Titian, for example make the Annunciation take place 


out In the open air in front of tlie faade of a stately 
building. 8 It also was probably a pure coincidence that 
led Francesco Rizzo to place Mary in a mountainous 
region by a spring, from which a young man fetches water 
in a vessel. 9 In spite of the landscape surrounding, we 
have to suppose that these pictures, like most mediaeval 
and modern works of art, represent the later angel- 
greeting, i.e. the Annunciation proper. In the majority 
of compositions, Mary, according to the canonical and 
the apocryphal narratives alike, receives Gabriel's visit 
in a room. 10 

If the pictures harmonise in this respect, however, 
they vary in their ways of representing the events 
accompanying the visit, for many different views were 
possible as to the circumstances in which the Annuncia- 
tion took place. Thus, to begin with the subject which 
lies nearest to the question of place, there might be a dis- 
pute about the time of the sacred event. The Gospels 
gave no indication in this respect, and the assertions of 
theological authors were based only on probabilities. 
Some considered that the Annunciation and Incarnation 
must have taken place at the same time as the manna was 
poured down upon the earth, i.e. early in the morning. 
They said, further, that as Jesus had come out of His 
mother's womb like the sun out of a cloud, His birth 
also must have been announced at the break of day. 
Other authors argued that the glad tidings were com- 
municated in the middle of the day, because Sarah had 
received the promise of Isaac the Saviour's prototype 
in the Old Testament during the hottest hour of the 
day (Genesis xviil I seq.). 11 The day, with its clear light 
and its bustle of work, was, however, regarded by the 
majority of authors as an unsuitable time for the great 
mystery, and the famous Jesuit, Suarez, asserts that it was 


midnight when Gabriel entered Mary's room. 12 Even if 
this view did not receive the Church's sanction, at any rate 
the evening has been generally considered the most prob- 
able time for the miracle. The twilight, the stillness, and 
the rest from labour, make the evening the most religious 
part of the day. There was, besides, a natural symbolism 
in the idea that God joined Himself to man just at the 
moment when the sun sinks to the earth. This thought 
was impressed on the minds of the faithful when the 
Church during the fourteenth century began to ordain 
the saying of an Ave Maria during the moments when 
the bells rang in the evening rest. The bell-ringing itself 
was probably a purely civic signal, which at the hora 
ignitegii reminded the inhabitants of town and village 
that they ought in the interests of public safety to 
extinguish the fires on their hearths; but when this 
warning became associated with the prescribed prayers, 
the message of the bells acquired a purely religious 
meaning. And by the help of that a posteriori reason- 
ing which is so often met with in theological -argument, 
it was asserted quite definitely that the Annunciation 
occurred at the evening twilight because the Angelus 
prayer is read at that time. 13 

It is not easy to decide how great an influence the 
different theories as to the moment of the Annunciation 
have exercised on pictorial art. The treatment of the 
phenomena of light continues, even during the Ee- 
naissanee, to be so generalised that it can seldom be 
seen whether the painters desired to represent a dawn, 
a midday sunshine, or an evening twilight. Where no 
details show the contrary, we may suppose that the 
time is early evening, i.e. the hour of the Angelus ; 
but there are many pictures which indicate by easily 
comprehensible signs that the artists had a later hour in 


mind. Sometimes a lighted candle shows that It was dark 
In Mary's room before Gabriel entered 14 his presence 
has naturally lit up his surroundings. 15 In those cases 
where the Madonna has been represented in her bed- 
room we have to suppose that the Annunciation was 
thought to have taken place at night. The Virgin , so 
one Imagines the course of events, has withdrawn to her 
innermost chamber, where she was wont to pass the 
most silent hours of the day in divine meditation. She 
has, as S. Bernard described it, carefully bolted her 
door so that no human being may be able to disturb 
her peace ; but the angel, by reason of the fineness of 
his essence, has been able to make his way through closed 
doors, and surprises her in her deepest devotion. 16 

That Gabriel, as some painters have represented the 
story, should wake Mary from her sleep, violates all 
orthodox traditions. A composition, such as Rossetti's 
" Ecce Ancilla Domini," would certainly not be approved 
by strict Catholics. 

From these controversial points it Is natural to pass 
to the question of how Mary was occupied when Gabriel 
entered. The Gospel of James expressly says that the 
Virgin sat at her purple work This narrative has been 
followed in all the earlier Christian art. Even in the 
most insignificant and most primitive sculptures one 
can usually distinguish a distaff, which the Virgin holds 
in her hand, or a basket and a ball which stand by her 
side. These attributes are even prescribed in the official 
rules for the manufacture of religious pictures given in 
the famous handbook of painting from Mount Athos. 17 
From the beginning of the twelfth century, however, 
the spinning requisites become more and more rare in 
Annunciation compositions, being replaced by a desk 
and a book. The artists have clearly been influenced 


by the accounts of Mary's religious meditations given 
by the theological authors. They make the Virgin look 
up from her reading when Gabriel enters. If she is 
represented as sitting, the book is usually open on a 
desk in front of her, or rests in her lap. In those com- 
positions, again, where the Madonna is an upright figure, 
she holds the book in one hand. 18 In the lineal composi- 
tion of her form this gesture has the same function as 
the holding of the distaff in the older representations. 

Where the book is open the artists have often in- 
scribed on its leaves those words of Isaiah's prophecy, 
in which, according to the theological interpretation, 
Mary's virgin -birth had been foretold. Hereby the 
pictures came to illustrate a thought expressed in S. 
Bernard's commentary on the Annunciation. For the 
Madonna, says the pious author, had reached in her 
Bible reading the verses in which it is said : " Behold, a 
virgin shall conceive, and bear a son" (Isaiah vii 14). 
In the humbleness of her heart she was thinking to 
herself how happy the woman would be of whom this 
could be said when in the same moment Gabriel 
entered and gave her the application of the text. 19 We 
imagine that we see how astonished she was by these 
unexpected tidings, when, as is observable in many 
Annunciation pictures, she marks with her finger the 
place in the book where she broke off her reading to 
look up at Gabriel. 

While we are concerned with the accessories of 
Annunciation pictures, it is necessary to say a few 
words also about the angel's attributes. In the older 
pictures Gabriel is usually provided with a staff, which 
indicates his office of God's herald. The staff or sceptre 
is sometimes crowned by a mound and sometimes by a 


little cross. 20 During the Eenalssance tills insigne is 
often changed for a blossoming twig, which leads the 
thoughts to the root of Jesse and to the flowering staff 
of Joseph. In a number of cases the artists seem to 
have chosen at random the flower they placed in the 
angel's hand, but usually Gabriel bears a lily. 

This lily, however, is not the only thing that blossoms 
in Annunciation pictures. From the beginning of the 
thirteenth century it becomes a rule which is closely 
observed in glass paintings and manuscript illustrations 
to place between the Virgin and the angel a vase con- 
taining a high-stemmed plant 21 During the Renaissance 
this plant is also most frequently a lily, while during the 
thirteenth century any flower seems to have been thought 
suitable for the purpose. Such an arrangement naturally 
heightens the decorative effect of the compositions, but 
it must not be thought that it was originally adopted for 
any purely aesthetic purpose. The flowers in the vase and 
the flowers in Gabriel's hand have a symbolical signifi- 
cance, and they therefore help to explain to the initiated 
the mystic purport of the situation. For the Annuncia- 
tion was the festival of early spring. Christ, whose 
birth was foretold by Gabriel, was a flower that blossomed 
from the stem of Jesse ; His mother, to whom the 
imagery of the Song of Solomon was applied, was a 
flower of the fields and a " lily of the valley." And the 
place where the Annunciation occurred had a name, 
Nazareth, which in Hebrew, according to an old but 
incorrect interpretation, means flower. Such a meeting 
of associations was naturally not left unutilised by the 
theological authors. It was often set forth in sermons 
how the promise of the birth of God as man was con- 
nected with the spring's promise of flowers and fruit. 
S. Bernard in particular worked out the flower symbolism 


of tlie Annunciation in poetic and ingenious conceits. 
The flower, he said, had been willing, at the time of 
flowering, to be born of a flower in a flower i.e. Jesus 
permitted Himself to be announced to Mary at Nazareth 
in the spring : " Flos nasci voluit de flore, in flore, et 
floris tempore." 22 It is a rhetorical bouquet of this kind 
that the artists illustrated when they represented the 
flower of spring or of Nazareth between the flower Mary 
and the flower Gabriel bears in his hand as a promise 
of Mary's flower child. 

When, however, the plant, or the stem in Gabriel's 
hand, is a lily, it does not stand for Nazareth or the 
spring, but refers to the immaculate conception of the 
Divine Child. For the lily is the primitive symbol for 
innocence, just as it is often used as an attribute 
of fruitfulness which, before Mary became a mother, 
could never be combined with virginity. 23 As a 
symbol of innocence it has been perpetually associated 
with the Madonna's person. The legends tell, for 
example, of a Jew who withstood all attempts at 
conversion because he could not be convinced that 
Jesus had been born without a human father. " I will 
not believe in this doctrine," he said, pointing to a 
withered plant, " before I see a lily spring out of that 
stalk"; but he immediately consented to be baptised 
when, in the same moment, a large white flower 
blossomed on the stem. 24 By a similar miracle a pious 
Dominican monk was cured of his doubt of the 
Madonna's virgin motherhood. He had gone to S. 
Aegidius for comfort in his soul's distress, and 
Aegidius removed his doubt without wasting many 
words. He merely struck the earth with his staff, 
and immediately a lily sprang up as a sign of vir- 
ginity before birth. Then he struck anew with his staff 


for virginity in birth, and another lily arose with, stem 
and flower. Finally, he smote his staff on the earth a 
third time, with the words, " Virgo post partum," and a 
third lily confirmed the virginity after birth. 25 We are 
reminded of this pious legend when we see that in 
their Annunciation pictures artists have often given 
three blossoms to the plant or to Gabriel's stem. In 
some cases the demands of the situation have been so 
closely followed that only one of these blossoms is 
open, while the other two are buds to show that at 
the Annunciation there could be question only of the 
first kind of virginity, i.e. " virginitas ante partum." 26 
The staff or the flower which was the starting-point for 
this excursus on the symbolism of lilies is not, however, 
an Invariable attribute of Gabriel. There are many 
Annunciation pictures in which the angel approaches 
Mary without showing any sign of his lofty mission, but 
it has in these cases been denoted by other means that 
he is a messenger. In some German compositions he 
hands the Virgin a letter from heaven, a naive idea 
which probably has some foundation in contemporary 
literature; it has at any rate been expressed in old 
oriental poetry on Mary. 27 In other pictures, again, 
Gabriel is provided with a hunting horn, and as a 
hunter of the mystic unicorn, he blows his Ave to the 
Virgin, in whose bosom the fabulous creature has found 
refuge. 28 The ingenious symbolism introduced into 
these pictures, however, has no direct significance for 
the understanding of Mary's personality. The ideas of 
her held by artists and poets are characterised above 
all by the way in which the bearing and expression of 
the young woman and her supernatural guest have 
been portrayed. 

The demeanour of the Madonna is determined 


clearly enougli by the text which, the painters had to 
illustrate. Even had they known nothing besides the 
canonical narrative, they would have been compelled, 
in the figure of the Virgin, to express her fear of the 
great news. The Gospel of S. Luke expressly says that 
Mary " was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind 
what manner of salutation this should be." These words 
have been extensively commented upon, and a proof 
has even been sought in them of the virgin modesty of 
the pure girl. The older authors, Johannes Chrysos- 
tomus, G-regorius Thaumaturgos, and Hesychius, con- 
sider, in accordance with the Gospel, that it was 
the import of the news which frightened her, 29 but 
Ambrosius in his ascetic tracts gives quite another 
explanation of Luke's text. We see how anxious he is 
to represent Mary as a model for all virtuous women. 
" It is the proper way of virgins," he says, " to tremble 
and shake as soon as a man enters the room, and to be 
terrified whenever a man addresses them. Women may 
learn from Mary how to apply the proper rules of 
womanhood. She was alone in her closed chamber, 
that no man might see her. And only an angel could 
find his way to her. She was alone, without company 
and without a witness, that she might not be disturbed 
by any unworthy address when the angel approached 
her. Learn, virgins, to avoid unseemly conversa- 
tions : Mary was terrified even by an angel's greeting." 80 

It was, however, as Ambrosius is at pains to point 
out in another treatise, only Gabriel's human form that 
aroused Mary's fear. She, who was used to the society 
of angels, regained her confidence as soon as she noticed 
that her guest was not unknown to her. 

Ambrosius was not alone in this ingenious explana- 
tion. In his notable letter to Eustochium Hieronymus 


gives a similar interpretation of the Virgin's emotion at 
the Annunciation. "When the angel Gabriel entered 
to Mary in the form of a man and greeted her, she 
became so disquieted and terrified that she could not 
answer him, for never before had she been addressed 
by a man. Later she recognised the messenger and 
answered him. And she who had trembled before 
the man, speaks with an angel unmoved by fear." 31 

According to these explanations, when Mary saw 
that Gabriel was an angel, she had no doubt that he 
really brought a message from the Highest. Gregorius 
Thaumaturgos, on the other hand, has made the Virgin 
experience for a few moments those misgivings which 
troubled so many of the pious ascetics and visionaries, 
who often feared that their visions were illusions sent 
out by the great deceiver. She asked herself, says 
Gregorius, whether the Ave did not threaten some 
misfortune, like the promise given to the mother of 
her race by the serpent. " Had the devil perhaps dis- 
guised himself anew like an angel of light ? " S2 With 
a similar anxiety, Mary answers Gabriel's greeting in 
Ephraim Syrus's annunciation hymn, " I fear, Lord, to 
accept Thy word. For my mother Eve fell from her glory 
because she listened to the friendly word of the serpent." 

In the same hymn the oriental poet has described 
the angel as so great and mighty that the Virgin is 
frightened by his mere appearance. " I beseech thee," 
she answers him, " terrify me not. Thou bearest glowing 
coals, burn me not. Strange and wonderful is what 
thou sayest, and the meaning of thy words I cannot 
grasp. . . . Thou art a flame. Strike me not with fear. 
Thou art surrounded by glowing coals, I tremble before 
thee. thou fire-being, how shall I believe thee ? All 
that thou sayest is new to me." 33 


Ephraim's rhetorical and effective description of 
Gabriel's appearance probably stands quite alone in early 
Christian literature, but in any case, the theological writers 
have emphasised the element of power in the person 
of the messenger. In this respect, special weight was 
attached to the fact that in the opinion of mediaeval 
philologists the name Gabriel signified the " strength of 
God." 34 It was said that he who was chosen to announce 
the miracle by which the Virgin birth was to break the 
power of eternal natural laws must himself have been 
powerful and glorious above all others. Gabriel, the 
heavenly bridegroom's speaker, was a paranymphns, who 
was comparable in power with the Highest Himself, 
because he represented God's own might. This thought 
has been expressed in lofty diction in a mediaeval poem, 
which long bore the name of Abelard : 

Hittit ad virginem 
Non cjuemvis angelum, 
Sed fortitudinem 
Suam, archangelum 
Amator hominis. 35 

It is not unjustifiable to suppose that ideas as to the 
Annunciation have been universally influenced by that 
mighty introductory strophe, which in Church song 
became well known to the faithful. The gospel too 
was a mysterium terribile, a message dreadful in its 
greatness ; but care was taken on the other hand 
that Mary should not be crushed by the overwhelming 
greeting. Just as the text of S. Luke's Gospel was care- 
fully commented upon for the purpose of emphasising 
the Virgin's modesty, so also zealous theologians dilated 
upon the angel's comforting answer, " Fear not, for thou 
hast found grace before God." The Virgin's answer, 
"How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?" 


gave rise to long and Ingenious explanations. It must 
not be imagined that Mary faithlessly doubted the 
tidings. Her question contains only a humble surprise, 
which was immediately satisfied by Gabriel's informa- 
tion. 36 The fact that Mary then obediently and sub- 
missively offered herself as an Instrument for the divine 
purpose with the words, " Behold the handmaiden of 
the Lord, be it unto me as thou sayest," was regarded 
as a personally meritorious action on her part. Her 
consent was necessary for the fulfilment of the work of 
Atonement, and God was indebted to her for the 
help she gave by her willingness. Thus her bearing 
towards Gabriel was in every way a contrast to that of 
the mother of her race towards the beguiling serpent. 37 
At the angel greeting, the part played by woman In 
Paradise, said the Catholic philologists, was changed in 
the same way that Eva's baneful name was converted into 
the auspicious Ave, a word which with its a privative 
signified that the world would be freed from woe. 

It may appear like childish playing with language, 
when in numberless poems Mary is sung of as " mutans 
Evae nomen," or when s~he is invoked, " Ave transfer 
nos a vae." But for mediaeval poets who exercised their 
skill on acrostics and involved rhymings, this kind of 
juggling with letters was quite in place in serious 
religious poems ; and even for the humble worshippers 
the play upon words was more than a technical artifice, 
because it recalled the contrast between the obedient 
submissiveness of the ideal woman and the first woman's 
headstrong lawlessness. 38 

The succession of different emotions described in the 
literature of the Annunciation could not of course be 
rendered in its entirety in any single painting. Artists 
have sought to express in the Virgin's figure either her 


fear at Gabriel's entrance, or her questioning wonder at 
his words, or her humble acceptance of the message. In 
the angel, again, they have represented either his mighty 
and terrifying approach, or his quieting and comforting 
appearance, or the reverence which he, although a 
supernatural being, felt for her who had been chosen 
by God. These different moments can to a certain 
extent be united, but there is always one of them which 
is emphasised at the expense of the others. The choice 
has been determined partly by the personal preference 
of the artist, and partly by the stylistic principles 
prevalent during the different periods of art. 

By reason of technical imperfections, complex mental 
states could not be expressed in the oldest mosaics 
and reliefs. However, the Virgin's timidity towards 
Gabriel was successfully represented by means of some 
simple gestures. By merely pressing the palm of her 
right hand to her breast, she shows how unworthy she 
feels. This movement gives a still more convincing 
expression of humility when, as is the case in an 
Armenian manuscript illustration, and in the wall- 
painting in S. Urbano at Rome, 89 it is combined with 
a slight inclination of the head. In other representa- 
tions surprise is increased to fear, as Mary with both 
hands outstretched seems to repel the unexpected and 
overwhelming impression. 40 

The motive of the extended hand is often re- 
peated in Romanesque and Gothic sculpture, but the 
expression is varied by new gestures. Sometimes the 
Virgin presses her hand to her breast, as if she would 
shun the great tidings. 41 She bends and twists her body 
as one who seeks to avoid something oppressive, 42 or, on 
the contrary, she shows by humbly extending her arms 
that she willingly accepts the choice of the Highest. 


There are also many church-door sculptures In which 
Mary's figure is motionless, and only a slight bending 
of the head indicates her consent to Gabriel's words. 

It Is the still and tranquil expression which gives the 
dominating tone to the early Renaissance treatment of 
the subject. Giotto is the great model also in the 
matter of Annunciation compositions. In his frescoes 
on the triumphal arch in the Arena chapel, Mary is at 
once dignified and humble, as, with hands crossed over 
her breast, she kneels before Gabriel ; and the angel, 
who is likewise kneeling, has a majesty which Is serious 
indeed, but so mild that it could not have frightened 
the Virgin. Giotto's immediate pupils have represented 
Mary in different positions standing upright, bending 
forward or kneeling and they have also varied the 
angel's bearing, but their compositions always express 
a feeling of quiet devotion. We see that it is not 
Mary's surprise, but her submissiveness, that they wished 
to picture. This moment in the situation is the subject 
also for the pictures of Fra Angelico, Piero dei Franceschi, 
Filippo Lippi, and Perugino. 43 With Simone di Martin o, 
Donatello, and Ghirlandajo, on the other hand, the 
gestures of surprise and warding-off return, 44 and the 
blending of humility and fear meet with a refined 
expression in Botticelli's Annunciation. 45 

With the later Italian artists this dramatically 
expressive characteristic becomes more and more 
predominant. Tintoretto paints the extremity of fear 
in the Virgin, and he has made her terror intelligible, 
for Gabriel flies like a storm-wind through the collapsing 
walls of her room. 46 Lorenzo Lotto has made Mary 
stretch forth her hands in almost petrified terror when 
the angel surprises her from behind, and in order to 
express fear still more clearly he has introduced a cat, 


which runs away frightened from the vision. 47 To a true 
Catholic the cat probably represents a theological idea, 
for this animal, which in pictures of the Last Supper was 
often represented as sitting close to Judas's place, must 
recall the Evil One, who was terrified at his power being 
broken by Gabriel's Ave. In all other respects, how- 
ever, Lotto's composition is only nominally a religious 
work. According to the pious and devotional idea, it 
was not a violent emotion of this kind which the Virgin 
experienced at the angel's entry, and it was not with 
such a surprise that the Highest called Mary to be an 
instrument of His purpose. The striving for an aesthetic 
effect has occupied the artist too much for the religious 
import of the motive to be realised. In the same way, 
it was not the Catholic idea of the Annunciation which 
was expressed in pictures such as Paolo Veronese's, 
where Gabriel dances towards Mary with the grace of a 
ballet-dancer, 48 or as Titian's, where the announcing 
angel is a little boy, who runs towards the Virgin 
joyfully and like a child. 49 

If we are thus compelled to disapprove of the too 
worldly element in the later Eenaissance representations 
of the Annunciation, still we must admit that the 
subject was often treated, even during the devout 
Middle Ages, in a way which did not quite harmonise 
with the strict seriousness of the mystery. The 
situation itself, the meeting between the young virgin 
and the heavenly youth, was such that a deviation from 
the severe theological interpretation could with difficulty 
be avoided. The legend's manner of describing the 
Annunciation was connected by inevitable and often, 
probably, unconscious associations with the poetry of 
earthly life. How much of the primitive and universal 
lyricism of the folk-song and folk-legend was not hidden 


in the idea of a young woman surprised by a greeting 
when she had gone with her pitcher to the well that 
place where Rebecca had met Eleasar, where innumerable 
nameless women had arranged to see their lovers, and 
which the erotic poetry of all periods has associated 
with the memory of love and song ? How many nai've 
ideas of earthly conditions must not have been 
aroused by those pictures and poems in which Gabriel 
transmits to the chosen one a letter, or as a postillion 
blows his greeting to her ; and even when these im- 
memorial accessories were missing, how natural was it 
not to think of Mary as one thinks of an earthly 
maiden receiving a message from her lover ? All the Old 
Testament prototypes, with which Mary was compared 
in sermons and poems, lent features of their earthly 
nature to that ideal type. If the Virgin surpassed 
Eachel and Esther and the Queen of Sheba in beauty 
and virtue, yet in any case she was, by the very 
comparison, to some extent likened to them. Still 
more was her image influenced by the ideas concerning 
that woman in whose love for her lover both the rabbis 
and the Christian theologians had seen a " type " of the 
relationship of the Highest to His faithful community. 
However much the commentators tried to insist that the 
language of the Song of Solomon ought to be interpreted 
mystically, they could not quite conceal the erotic and 
sensuous purport of the ancient pastoral poem. Mary, 
the new Shulamite, was therefore regarded as a bride to 
the new Solomon, and the Annunciation was understood 
as a wooing carried on on behalf of the bridegroom by 
his spokesman, " his strength," the heavenly messenger 

In the poems on Mary written by secular bards, 
this human or as the theologians would say, all too 


human conception has naturally been more prominent 

than in sacred poetry. Some French bards have 

described, quite without reserve, how God saw from a 

window in heaven the youthful Mary, who is wandering 

in humble grace upon the earth, and how, charmed by 

her beauty, He sends down Gabriel to communicate His 

pleasure to her. 50 Thus not only has the Virgin been 

described as a bride, but the Highest Himself has been 

made into a lover. 51 This could still to some extent 

be combined with respect for God, so long as it was 

Solomon and his shepherdess who were taken as types 

of the relationship between Mary and her heaveply 

bridegroom ; but the matter became alarming when 

the Bible narratives of the aged David began to be 

applied to the mystic relationship. Even God Himself, 

it was said, had felt a need of rejuvenation, and Mary 

filled for Him the same function as the Shunammite 

woman Abisag, whose warm young body gave new 

vitality to the aged king (1 Kings i.). The Father 

became young when he saw the young woman, and the 

Son was the form in which He was renewed. 52 Therefore 

it was possible, by daringly carrying this association to 

its extreme conclusion, to make Mary the pyre in which 

the old Phoenix was consumed at the Incarnation, only 

to rise up with the Saviour's body in a glorified shape. 53 

All these curious and, in their expansive details 

absolutely grotesque similes are, of course, openly in 

conflict with the dogmatic view. They have their 

interest for universal literary history, but they are in 

no way characteristic of the Church conception of the 

Annunciation and Incarnation, and they therefore lie 

outside the proper subject of this research. What we 

have to observe is that even in sacred songs written by 

priests and monks Mary is often praised as a " sponsa 


Del/' a bride of God, and Gabriel as a " paranymphus," 
or a spokesman ; 54 and there is reason to suppose that 
these ideas, even when they were not clearly expressed, 
played an unconscious part in pious meditations on 
the Annunciation. The supersensuous, indeed, cannot 
become quite comprehensible unless it is placed in con- 
nection with sensuous phenomena. 

From a strictly theological point of view it is certainly 
regrettable that the dogmatic doctrines were thus drawn 
down to the level of earthly life, but if one judges the 
expressions of faith as an outsider, one cannot but feel 
gratified that the dogmas received an interpretation which 
gave human life and human warmth to religious art. 
The pictures of the Madonna come all the nearer to us 
when we can see in them an idealisation of all the 
events in an earthly woman's life. Mary, who shrinks 
from the great tidings, is not only a handmaid of God, 
called to assist in His plans for the redemption of the 
race, but she is also the type of the young woman who 
is frightened at the mystery of life when it comes upon 
her and drags her out from a still and untroubled soli- 
tude. Her timidity is like the timidity of all virgins 
before the unknown, and she gives her consent with the 
confidence of a bride who, when she has lost her fear, 
advances without hesitation towards her new fortune. 
If the whole of her sex is thus idealised in Mary's person, 
the male sex is glorified in Gabriel, the " strength 
of God," who, mighty and aflame but with the careful 
" Fear not " of a chivalrous protector, enters the chamber 
of the youthful Virgin. One would like to think that 
such a humanised conception of the mystery was not 
entirely absent from any of the artists who introduced 
so much of the universal poetry of mankind into their 
representations of the Annunciation. 



Den store Hyrdetime atter 

til Bradefesten Tegnet gav : 

Guds S0a med Guds opelskte Datter 

forener sig i Jord og Hav : 

berust af Elskovs Baeger 

i hendes Indre praeger 

han Himlens Billed af. 


IN the canonical gospel nothing is told either of the time 
of the Incarnation or of the manner in which it took 
place. The angel merely says to Mary : " Thou shall 
conceive in thy womb and bear a son. . . . The Holy 
Spirit shall come over thee and the power of the Highest 
shall overshadow thee." The Annunciation contains 
nothing more than a promise, and Gabriel's sole function 
is to foretell the miracle. The Apocryphal writings 
agree in this respect with S. Luke's text ; the only new 
addition to the narrative is the expression in the Proto- 
evangile, that Mary shall conceive a child " by the word 
of God." What is meant, however, by the " word," and 
how the conception was thought to be brought about, 
does not clearly appear from this meagre utterance. 
If theological literature had never expressed itself 
more definitely about the mystical course of events, 
Annunciation pictures and poems could not have dealt 
with any other moments than those dealt with in the 



last chapter that is to say, the meeting of Gabriel 
and Mary would not have implied anything more 
than a delivery and an acceptance of an auspicious 

Pious imagination, however, was not content with 
any incomplete indications, but wanted to know when 
and how the Highest had connected His being with 
human flesh ; and it seemed most natural that the 
miracle should have taken place at the Annunciation 
itself, which is so closely described in the Gospels, and 
which, by reason of this description, became so dear a 
subject for religious meditation. 

It is not easy to decide at what time the two sacred 
events first began to be associated, but it seems as if the 
Incarnation were described in immediate connection with 
the Annunciation in one of the " Christian sibyllines," 
which are thought to date from the end of the second 
century. The expressions in this writing, however, are 
so obscure that the interpretation may be disputed. 
Freely translated (from Geffcken's German translation 
of the original, which was inaccessible), the passage 
in question runs as follows : " ... At first Gabriel 
revealed his mighty and holy shape, then the Archangel 
addressed Mary : ' Prepare, Virgin, to receive God in 
thy spotless bosom.' While he thus spake, God breathed 
His grace over the tender maiden. But she was seized 
with amazement and confusion when she heard it, and 
she trembled; her mind was stupefied and her heart 
beat fast at the marvellous message. But before long 
she rejoiced and her hearfc was warmed by the voice 
( c ob der Stimme '). She smiled like a bride, her cheek 
flushed, joy strengthened her (' ergotzte sie'), shyness 
cast a spell on her, and her courage returned. 
But the word flew into her body, in time became 


flesh, and, quickened in the womb, formed itself 
into human shape, and the boy was born in a virgin 
birth." 1 

If it is not unequivocally asserted in this description 
that the Incarnation stood in a direct connection with 
Gabriel's greeting, and if one may perhaps be doubtful 
as to what voice it was which warmed the Virgin's heart, 
the Church Fathers in the following centuries allowed 
no doubt that the Annunciation had brought about 
the Conception. S. Augustine expressly says that it 
was God who spoke through the mouth of the angel, 
and that the Virgin was fertilised through her ear : " et 
virgo per aurem impregnabatur." 2 The same thought 
that the spark of life penetrated Mary's body while she 
was listening submissively to Gabriel's words is ex- 
pressed among others by S. Zeno, S. Proclus, and S. 
Fulgentius. 3 S. Bphraim says that the divine embryo 
was produced without Mary losing her virginity, 
" because the Son abandoned the old way of life, and in 
a new way, unknown both to nature and the under- 
standing, descended into her body." 4 S. Gaudentius 
employs quite visual expressions when he describes 
how God " glides in through Mary's motherly ear to fill 
her womb," 5 and the poets do not shrink from clothing 
the concrete idea in terms equally unreserved. Sedulius 
sings of how the chaste womb was suddenly transformed 
into a temple of God, and how the untouched woman, 
who knew no man, conceived the child by the word : 

Domns pudici pectoris 
Templum repente fit Dei ; 
Intacta nesciens virum 
Verbo creavit filium. 6 

Ennodius compares the effects of Gabriel's words with 
a natural fertilisation : 


Quod lingua jecit semen est, 
In came verbnm stringitur.? 

And Fortunatus or, rather, the unknown writer of the 
great hymn "Quern terra, pontus, aethera," ascribed 
to Fortunatus uses a similar kind of expression ; 

Mirantur ergo saecula 
Quod angelns fert semina ; 
Quod autem virgo conciplt 
Et corde credens accipit. 8 

The naiVe idea of a fertilisation through the ear which 
explained the virginity of the Conception intelligibly, 8 
and which could, besides, be harmonised with the utter- 
ance in the Gospel of John that the "Word became 
flesh" survived in religious poetry until the later 
Middle Ages. In some of the numerous songs on the 
"Joys of Mary," the pious address Mary with the 
following often-quoted verses : 

Gaude, Virgo, Mater Christi 
Quae per aurem concepisti 
Gabriele niintio. 9 

This expression has indeed been explained by a modern 
Catholic author as referring to the Virgin's spiritual 
acceptance of Gabriel's message. According to Lon 
Gautier, the poet only desired to express that the 
Incarnation took place in a supernatural and inexplic- 
able way after Mary had heard with her ears the words 
of Annunciation. 10 But even if so spiritual a construc- 
tion could, by a strained use of all permissible methods 
of interpretation, be applied to those Latin poems in 
which Gabriel is spoken of as a " semmiverbius," and 
Mary as "verbo foeta," 11 yet we have no right to 
assume a figurative meaning in those popular songs 
which describe the mystery of the Incarnation with 


similar expressions. A German scourging song of the 
year 1349 says quite unambiguously : 

Diu "botschaft gie zeir oran in 
der hailig gaist flos damit in 
der worat in ir libe daz 
das cristns got und mensche waz. 

"The message entered through her ear, and the Holy 
Ghost flew in with it, and so worked in her body that 
Christ became God and man." 12 

A concrete view of the Conception through the 
ear also appears in a great number of the German 
mediaeval hymns written by professional poets, and 
it even seems as if scholastic theology itself was 
not quite a stranger to this point of view. Thus 
S, Bernard says in one of his sermons, " missus est 
interim Gabriel angelus a Deo, ut verbum patris per 
aurem virginis in ventrem et mentem ipsius eructaret, 
ut eadem via intraret antidotum, qua venenum intra- 
verat," i.e. the angel Gabriel was sent by God to vomit 
the Father's word through the Virgin's ear into her 
womb (" venter ") and mind, that thus the antidote "might 
enter by the same way as the poison. 13 The poison, as 
may be easily understood, is the word of temptation 
which the serpent dropped into the ears of Eve. Bernard 
here employs a comparison between the serpent and 
Gabriel, which had already been made use of by S. 
Zeno and S. Ephraim M in connection with the fertilisa- 
tion through the ear. 

The assumption of a "conceptio per aurem" was, 
however, only one of the hypotheses by the aid of which 
it was attempted to explain the miraculous Incarnation. 
In one of Ambrosius's hymns it is said that the word 
became flesh by reason of a mystical aspiration without 


the seal of Mary's virginity being broken. 15 It is 
perhaps this hymn which has occasioned the change 
in the recently quoted Latin song, which in a collection 
of Italian scourging chants reads as follows : 

Gaude, Virgo, Mater Christ! 

Qnae per flamm concepisti, 

Gabrlele niintio. 16 

An old legend, which in its earliest form is found in 
the writings of the oriental heretic Bardesanes, actually 
describes what happened at this kind of Incarnation. 
Gabriel, we are told, "with one finger lifted Mary's 
tunic and breathed upon her bosom. In the same 
moment the Virgin knew that a life had awakened in 
her womb." 17 Just as the idea of a conception through 
the word could, at any rate partially, be derived from 
a too materialistic interpretation of the philosophical 
doctrine of the logos, so also the idea of the fertilising 
breath was supported by a misunderstanding of what 
the Bible says about the Holy Spirit. We think of 
such an influence of language over thought when we 
read in S. Birgitta's visions of how Jesus explains Mary's 
motherhood: "For in truth my mother was a virgin 
and a mother. She had not become a mother through 
connection with a man, but she was inflated by my 
father's and my breath." 1S 

However important results the misunderstanding of 
words and ideas may have brought about in this and so 
many other connections, yet it is not in them that we 
have to look for the first cause of the mystical views of 
God's incarnation. The source both of the apocryphal 
and of the canonical narrative is that ancient popular 
superstition from which so many elements in Christian 
tradition can be derived. Thus the notion that the wind, 
the air, and the breath can bring about fertilisation 


both, in men and animals is a frequently recurring 
" Volkergedanke," which we are not surprised to recog- 
nise in the line " quae per flamen concepisti" 19 Another 
idea, likewise universal, which, has already been men- 
tioned in the chapter on S. Anne, appears in an old 
Italian lauda, according to wMch the Incarnation was 
brought about by the angel giving Mary the palm- 
branch and a sweet-smelling fruit. 20 Flowers and fruits 
have, in legends, often made virgins into mothers. 
Therefore it even seems probable that the green and 
blossoming branch which artists placed in Gabriel's 
hand has often been regarded in accordance with the 
popular point of view not as a symbol of virginity, 
but as a means of procuring a pure motherhood. 

The belief in the magical effects of fruits, flowers, 
and scents is, however, like all other superstitions, of 
a folklorist rather than an aesthetic interest. For the 
history of the poetic idea it does not much matter in 
which more or less peculiar way God is thought to have 
joined Himself to His human mother. The essential 
thing is that the Incarnation whether it was a sound 
that passed through her ear, or a scent that was breathed 
in, or whether the Highest Himself "kain durch 
beslossen Porte" allowed Mary to remain as inviolably 
virginal as before. The actual course of the mystic 
fertilisation has not of course admitted of direct descrip- 
tion. The pious visionaries have, indeed, thought that 
they perceived how Mary received the Highest into 
her womb with joy thus S. Birgitta hears the Virgin 
relate how " at these words my Son was immediately 
conceived in my womb with indescribable joy to my 
soul and all my body" 21 and they have pictured in 
their imagination how the three persons in the Godhead 
betook themselves in solemn procession from Heaven to 


Solomon's new Temple, i.e. the Virgin's bosom, in which. 
for nine months the Son was pleased to take up His 
abode. 22 In poems and sermons, however, such accounts 
of the connection between God and the human body, 
which in their minute circumstantiality are quite bizarre, 
are seldom to be found. When treating of the Incar- 
nation mystery, the poetry of the Church has tactfully 
enough employed a symbolic method of expression.. 
The Conception has been explained by the help of 
similes referring to natural phenomena, in which men 
thought they saw some analogy to fertilisation. Such 
a metaphorical notion must indeed offer itself almost 
unconsciously to the religious mind. 

If, as can easily be understood, the Incarnation was 
a subject to be handled with caution so long as the 
earthly mother and the embodied God were regarded as 
two human beings, the motive lost its delicate character 
as soon as the mother and Son were looked upon as 
representing great universal ideas. That which was 
incarnated at the Conception appeared Indeed to the 
religious imagination as a separate visible figure, but 
at the same time it embraced a whole world of ideas 
which are not easily connected with any anthropomorphic 
shape. In relation to mankind, God represented what 
is great, high, and supernatural; all that is separated 
by the firmament and. the space thereunder from the 
earth, was His kingdom. When the imagination looked 
for sights which combined what was sublime in His 
being, it found them in the great spectacle of the 
heavens in the clouds, the sky, the sun, or in the blue 
vault itself. 

The contrasted being, again, who at the Incarnation 
was for the first and only time united by a miracle with 
its opposite, was for its part typical of a wide circle of 


ideas. " Mankind against God " might be changed into 
the antithesis " earth against heaven." Mary was the 
highest human being, the purest and most perfect 
creature born of the race of Eve, and accordingly the 
whole of earthly creation was included in the person 
of her who was called to meet the Creator Himself. She 
stood for the sea, the earth, and the fields just as He 
who became her Son represented the sky and all that 
had its place beyond. Thus it was something more than 
a union of two personalities that was consummated at 
Gabriel's greeting to Mary. Not only were two bio- 
logically incompatible principles united at the moment 
when virginity and motherhood met for the first time, 
but a cosmic miracle took place, for two kingdoms which 
had been separated by all space were blended when 
heaven and earth became one in Mary's womb. 

The idea of a marriage between the earth and the 
sky is one of those " folk-thoughts " which are met with 
even in the lower races, and which recur time after 
time in myth and legend. That this thought became 
associated with the Incarnation was all the more natural 
since the Annunciation was celebrated just at the break 
of spring, when the earth is warmed by the proximity 
of the sun. The Ave too had, according to a prevalent 
Catholic belief, been uttered at sunset, when the light of 
heaven seemed to unite itself on the horizon with earth. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that mediaeval preachers 
often explain the mystery of the Incarnation in terms 
that refer to natural phenomena. "The heaven sinks 
down, and the earth rises " this is how the Annuncia- 
tion is described in Cornelius a Lapide's collection of 
commentaries ; 2S and Heinrich von Loufenberg sings 
in similar terms of " die Wunder der Menschwerdung 


Sich het har ab gebogen 
der timel zu der erd, 
der umbkrels 1st gesinogen 
ein einen punct gezogen 
in einer niaget werd. 24 

That Heaven bowed down to earth was a thing which 
had never happened, and which, just because it was 
inconceivable, emphasised the miraculous element in 
the union of the opposites, God and man. For the same 
reasons, however, the comparison could not contribute 
to explain the great paradox of religion ; but there 
was another approach of the firmament to the earth 
that could often be actually observed. When the 
sky descended and emptied itself in rain, it was as if 
heaven had connected itself with earth ; and the con- 
nection was fruitful, for the crops of the field blossomed 
forth after the downfall. The moisture of the clouds 
had begotten the vegetation. Such an idea, as is well 
known, has been at the root of many mythologies. 
Among all people whose life depended upon cornfields 
and pasturage, the clouds, the rain, and the dew have 
been good deities. 

It was easy for Christian writers who inherited their 
supply of similes from the Old Testament to represent 
the Incarnation under the image of a cloud which let its 
fertilising rain fall npon the ground. According to the 
Tahvist story of the Creation it was, indeed, the rain 
that made the earth fruitful. The barren, sterile tracts 
in Canaan, Syria, and North Mesopotamia had taught 
the Jews, and those nations from which they borrowed 
their ideas about the world, to regard moisture as the 
type of all wealth. 25 In the Psalms, as in the Prophets, 
the rain and the dew are continually used as images 
of blessing. G-od's wrath expressed itself in sending a 


drought on those who had not listened to His commands, 
but His favour sent rain upon the faithful, and His 
mildness sank down like a soft dew over the field. 26 
These agricultural similes are used also, in a derived 
meaning, to express all the spiritual effects of the 
pleasure or displeasure of the Highest. We read that 
the heart which has turned from God is dry and barren 
like an unfruitful field ; but the answering of prayer and 
grace are a heavenly dew which sinks down over the 
mind to purify and refresh it In this respect the 
earliest fathers follow the terminology of the Jewish 
writers ; and the similes of the cloud, the dew, and the 
rain are continually used by mediaeval scholastics and 
mystics, no less than by modern pious writers, from 
Santa Theresa and Bunyan down to the modern 
preachers. 27 

Those authors who possessed an independent 
imagination have naturally known how to introduce 
a new meaning into the old metaphors, or to deepen 
their meaning by their manner of drawing the com- 
parisons. The imitators, on the other hand, employ 
them quite mechanically, just as signs are employed in 
a prearranged cipher. They are certain of being 
understood, for the meteorological phenomena have all 
received time-honoured and definite meanings. The 
downpour of the heavens represents in conventional 
Catholic symbolism the Word of God and the divine 
grace and mercy. The clouds represent the prophets 
and apostles who go forth over the world to illumine 
mankind with their shining light, to frighten them 
with their thunders, and to comfort them with the rain 
of their mild words. 28 But the cloud also, and with 
much greater reason, stands for a covering for the God 
who hovered above the earth, and the rain is an 


image of the highest gift of His mercy, which descended 
upon mankind in the Incarnation. 

That Mary should receive her place in this system 
of similes is a natural consequence of the symbolism 
in which her being was expressed. As has already been 
mentioned, in contrast to the Divinity she represents 
the barren earth as opposed to the fertilising Heaven ; 
but in her virginity she was also a flower which needed 
refreshing by the dews of heaven in order to unfold. 
In her beauty she was a garden that would have 
withered up had not heaven sent its dew ; and in her 
chastity she was, as the fathers expressed it in an 
agricultural simile, "a field unfurrowed by any culti- 
vation, which gave a harvest when it was watered 
by the rain/ 729 All the Bible passages in which the 
blessing of rain is spoken of won a new meaning, there- 
fore, when placed in connection with the Holy Virgin. 

Thus, to take one example out of many, a prophecy 
about Mary and her Child was seen in Isaiah's often 
quoted verses about the " cloud that should rain justice " : 
" Drop down ye heavens from above and let the skies 
pour down righteousness : let the earth open and let 
them bring forth salvation and let righteousness spring 
up together ; I, the Lord, have created it " (Isaiah 
xlv. 8). As originally written, this text did not 
indeed admit of any application to the mystery of 
the Incarnation, but the Vulgate had introduced so 
many personifications of ideas in its rendering, that 
no great effort was needed to see in it a prognostication 
of the conception of the Divine Man: "Korate, coeli, 
desuper, et nubes pluant Justum: aperiatur terra, et 
germinet Salvatorem, et justitia oriatur simul: ego 
Dominus creavi eum." The ground that was to open 
was interpreted as Mary's womb, and the harvest that 


was to spring from the virginal mother-earth was the 
Saviour Himself, with whose birth justice was to go 
forth over the world. In the clouds it would be most 
natural to see an abode for the Highest, from whose 
being the incarnate Son was sent forth. They 
have, towever, in accordance with the time-honoured 
symbolism, also been explained in this connection as 
referring to the prophets and preachers who, with the 
rain of their word, foretold the Saviour's advent. 

The prophecies in Hosea vi. 3 and xiv. 5 could be 
interpreted on the same principle : " His going forth 
is prepared as the morning ; and he shall come unto us 
as the rain, as the latter and former rain upon the 
earth" "I will be as the dew unto Israel; he shall 
grow as the lily and cast forth his roots as Lebanon/ 7 
In the Apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, which is not 
included in Protestant Bibles, there were also some 
verses that could be spontaneously applied to Mary : 
" Dixi : Eogabo hortum meum plantationum, et in- 
ebriabo prati mei fructum " (xxiv. 42). The garden, 
we are told in Cornelius a Lapide's exposition, is Mary ; 
He who waters the garden is God, and the water is His 
grace, which is outpoured over Mary. 30 When once 
such a method of interpretation was recognised, it was 
naturally possible to decipher references to the Incarna- 
tion mystery in all those Bible passages in which there 
is mention of the blessings of moisture, dew, and rain. 31 

There is no need to summarise here the different 
chapters and verses which can thus be taken to support 
the doctrine of the Virgin's miraculous motherhood, 
but it is necessary to pause over a certain story in the 
Book of Judges which has given rise to one of the most 
peculiar symbols of Mary in art and poetry. 

It is related of Gideon that, when he was made 


judge of Ms people, lie demanded a sign in order to be 
convinced that God favoured his Intent (Judges vi. 
36-40). "And Gideon said unto God: If thou wilt 
save Israel by my hand, as thou hast said, behold I 
will put a fleece of wool in the floor, and if the dew 
be on the fleece only, and if it be dry upon all the 
earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save 
Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so : 
for he rose up early on the morrow and thrust the fleece 
together and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a 
bowl-full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not 
thy anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this 
once : let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the 
fleece ; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon 
all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that 
night : for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there 
was dew upon all the ground." 

This narrative has not been left unutilised by those 
interpreters who searched the Old Testament for 
prophesies of coming events in the Church's history. 
Thus Augustine has given it an ingenious meaning which 
has been brought forward by many authors after him. 
The dew that fell upon the fleece but allowed the earth 
to remain dry, was, it was said, Christ who descended 
to the Jews to redeem them ; but as the Jews rejected 
His message, the dew at the second trial left the wool 
untouched and moistened instead the fields of the 
heathen. The gift of Heaven was in this explanation 
compared with the incarnate God. 32 Mary had as 
yet no place in the simile. However, Ambrosius, 
Augustine's contemporary, was able to find something 
in Gideon's miracle applicable to her. 33 Indeed, 
nothing was more natural than to see in the fleece, which 
was moistened by the clouds of the sky, a symbol of 


the virgin womb ; and when once this association 
of ideas had arisen, a further reference to Mary could 
be found in the sixth verse of the seventy-second 
psalm. 34 For the Vulgate, like the older Protestant 
translations, renders the word "mown grass," 35 which 
occurs in this verse, by the word " vellus " or fleece : 
" He shall come down like rain upon the fleece, and like 
dropping dew upon the fields/' 

In a number of commentaries, attention was paid 
only to that explanation of the miraculous motherhood 
which Gideon's first trial had offered. The mystery 
of the dew, which no one can observe in its fall, 
was connected with the mystery of the Virgin's 
conception. In its Annunciation office, the liturgy 
adopted the Psalmist's old simile, "sicut pluvia 
in vellus descendisti," and devotional literature com- 
mented in detail on the import of the comparison. Thus 
we read in the Jungfru Marie ortagdrd that the 
Holy Ghost came to the Virgin secretly as the dew, 
whose falling no one can observe. 36 The fact, again, 
that the mild falling of the dew could not hurt the soft 
wool, offered a comparison with the divine fertilisation 
which left Mary's virginity intact. Thus John, the monk 
of Salzburg, sung in his poem Uterus virgineus : 

Verse 4. Als die woll fauclit wart 

TOD. des hymels towe, 
Also empfieng in kauscher art 
die edel jungkfrawe. 
Noch das fel nje wart versert 
yon dem regen suesse. 
Also wart maidleich zucht erwert 
in des engels gruesse, 87 

Here, as in the preceding example, apparently nothing 
is said about the earth being moistened by dew at the 
second trial, while the fleece lay dry upon the threshing 


floor. On the other hand, Hugo de S. Victor says, slightly 
modifying Augustine's ancient interpretation, that the 
earth may be regarded on this occasion as a symbol of 
the Church. The Virgin, he thinks, was indeed the 
first to be gladdened by God's grace, but after her, 
the community of the faithful, which extends over all 
the world, had its share of the heavenly dew. 38 Other 
authors hare succeeded in placing the miracle of the 
second night in a still closer connection with Madonna 
symbolism. Just as the fleece, i.e. Mary, absorbed the 
moisture of the air while the surrounding earth was dry, 
so she alone remained untouched while all the ground 
was drenched in dew. This thought is expressed in a 
hymn in the office for Notre Dame de Lourdes : 

Dura, torret arescens tumus, 
Tu rore sola spargeris ; 
Telltire circnm rorida, 

Intacta sola permanes. 39 

It is hardly too audacious to suppose that the dew in 
this hymn was understood in two opposite ways first 
as a symbol of grace and then as a symbol of sin. 40 By 
such a departure from the time-honoured interpretation, 
it has been possible to see in Gideon's miracle a prog- 
nostication of the two sides of Mary's being that is 
to say, the first miracle refers to her supernatural 
motherhood, while the second sets forth her unique 

The result of all these expositions has been that the 
fleece in the Book of Judges has become one of the most 
frequent symbols of the Madonna. " Vellus G-edeonis " 
is never left out in the enumeration of epithets glorify- 
ing the Virgin in the litanies. When the emblems of 
Mary were represented in art, it was never omitted to 
give a place by the shut gate, the enclosed garden and 


the lofty tower, to that miraculous fleece, which by 
its moisture and its dryness indicated the Madonna's 
motherhood and virginity. Often, as for example in a 
Madonna picture at Nystad, in Finland, Gideon himself 
was represented kneeling before the fleece, 41 for the 
old Jewish judge was a type of all Christian knights, 
whose foremost duty was the worship and service of 
the Madonna. As the first man who had seen a miracle 
which foreshadowed Mary's virgin - motherhood, he 
became a patron of the brotherhood of the Golden 
Fleece that high and famous knightly Order which 
made the "Vellus Gedeonis" of Jewish legend as 
famous as the fleece of Colchis. 

Thus, in the treatment of the symbolism of rain 
by theologians and poets, we find many traits corre- 
sponding to the common popular superstition that 
the moisture of the sky can fructify not only the earth 
but also human beings. Indeed it is probable that 
the story of the Saviour's incarnation was originally 
influenced by ancient myths as to virgins who had 
given birth to children from being exposed to rain or 
dew. As met with in Church poetry, however, the 
symbols have no immediate connection with the popular 
ideas of magic. They are used, it must be presumed, 
for a purely literary purpose as a means of explaining 
and visualising a miracle which in itself is considered 
to be too unfathomable to be penetrated by thought. 
However great or little may be their value in illustrating 
theological dogmas, they have at any rate poetically 
fulfilled an important function. That old and popular 
world philosophy, which the poems unintentionally 
recall to our memory, gives a mythic greatness to the 
theological dogma. We seem to recognise the agri- 
cultural symbolism of the legends of Osiris and Demeter 


when we read the series of similes In which Ephralm Syras 
epitomised the life-career of the incarnate God : He 
poured out His dew and His living rain over Mary, the 
thirsting earth. As the corn sinks Into the ground, so He 
descended under the ground. But He arose like the 
sheaf and the new crop/' ^ One thinks of all those 
"sons of the ram" In the American traditions of 
Montezuma, when one reads of the Virgin, a "virga 
fertills" who hecame "fecunda coeli rore." Even if 
one overlooks all the mythological and folklorist 
parallels, the religious narrative acquires a poetical 
tone through the nature pictures by the help of which 
it is explained. How effective is not that com- 
parison of the mystery of the Incarnation with the 
invisible fall of the dew ? Mary, says Ambroslus, took 
the Divinity into her entire being like a mild dew, 
without her virginity suffering any loss." 43 In old 
Swedish verse the same thought is expressed in the 
poem " VSx frus pina " : 

Som eit blit regn tha kom han nidlir 
then signadha jomfru tok han widhr. 44 

Mechthild von Magdeburg, the German seeress, 
develops the simile with some fresh details : 

Der siisze Thau der nnbeginnenden Dreifaltigkeit 

Ergosz sick aus dem QueH der Gottlieit 

In der auserwahlten Jungfrau Eeinigkeit 

Uad dieser Blume Fraeht 1st Gott der unsterbHche. 45 

Splendid as this piling up of attributes may appear, 
the great mystery has been still more beautifully described 
In a little English song from the time of Henry VI. : 

He came also still 
Where His mother was, 
As dew in April 
That falls on the grass. 


He came also still 

To His mother's bower, 

As dew in April 

That falls on the flower. 

He came also still 
Where His mother lay, 
As dew in April 
That falls on the spray. 

Mother and maiden 
Was never one but she. 
Well may such a lady 
God's mother be. 46 

It was impossible for pictorial art to illustrate all 
the import of thoughts and emotions expressed in 
Annunciation poems. In the nature of the case, the 
invisible fall of the dew could not be portrayed but only 
described. Again, the effect which the mild rain might 
have produced in the compositions had probably not 
been appreciated by art-lovers in the Middle Ages and 
Renaissance, who placed the clear sunny air foremost 
among all atmospheric phenomena. Painting could, 
indeed, suggest what the symbols had to explain. Fra 
Angelico and Filippo Lippi, for example, could well 
express the stillness of the great mystery; but if it 
was required to give a picture of the mystic event, 
then natural phenomena were unserviceable as subjects 
for representation. Painters and sculptors preferred 
to illustrate the more naive, but at the same time 
more graphic view, according to which G-od at the 
Incarnation descended to the Virgin in human shape. 

Such representations are found as early as in the 
first centuries. In the great mosaic at S. Maria 
Maggiore, which is thought to date from the fifth 
century, we see above the Madonna a floating angel, 
and opposite it a dove, i.e. the Holy G-host, who flies 

xv THE 313 

down towards the Virgin's head Gabriel stands by 
Mary's side, with his right hand raised in the conven- 
tional gesture of speaking. 47 It is conceivable that the 
two angel-figures both represent Gabriel during different 
moments in Ms course towards earth. (As has been 
earlier mentioned, successive moments were often repre- 
sented in one picture.) According to such an inter- 
pretation, the dove might refer to what would happen 
when the promise of the announcing angel had been 
fulfilled ; but if in this case it is uncertain whether the 
Incarnation was regarded as simultaneous with the 
Annunciation, there can be no doubt that in later art 
the two events were represented, in harmony with the 
dogmatic teaching, as standing in immediate connection 
with one another. 

Taddeo di Bartolo and Simone Martini have exactly 
illustrated in their compositions the process described 
by the Church's poets and dogmatists. We see how 
Gabriel's words of greeting, printed in gold, extend from 
his mouth to Mary's ear, as if to open a way for God's 
Incarnation. At the Virgin's ear terminates another 
golden, beam, which has its starting-point at the 
uppermost edge of the picture, where Simone Martini 
painted a group of seraphs, and Taddeo di Bartolo a 
floating Saviour surrounded by seraphs. 48 Along this 
shining way the dove of the Holy Spirit descends 
towards the Madonna. There are, indeed, not many 
pictures which thus make two lines meet in the Virgin's 
ear, but the stream of light which proceeds from heaven 
to the Madonna is seldom missing in representations of 
the Annunciation. Unimportant variations were intro- 
duced into the motive, but the fundamental thought 
itself was maintained unaltered. 

During the early Renaissance, it was usually from a 


picture of the Saviour that the golden raj issued. 
Later it was often preferred to represent God the 
Father Himself, instead of the Son. Piero dei Franceschi, 
Lorenzo Lotto, Antoniazzo Bomano, Mariotto Alberti- 
nelli, 49 and others portrayed an old man who, from the 
clouds, stretched forth his hands towards earth. In 
some pictures by Fra Angelico and Filippo Lippi, for 
example the hand alone, as a pars pro toto, has served 
to represent the divine figure ; 50 whereas Benedetto 
Bonfigli, again, in harmony with the idea of the Incarna- 
tion of the Word, makes the golden beam issue from 
God the Father's mouth. 51 A German glass-painting 
has gone still further in realism by placing a tube In 
God's hand, through which He blows forth His spirit 
over Mary. 52 In contrast to these naively graphic 
pictures we have compositions, such as those of Crivelli 
and Andrea del Sarto, in which the dove and the golden 
line descend not from any human figure, but from a 
cloud in the sky. 53 Finally, in Titian's Annunciation, at 
Treviso, all the anthropomorphic and symbolic elements 
have been abandoned. The light, as in a faithful land- 
scape painting, streams in rays upon Mary from a sun 
hidden behind a dark cloud. 

The actual union between God and Mary is repre- 
sented, as has been said, by a dove descending upon 
the Virgin's head. In a number of compositions the 
dove appears independent and alone, i.e. without its 
path being indicated by any ray of light, and without a 
picture of God the Father who sends It forth. Some 
artists, again, have given the entire Trinity a place in 
their pictures, with the dove a little way from the 
Virgin's ear, the Father in a cloud in Heaven, and 
the Saviour in the middle between the two. The Son 
is represented as a little suckling, who glides or runs 


down to His earthly mother. He Is often a stout "putto," 
who, with easy grace, "bears a great cross on Ms shoulder: 54 
As illustrations to the mystical view of the solemn 
procession of the Trinity to ic Solomon's new Temple/' 
these pictures are of an exquisite naivet& Unfortunately, 
orthodox theology has had no conception of their charm. 
On the contrary, the figure of the little boy has caused 
the dogmatists many misgivings. They saw in it a 
revival of an old heresy which the Church had thought 
already overcome. For the view that God descended to 
earth in bodily form was a confirmation of Eutyches' 
old teaching, that the Saviour's human nature came from 
heaven and was not formed in the Virgin's body. It 
was, therefore, a natural anxiety for the defence of true 
doctrine that drove Benedict XIV. to forbid, with the 
might of his papal authority, all representations of the 
Second Person in pictures of the Annunciation. 55 

To summarise the results of our inquiries in this 
chapter, many different theories of the Incarnation 
mystery come to view in the treatment of the Virgin's 
Annunciation in art and poetry ; but certain essential 
features are common to all the varying representations. 
Ever since the fourth century if not earlier it has been 
held that in one way or another the spark of life descended 
into the Madonna's womb at the moment when Gabriel 
pronounced his greeting. By this supernatural fertilisa- 
tion, according to the dogma common to all Christian 
creeds, Mary's absolute virginity was in no way affected. 
Moreover, the miracle by which she was transformed into 
a mother was one which could not even disturb or frighten 
her. It confirmed the messenger's word that she need 
not fear what would happen to her. In strained, but 
often poetical and apposite interpretations, the Catholic 
theologians and poets sought to show how mildly and 


quietly was accomplished that great work, by which 
the laws of nature were broken and the irreconcilable 
opposites of thought united with one another. The 
light fall of the dew was commonly cited in explanation 
of the Virgin fertilisation, but this was only one of the 
similes by which the Conception of God was illustrated. 
The remaining symbols of the Incarnation, however, 
have all been applied also to the virginal childbirth, 
and they will therefore be treated in connection with 
that event, which availed as little as the Incarnation 
to disturb even the anatomical virginity of Mary. At 
this point of our investigation there is only one circum- 
stance to which attention may be directed, viz. the 
fact that at the actual moment of Annunciation the 
earthly woman was transformed into a tabernacle for 
the Highest. Her body became, to use a pious ex- 
pression, a lantern that shone and shimmered with 
beauty from the moment that G-od was enclosed in 
it. 56 All that was prepared by her miraculous conception 
and during her pure and virginal youth is fulfilled in 
the Incarnation. With this event begins a new period 
in Mary's life, during which she is not only the purest 
of human beings, but also something far more than a 
human being. 



Abrazase la Madre milagrosa 
Be Cristo con la inadre soberana, 
De su profeta Juan ; la nina hermosa 
Virgen, con la casada vieja, anciana ; 
La espina seca con la bella rosa, 
La bianca nieve con la roja grana, 
Pone de amor dnlcisima coyunda 
La.fertil Sara a la Raquel fecunda. 

Historia de la Virgen Madre de Dios, Canto adv. 

IF the theological commentaries which have been sum- 
marised in tlte preceding pages, the Church's view of 
the Annunciation has been by no means exhaustively 
treated, for it has not been our intention to present 
a complete account of all the symbolical thoughts 
associated by pious devotion with the meeting of 
Gabriel and Mary. So far as art and poetry are con- 
cerned with the actual message of the angel, nothing 
more need be said. There is, however, one detail in 
Annunciation pictures which points to subsequent events 
in the Madonna's life, and which is therefore worthy of a 
few remarks in this chapter ; for the expressions of polite- 
ness exchanged between Mary and her heavenly guest 
have given rise to some remarkable interpretations. 

Since the sacred history, in each of its chapters, 
affords a pattern for human life, the high messenger's 
visit to Mary must also have had a more dignified 



character than any earthly visit The Virgin, as 
appears from the poems about her childhood, was 
modest and courteous in all her bearing. It is natural, 
therefore, that artists often made her bow in humble 
welcome to the angel Gabriel, again, belonged to the 
heavenly circle, the "himmelska herrskapit" to use 
S. Birgitta's expression in whose social life courtesy 
was supposed to have reached perfection. It is incon- 
ceivable, therefore, that he would not have bowed pro- 
foundly on entering Mary's room. Further, the greet- 
ings of the angel and the Virgin were based not merely 
on common politeness. Mary did homage to Gabriel 
as God's messenger; and he humbled himself before 
her who had been preferred before all others to serve 
the purpose of the Highest. Again, they were both 
bowed to the ground in veneration of the mystery 
which was announced. It is thus easy to understand 
the numerous paintings and sculptures in which Gabriel 
and Mary kneel opposite one another. The religious 
import of the motive is beautifully set forth in these 
pious compositions, which are devotional both in sub- 
ject and aim; and such a disposition is, from the 
purely pictorial standpoint, uniquely effective. The 
Tuscan sculptors in terra-cotta had an eye for it when 
they represented in their " lunette " reliefs Gabriel and 
Mary kneeling and stretching their slender figures to- 
wards one another in an arch over the flowering lily. 1 

There are, however, many compositions in which 
the position of Gabriel and Mary cannot be explained 
merely as expressing devotion and mutual courtesy. 
The Virgin is represented in these pictures as standing 
or sitting, and Gabriel kneels in humble homage which 
seems to be directed neither to God nor to the mystery, 
but to Mary herself. 2 According to the pious view, such 


a grouping is just as correct as the disposition of two 
kneeling figures. The angel, it is said, worships Mary, 
because he sees in her, even now, a tabernacle of the 
Incarnate God; 3 and the Virgin can accept Gabriel's 
homage without lack of humility because the Highest 
has been united with her being. Thus, in order to 
justify those pictures in which Gabriel alone bows to 
the ground, it has only to be pointed out that it is 
not the Annunciation itself that is illustrated, but 
rather the Incarnation which took place simultaneously 
with it. 

We do not mean to assert, however, that the artists 
made this distinction clear to themselves when they 
represented Gabriel's visit to Mary. It was probably no 
dogmatic tendency which led Piero dei Franceschi in 
S. Francesco at Arezzo to make of Mary a mighty 
queen, who in majestic pride stands high and untouched 
when Gabriel remains kneeling at her threshold. 
On the other hand, it is indisputable that a definite 
theological point of view can be introduced into such 
representations ; and what interests us is that in Piero 
dei Francesehi's fresco, for example, we seem to see how 
the Virgin's figure has been penetrated at the Incarna- 
tion by a dignity which sharply contrasts with the 
modest grace of the Virgin of the Presentation and the 
Annunciation pictures. 

The first chapters in the Madonna's history 

offered to artists and poets, as well as to theological 
writers, motives for an ideal description of childhood. 
According to this description, Mary is a young virgin, 
or rather a little girl who unites in herself all child- 
hood's grace and innocence. Protected in the secluded 
rooms of the Temple and fed by angels, she grows up 


like a white dove a little female Nazarite, whom 
nothing of the world's impurity has had the chance to 
defile. Such an innocent child was she when she was 
given by the Temple priests into the care of the aged 
Joseph, as a foster-daughter rather than as a wife ; and 
she was just as innocent a child still, when one evening 
at sunset she was surprised by the greeting of the 
announcing angel. 

"When the Incarnation was accomplished, Mary did 
not lose an atom of her purity. The charm of innocence 
rests upon her being now as before ; but that trait of 
gay graciousness is, if not extinguished, at any rate over- 
shadowed by other more prominent qualities. The 
woman who became the Mother of God could indeed 
remain a virgin, but she could not, from any point of 
view either religious or poetic remain a child. She 
is mystically wedded to the Highest. The child Mary 
gives place to the queen of earthly creation ; the little 
girl who had so lately sung and danced in God's Temple 
becomes the Mother, who will experience the highest 
pride of all mothers and live through their deepest 
sorrow. Her person no longer calls forth the kindly, 
and therefore to a certain degree superior, admiration 
accorded to prettiness and charm; but she compels 
reverence by reason of the calling to which she has 
been consecrated. 

To a reverence of this kind, according to the Catholic 
view, Mary makes claim, more than at any other time, 
during the period before she gives birth to her child, 
i.e. while she still carries the Highest in her womb. 
As long as her being is connected in this physical 
sense with God, she partakes of all the worship with 
which mankind approaches Him. It is in her character 
of God-bearer that she achieves her greatness, and it is 


from this character that all her other dignities can 
be logically derived. The same stately simile was 
applied to Mary as was used for the Monstrance, when 
it was said, repeating the verse from the Psalms : 
"He made the sun to be His tabernacle" "in sole 
posuit tabernaculum suum." 4 Her body was glorified 
as the abode in which God had for nine months been 
pleased to dwell, and numerous metaphors were in- 
vented which varied the- idea that she was a receptacle 
for the greatest and highest of all conceivable contents. 5 
In this way the shrine became a subject for religious 
poetry, and Mary, as a shrine, was adorned with poetic 
epithets, which were often as precious as the jewels and 
the fine metals on the reliquaries. 

The delight with which pious imagination played 
round the thought of the Madonna as a shrine appears 
from the fact that, in spite of the delicacy of the subject, 
it was attempted to embody the idea even in pictorial 
art. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in 
particular, the divine embryo was often portrayed in the 
Virgin's body in representations of the Annunciation and 
the visit, and of the Madonna alone. In pictures, the 
tender figure was painted on the outside of Mary's 
dress, or it was represented by the letters J.H.S. en- 
closed by a halo. In sculpture, again, with the greater 
realism permitted by the technique, a little window was 
inserted in Mary's body, through which one could look 
into the sacred room where the Son slept like a human 
embryo. 6 Sometimes instead of this one Person, the 
whole Trinity has been represented in the Virgin's 
womb, in illustration of the hymns in which Mary is 
invoked as "totius trinitatis . . . nobile triclinium." 7 
There were also fashioned many wooden figures of the 
Madonna, the front of which could be opened like a 


book and the inner walls of which were adorned with 
pictures from the sacred history. 8 By these ingenious 
works of sculpture a clear expression was given to the 
thought that the entire life of the Saviour and the entire 
redemption of mankind were hidden in their germs in 

While it was thus asserted that, during the period 
when she bore the Highest in her womb, the Madonna 
was raised to equality with God, on the other hand it 
was never omitted to notice the features by which the 
Virgin's life at this time corresponded or contrasted 
with that of earthly women. Mary is a new Eve, who 
has been purified from all the heaviness and earthliness 
which cleaves to the race by reason of the first mother's 
fall It is therefore natural that she who in her child- 
hood and youth is the perfect Virgin, and who at the 
Annunciation accepts with bridal modesty the Incar- 
nation, in order to be rendered fruitful by the Highest 
in the purest way conceivable, should also afford the 
world a glorified picture of that condition which, for all 
earthly women, is connected with pain, sickness, and 
oppression of soul. It was not enough that such a 
view could be deduced by analogy ; men thought that 
in Luke's narrative of how Mary " arose in those days 
and went into the hill country with haste" they had 
found a clear proof that she was not inconvenienced by 
her condition. The Church writers seem to have over- 
looked the fact that even according to the freest 
interpretation it would be impossible to place the visit 
to Elizabeth long after the Annunciation, and they have 
described the Virgin's visit to her kinswoman as if it 
had taken place at a much later date. Unlike all other 
women in her position, they say, she was not weighed 
down by what she carried, but lightened by it. She was 


healthy and joyful throughout the time when she bore 
the bearer of all things In her womb. 9 As a specific 
proof of her health, Richard de S. Laurent cites the 
statement that she could hasten over the mountain to 
Elizabeth. 10 S. Bernard expresses himself with greater 
caution, for he does not suppose that it could as yet have 
been Inconvenient to her to walk, but he points out, 
as something peculiar to Mary, the fact that she made 
the journey in a joyful mood. " It is a great thing/' 
says he, "to be a' virgin., but it Is in all respects a far 
greater thing to be a virgin in spite of one's mother- 
hood. Rightly was she, who alone had conceived her 
child without sin and lust, released from the heavy 
tedium by which all other wives are afflicted. Therefore, 
in the beginning, when other mothers are most oppressed, 
she could hasten up the mountains, full of joy, to help 
Elizabeth." 11 

The swiftness of Mary's walking, which was In- 
terpreted as an expression of a joyful state of mind, 
has often been set forth in Catholic commentaries even 
after S. Bernard's time. It is also significant that, in the 
office for the festival of the Visitation, there were intro- 
duced the verses from the Song of Solomon concerning 
the lover who hastens to his beloved (ii. 8, 9) : " Behold, 
he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon 
the hills . My beloved is like a roe or a young hart." 12 
In a Visitation hymn from Spain it is told how even 
nature partakes in Mary's gladness, and the mountains 
rejoice at the approach of God : 

Hierusalem in montana 

adit virgo virginum, 
Eerens titero latentem 

Jesum Ckristum Dominum. 
Plaudunt montes exsultantes 

a conspectu numinum. 13 


These thoughts have been further embellished by 
modern authors, who describe how Mary walks un- 
wearied over the mountains, and hastens forward 
without any need of rest: "The grass rejoices under 
her feet, the flowers spring up, and mountains and hills 
are glad when she draws nigh." M As Faber puts it, 15 
and as Fiihrich painted it in his picture at Vienna, she is 
accompanied by angels, " who shield the living Ark of 
the Covenant, and worship the Lord of the world, who 
is hidden in His Temple." 

Catholic art and poetry, however, have only in 
exceptional cases treated of the actual journey to Eliza- 
beth. It is the meeting of the two future mothers which 
has given rise to theological interpretation and aesthetic 
representation. To the pious mind this moment must 
appear to be above all others fraught with mystic sig- 
nificance. As has been pointed out, Elizabeth's mother- 
hood was a foreshadowing and a confirmation of Mary's 
supernatural union with God. The miracle of the Old 
Testament a barren woman who will bear a child 
meets in the Visitation the miracle of the New Cove- 
nant : a girl who becomes a mother and nevertheless 
remains a virgin. Elizabeth represents the tradition by 
which the future is connected with the past ; and she 
is all the better suited for this r61e because she is a 
woman of the tribe of Levi, who has grown up close 
to the Temple mysteries and who has become wife of 
the High Priest. It was, we are told, this familiarity 
of hers with holy objects that led her to receive Mary 
with meek submissiveness. She understood that it was a 
new Ark of the Covenant that had crossed the threshold 
of her home and that wrung from her those expressions of 
veneration and worship with which she the first of all 
earthly beings recognised the divinity of Mary's Child. 16 


By means of such ingenious, albeit far-fetched com- 
binations of thought, the Visitation could be made an 
inexhaustible subject of religious meditation, but to 
art also this motive offered an attractive and profitable 
task. The Annunciation pictures show that rich and 
varying effects could be attained by the representation 
of two figures bowing to one another in mutual rever- 
ence. In the meeting of Mary and Elizabeth a similar 
exchange of greetings has to be rendered, but here it 
is not two slender and youthful bodies that graciously 
lean towards one another. Elizabeth is bent with age, 
and Mary is usually portrayed with the same departure 
from the gospel narrative that marks the literary treat- 
ment of the Visitation in a condition of indubitable 
pregnancy. 17 On the other hand, the greeting between 
the two kinswomen is naturally conceived of as 
more familiar than that between the Virgin and the 
heavenly messenger. Mary and Elizabeth often join in 
a sisterly embrace, so tender that "sacri junguntur 
uteri," as Johannes a Jenstein describes it in the frank 
language of a religious hymn. 18 The actual gesture is 
in many compositions the same as in the pictures of the 
meeting at the " golden gate," but the effect is different 
by reason of the contrast between the figures of the 
young and the old woman. Further, the subject has 
permitted of many variations both in the treatment of 
the milieu and in the choice of the moment most suitable 
for representation. 

The meeting of Mary and Elizabeth is not among 
the subjects treated by the art of the first centuries. 
In certain old sculptures and carvings of the fifth 
and sixth centuries critics have indeed thought they 
recognised this motive, but, at any rate in the case 


of some of tliese works, the Interpretation Is doubtful. 19 
The stone workers of the Romanesque period, on the 
other hand, delighted to introduce the figures of the 
coming mothers on the Temple doors. As expressed 
by their faulty technique, the motive could not attain 
to any outer beauty. Thus an absolutely grotesque 
effect is produced on the fagade of the bishop's palace 
at Fano, where we see two coarse thick-set women 
pressed against each other, while the elder of them 
places her broad hand on the waist of the younger, as if 
to assure herself of her condition. 20 If sculptures of this 
kind have mainly an archaeological interest, it is on the 
other hand a great and lofty art that appears in the 
noble figures of Mary and Elizabeth on the doors of 
the cathedrals of northern France. 21 There is also 
beauty of line and expressive composition in many of 
the numerous and nameless representations of the 
Visitation, which are to be found on the walls of small 
French country chapels as well as in the great cathedrals. 
Where, as is usually the case, the meeting of the two 
kinswomen constitutes a link in a series of sculptures 
of the sacred story, Mary and Elizabeth have some- 
times been placed in two different but adjacent com- 
partments of the great image series. The pious women 
lean towards one another over a pilaster, which marks 
the transition from an earlier division to a later. By 
this we are reminded that the Visitation betokens a 
connection between new and old, an enjambement, one 
might say, by means of which, without disturbing its 
rhythm, the narrative enters upon a new chapter. 

In Renaissance painting the motive has given rise 
to many different renderings. Partly in order to give 
greater variety to the description, partly the better to 
fill up the given space, subordinate characters were often 


introduced ; and it does not constitute a departure from 
the Bible narrative to represent Mary and Elizabeth as 
accompanied by some serving-women. Painters have 
even been defended for giving a place, as they sometimes 
did, in pictures of the Visitation to Joseph, who wit- 
nessed the holy meeting at a distance. 22 These details 
serve to make the story entertaining to the spectator, 
but it also easily gained a worldly character which could 
not well be harmonised with the mystical import of the 
subject. In the frescoes and pictures of Ghiiiandajo, 
Carpaceio, and Sebastian del Piombo, 23 the Biblical text 
has only served as a pretext for gorgeous paintings of 
a young woman's visit to an elderly friend. 

In purely ecclesiastical works of art, on the other 
hand, everything has been avoided that might give 
the composition an impression of ordinary everyday 
life. The number of subsidiary characters has been 
limited, or Mary and Elizabeth occupy the whole 
canvas. They have been represented in an environ- 
ment that has been defined as little as possible : in an 
open place, in the shadow of trees, or in the vaulted 
passage of a gateway, framing with its mighty 
arch the smaller arch which is formed by the shapes 
of the two women. 24 The transference of the figures 
to an ideal milieu makes it all the more clear that 
it is a mystery and not an historic event which 
is portrayed, and by the position and expression of 
the persons, the artists have succeeded in revealing a 
good deal of the meaning concealed by the motive. 
The Madonna moves with the dignity of a queen. 
She knows that she bears the Highest; she is not 
indeed haughty, but she feels that pride which finds 
expression in her hymn, " Magnificat anima mea Deum." 
She is a child compared with her aged friend, but she 


receives Elizabeth's homage with the calmness of a 
superior. Elizabeth's posture is equally speaking. She 
raises her furrowed face to Mary with an expression 
in which reverence seems to mingle with the sympathy 
of an experienced woman, who knows that motherhood 
means pain. As Giotto painted this scene in his frescoes 
at Padua, the Visitation becomes an ideal picture of 
affection combined with admiring homage. 

It was usual during the earlier Renaissance to 
portray the two women as two figures of an equal 
height in an erect position, an arrangement which 
still appears in Carpaccio. Later, on the other 
hand, it was attempted to show Mary's superiority 
by making her taller than Elizabeth. Giotto makes 
the aged woman bow to her young guest, and the later 
painters accentuate the subordination of Elizabeth still 
more. Thus the same development can be observed 
in pictures of the Visitation as in the Annunciation 
pictures. Just as the artists, in order to emphasise 
the importance of the Incarnation, even made the angel 
Gabriel kneel to Mary, so they let Elizabeth sink to 
the earth at the Madonna's feet. In such an act 
the aged woman is represented in Ghirlandajo's 
Visitation in the Louvre, in Sodoma's picture in the 
Oratory of S. Bernardino at Siena, and in Andrea 
or Luca ? della Eobbia's monumental sculpture in 
S. Giovanni Fuorcivitas at Pistoja. 

The Visitation has served still better than the 
Annunciation as a model of that courtesy of demeanour 
on which such great weight is laid in the Catholic 
philosophy of life. Just as the Mass doctrine, with its 
strict demands for purity and dignity, gave rise to a 
pious etiquette, so an ideal of social politeness has been 
derived from the ideas of the Madonna's person and 


life. In the Catholic view, that outer courtesy which 
gives charm to men's mutual contact is not an un- 
essential social convention, but a virtue issuing from 
heaven ; and the patterns of this virtue heaven gave 
to earth when Gabriel visited Mary, and when the 
youthful Virgin, who had been raised over al creation, 
gladly hastened to her aged kinswoman, to assist her 
who so humbly received God's elect 25 This idea has 
been naively expressed in an English motto of the 
fifteenth century, designed to impress a knowledge of 
life upon the rising generation : 

Little children, here ye may lere 
Much courtesy that is written here ; 
For clerks that the seven arts cunne 
Seyn that courtesy from heaven come. 
When Gabriel our Lady grette, 
And Elizabeth with Mary mette. 26 

AH the good-will and attention which men show one 
another, however, is only a weak counterpart of that 
perfection of courtesy with which the faithful approach 
what is holy. In the plastics of kneeling and deep 
bowing the Catholic mind is expressed in its most 
significant manifestation, and the perfect portrayal of 
this manifestation is to be found in the pictures of 
the aged woman who bows before the living tabernacle 
of God. We can understand, therefore, that the Visita- 
tion has been one of the most popular subjects of 
Catholic art, and that the pious can read a profound 
import of religious thoughts and feelings into the story 
of the meeting of the holy women. 

However clearly the painters and sculptors expressed 
in Elizabeth's bearing her reverence for God's sanctuary, 
they did not succeed in the medium of the arts of 
design in illustrating the marvellous effect of Mary's 


approach which, is specially mentioned in the Gospel 
namely, the glad movements with which the unborn John 
rejoiced at his Master's presence, and by which, as the 
theologians expressed it, he showed himself holy even 
in his mother s womb. During the later Middle Ages, 
indeed, artists did not hesitate to paint even the two 
embryos greeting each other. Jesus, in Mary's womb, 
raised His hand in a gesture of blessing, and John 
on his side bowed humbly towards his Master. 27 But 
these attempts to represent the invisible meeting are 
few in number, and they completely fail in effect, both 
as works of art and as devotional pictures. That from 
which art had to abstain could, however, be treated by 
poetry and literature. Thus the piety of the unborn 
Baptist has often been praised both in poems and 
sermons, and the joy he expressed by his motions 
has been compared with the devotion of Christians in 
the presence of that God who can no more be seen 
in human shape, and who is no longer hidden in a 
living tabernacle in human form, but who is met 
instead in the Eucharistic Incarnation. "How often 
does it not happen," says the modern author Faber, 
"that a secret joy flames up within us when we 
approach the Sacrament house? . . . Joy, exultation, 
praise, delight, the sense of forgiveness, and the spirit 
of worship, these are exactly the fruits produced within 
us, as they were produced within the Baptist's soul." 28 
All the feelings of gladness and worship which the faithful 
experience before the Host, are thus seen to correspond 
to the feelings which Mary's coming aroused in the 
holy embryo. No better proof can be desired of that 
connection between the symbolism of the Mass and 
the cult of Mary, of which one is unceasingly reminded 
when studying the Catholic religious life. 



How life and death in Thee 

Agree ! 
Thou hast a virgin womb, 

And tomb. 
A Joseph did betroth 

Them both. 

EICHAKD CBASHAW, Steps to the Temple. 

IN the preceding chapters it has been related how, ac- 
cording to the ideas of the believers, God miraculously 
and mysteriously took up His abode in Mary's womb, 
and how she, without being troubled by her condition, 
bore the Highest in the pure tabernacle of her virgin 
body. It now remains to give an account of the ideas 
connected with the appearance of the Incarnate God on 
earth, i.e. with the miracle by which He left the womb 
without that closed and sacred shrine being broken. 

The miraculous birth, it is easy to understand, is a 
delicate subject, which even the plain-spoken theologians 
of the Middle Ages treated with a certain caution. The 
Conception, which in itself was even more delicate, could 
be portrayed both in words and in pictures, when the 
ingenious doctrine of a " conceptio per aurem" had been 
evolved. If dogmatists had ventured to assert that 
God had chosen the same "new way" in the second 
case also, the doctrine would have been less perplexing 



for both commentators and artists. That not only the 
Incarnation but also the. birth took place through 
the Virgin's ear was, however, an idea from which even 
the Catholic theologians shrank back. 1 The Church 
maintained that Mary's Child was brought into the 
world in the same way as all other children ; but it 
taught at the same time that the mother's virginity was 
not affected either mentally or even physically. This 
was an " absurdum," which could only be believed but 
neither proved nor explained. 

The Patriarch Sergius who, in 622, wrote the stately 
hymn " Ak&tistos " which has retained its place in the 
liturgy of the Greek Church until our own day has 
with enviable clearness set forth the inability of reason 
to grasp the doctrine of the Madonna's " virginitas in 
partu." In the last of his 156 strophes he summons 
the seers and wise men of the past to look at the 
miracle, which they cannot comprehend ; and even 
orators, to which class Sergius himself belonged, are 
invoked to testify to the great marvel in a manner, 
however, which the verbose poet himself failed to 

"We see/ 3 he says, "the greatest rhetoricians of all 
time standing around thy throne as dumb as jishes, 
Mother of God, for all their reason sufficeth not to 
explain how thou wast able to bring forth thy child 
and yet remain, a virgin." 2 

In all that has been said of the virginal motherhood, 
there is certainly nothing so imposing as the fact that 
the miracle succeeded in making even the professional 
orators keep silent. In the interest of truth, however, 
it must be confessed that the bold expressions of the 
hymn contain a good deal of exaggeration. Both in 
rhetoric and in poetry, indeed, the sacred birth was 


praised In extensive descriptions. On the other hand 
it is notable and this justifies to a certain extent 
the statement of Sergius that usually the hymns, with 
the help of well -chosen symbols and similes, move 
round the outside of the miraculous event itself. With 
a few exceptions, which will be specially referred to 
later, they followed the example set by the author of 
the Gospel of James, when, at the decisive moment, he 
let a light cloud descend over the holy grotto, to 
conceal the event which earthly eyes neither could nor 
ought to see. 

If a reverent reticence, which had already been 
suggested by the difficulty of describing the unthinkable- 
ness of a virginal motherhood, was thus observed with 
reference to the act of birth, men spoke all the more freely 
about the Virgin's condition after birth. Just as in the 
Apocryphal gospel Salome ventured with impertinent 
curiosity to examine the body of the pure girl, in order 
to convince herself that a virgin could bring forth a 
child, so the theologians have examined accurately and 
in detail the question of Mary's anatomical virginity. 
Through centuries they continued to discuss this 
gynaecological question, which, it should be noted, had 
not been settled by the establishment of the doctrine of 
God's Incarnation in a virgin's womb. The debates 
were long and heated, because they were connected with 
some of the great doctrinal disputes which disturbed the 
early Christian Church. 

In the account of the miracle given, for example, by 
the author of the Protoevangile, a Doketist view was 
concealed. Only if it were assumed that God's human 
body was an apparition, could the fact that He came 
into the world without His mother ceasing to be a 
virgin be logically explained. It was, therefore, natural 


that those who most zealously combated the Doketist 
heresy opposed the idea of a virginal birth. Tertullian, 
Ireneus, and Origen asserted, in terms which at later 
periods would have been regarded as violently heretical, 
that the Divine Child had "opened His mother's womb." 3 
In support of this view Athanasius and Epiphanius 
quoted the passage in S. Luke's Gospel (ii. 23), where the 
presentation in the Temple is accounted for by a reference 
to the Mosaic ordinances concerning " every male who 
first opens the womb." Hieronymus, who completely 
altered his opinion later, expressed himself in 384, in 
his controversy with Helvidius, in a purely naturalistic 
manner. 4 Thus it seemed for a time, after Doketism had 
been conquered by orthodoxy, as if Mary's " virginitas 
in partu " had lost all prospects of being elevated to a 
Church dogma. 

This sect, which caused the theologians so many 
misgivings, had, however, been only partially subdued. 
The Church established indeed that God Himself had 
submitted to all the pains of death, and it appeared, 
therefore, a natural conclusion that He had also under- 
gone all the humiliations of birth ; but in respect of 
this latter point, it proved far more difficult to thrust 
entirely aside the Doketist point of view. For this 
sectarian theory found great support in the ascetic 
movement, which in so many ways imperceptibly in- 
fluenced orthodox theology. As we mentioned before, 
those who glorified monastic life had sought in the 
person of Mary the ideal for all pious nuns. In order 
to serve as a model of virginity, however, the Madonna 
ought to have remained a virgin throughout her life ; and 
this again was impossible, at least in a physical sense, 
if it was admitted that the Divine Child " opened 
her womb." Therefore, by striving to emphasise 


Mary's virginity, dogmatists were led back, probably 
unconsciously, to the point of view on which the Gospel 
of James was based. It is true that all expressions 
were avoided which might call to mind the Doketist 
heresy. It was not admitted that the Divine Child 
had only an apparitional and not a real body, but it 
was asserted that this body had by a miracle left the 
womb without the " seal of virginity having been 
broken " ; 5 and it was thought that a proof of the 
possibility of such a miracle was to be found in the 
fact that the Divinity had demonstrated on other occa- 
sions that no bolts could hinder His passage. 

The first of the Western theologians to develop the 
doctrine of "virginitas in partu" by an exposition of 
this kind was that zealous champion of asceticism, S. 
Ambrosius. In his controversy with Jovinianus he quoted 
the much cited text in which, according to the Vulgate 
translation, Isaiah prophesied that a virgin should con- 
ceive and bear a son, and in support of his view he 
advanced another passage which seemed to him appli- 
cable to the holy birth. In the description of Ezekiel's 
visions (xliv. 2) there is mention of a gate which was 
and would always continue to be shut, and which none 
but Israel's G-od could pass through. Is it not clear, 
exclaims Ambrosius, that this shut gate is Mary, who let 
God pass through, i.e. who bore the Highest, and yet 
remained closed, i.e. preserved the seal of her virginity : 
" Bona porta Maria, quae clausa erat, et non aperiebatur. 
Transivit per earn Christus, sed non aperuit" It was, 
indeed, against nature's laws that a gate could give a 
passage and yet remain closed, but such an occurrence, 
according to Ambrosius, was not more incredible than 
that the sea had stood aside for the children of Israel, 
or that the Jordan flowed back to its sources. 6 


The utterances of Ambrosias were soon generally 
accepted by the leading theologians. At a Church 
Council at Milan, the doctrine of the virginal birth was 
adopted without opposition. Hieronymus recanted his 
assertions of thirty years earlier, and now employed all 
his ingenuity to prove that Mary's virginity was not 
incompatible with her motherhood. Augustine dis- 
seminated the same view in sermons, treatises and 
epistles, and his theses were copied faithfully by all 
the many authors who saw in him their teacher. 
"Virginitas in partu" became a dogma which no one 
who wished to be considered an orthodox Christian 
might doubt This applied to the Oriental Church 
as much as to the Roman. Thus during the Nestorian 
dispute the miraculous birth and the mother's virginity 
were cited as proofs that the child must have been 
a god. Proclus, Theodotus of Ancyra, Ephraim Syrus, 
and Johannes Damascenus may be mentioned as the 
most important champions of the dogma in the 
East. 7 

All these authors based their arguments upon the 
Bible narratives of miracles which could be compared to 
the miraculous birth. Ambrosius, with his interpreta- 
tion of Ezekiel's vision, had shown the way that the later 
dogmatists were to follow. The closed gate became an 
image of Mary, which was perpetually introduced in 
hymns, and finally took its place in the enumerations 
of the Madonna's epithets in the litany. Certain other 
passages, which harmonised still more completely with 
the doctrine of the virginal birth, were also quoted. 
"When the Saviour, so it was said, entered among His 
disciples through shut doors, he proved His power of 
penetrating all that would hinder earthly bodies ; and 
He gave a still more remarkable proof of this power 


when, at the Besurrection, He issued forth from the 
closed and sealed grave. 

This miracle was all the better suited for comparison 
with the miraculous birth, because the grave itself had 
often been likened to Mary's womb. The Virgin, indeed, 
enclosed in her body the same contents as the grave. 
To the symbolical mind this analogy was rich in mystic 
meaning, which gave poets and preachers occasion for 
many ingenious commentaries. Just as the pure rock, 
said Hieronymus, in which the God-man's body had 
been placed (Luke xxiii. 53; John xix. 41) had never 
been used either before or after as an abode for the 
dead, so Mary had neither before nor after borne any 
other fruit of her womb than the Divine Child. 8 Another 
similarity was pointed out by Ephraim Syrus. Just as 
the Highest descended into the Virgin's body and let 
Himself be born of it, so He had descended from the 
grave into Hades, and through the grave had ascended 
from the earth. If it was a miracle that, contrary to 
the order of nature, a virgin had borne a child, it was 
also a miracle that the unfruitful earth had miraculously 
allowed a living god to issue from the kingdom of the 
dead. Therefore Hades and Mary were two super- 
natural mothers, "duo uteri preternaturales." The 
only difference was that the Virgin was glad at her child- 
birth, while Hades was sorrowful at God's resurrection. 9 

In an old Easter hymn which has been ascribed, prob- 
ably incorrectly, to S. Ambrose, the grave was similarly 
compared to the Mother of God. "Thou," it says, 
"who wast before born of a virgin, art born now of the 
grave " : 

Qui natus olim ex virgine 
Nunc e sepulcro nasceris. 10 

In mediaeval literature the similes used by the 


early Christian Fathers recur. An author quoted by 
S. Alfonso Liguori even goes so far as to make Mary 
compare herself with the grave. When, we are told, 
the mother stood about to leave the place where Christ 
had been laid, she blessed the stone, and said : " 
happy stone that dost now enclose the holy body which 
for nine months was hidden in my womb, I bless thee 
and envy thee. I leave in thy care my son, who is all 
my wealth and all my love/' u The analogy between 
the grave shrine and the human shrine which had held 
the Prince of Life could not be expressed more clearly. 
It is not surprising, therefore, that in the miracle of the 
Resurrection it was sought to decipher symbolical refer- 
ences to the virginal birth. 

In order to understand exactly how this analogy 
could be applied, we must investigate the ideas which 
were prevalent concerning the Resurrection story. 
There are, as is well known, many pictures and sculp- 
tures in which the Saviour is seen to rise from a grave 
whose bolt or doors are thrust aside. If these pictures 
gave a correct expression of the Church's ideas, there 
would have been no possibility of comparing the Resurrec- 
tion with God's issuing from a virgin womb. The actual 
fact is, however, that the broken gates and the bolts 
drawn aside constitute a departure from the Biblical 
story of the grave miracle, as that story has been inter- 
preted by Catholic theology. It is indeed said in the 
Gospels that the pious women, when they came to the 
grave to anoint the dead with sweet smelling spices, 
found the stone lifted away. From the account of 
Matthew (xxviii 2), however, it may be concluded, 
without doing violence to the text, that it was only 
after the completion of the miracle that the " angel of 
the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled 


back the stone from the door and sat upon it." It was 
in this way, at any rate, that the event was explained 
in the Catholic commentaries. The angel removed the 
door of the grave, not in order to open a way for the 
dead God, but in order to let men see that He had risen : 
" Surrexit enim, sicut dixit." He Himself needed no 
help in order to force a way out of His closed room, 
and at His exit He left its gates closed as before. 12 
Even the seal, which the high prie&ts and Pharisees 
had set upon the grave, remained unbroken at the 
Resurrection. This last-named detail was indeed neither 
mentioned nor even indicated in the canonical narrative, 
but the authors of the Apocryphal legends did not fail 
to complete the story in this respect. In an old Syrian 
history, " Concerning the Virgin Mary and the Image of 
Jesus/' we read : " The watchers found that Jesus had 
arisen from the grave, and that the seals and the marks 
of the seals were unbroken. 51 13 Further, Ephraim Syrus 
says that the grave was sealed, and he expressly com- 
pares this fact with Mary's anatomical virginity : " Thus 
didst Thou show, Lord, by Thy resurrection from the 
grave, the miracle of Thy birth, for each was closed and 
each was sealed, both the grave and the womb. Thou 
wast pure in the womb and living in the grave, and 
Mary's womb, like the grave, bore an unbroken seal." 14 

The same thoughts are varied by the leading theo- 
logians, both during the earlier centuries and during 
the Middle Ages. Even if the seal is not always men- 
tioned, it is invariably maintained that the grave was 
closed during the Resurrection. 

It may perhaps be objected that no decisive import- 
ance can be ascribed to these utterances, because in 
pictures of the Resurrection an opened grave is so often 
met with. The view that prevailed among painters 


and sculptors must, therefore, it is argued, have been 
different from that of the learned theologians. Such 
an objection appears at first sight thoroughly justified, 
but on a closer examination the argument loses a good 
deal of its effectiveness. As regards the early Middle 
Ages one can hardly base any kind of conclusion on the 
representations of painters and sculptors, for the mystery 
of the Eesurrection belonged to the circle of subjects 
which for a long time indeed, throughout the first ten 
centuries were avoided by art with a kind of modest 
piety. Frequently, indeed, the demonstration of the 
miracle was rendered, i.e. the scene when the angel 
showed the empty grave to the pious women ; but 
artists shrank from any rendering of the moment when 
God left the house of the dead. Thus, wherever we see 
the figures of Salome and the Maries by the open grave, 
it is probable that the visit to the sepulchre is the real 
subject of the picture. Only we must not be confused 
by the fact that we often recognise in these composi- 
tions the form of the Saviour Himself, revealing Himself 
to the Magdalene, or ascending from the mountains 
to heaven. Mediaeval art did not shrink from repre- 
senting side by side several successive moments in a 
narrative. Thus even two so widely different motives 
as the Ascension and the miracle of the grave were 
united. This arrangement occurs very frequently upon 
sepulchral monuments, and such compositions have 
been incorrectly interpreted as representations of the 
Eesurrection. 15 

From the beginning of the thirteenth century, how- 
ever, the portrayal of the actual moment when God 
issued from His closed dwelling becomes more and 
more common, 16 and it cannot be denied that this 
portrayal conflicted with the Church's view of the 


miracle. Whether it was due to the fact that in the 
interest of religious and aesthetic effect the artists 
desired to make the miracle more imposing, or that 
they copied the mounting of religious plays, at which 
it was impossible, for technical reasons, to represent 
the risen Saviour issuing from a shut room, 1 * in 
pictorial art the Saviour, with a banner of victory in 
His hand and with His arm rhetorically outstretched, 
was made to rise from a grave whose lid had been 
violently thrust aside. The aid of the angel was not 
represented as necessary for the Eesurrection, for the 
buried one Himself broke through the barrier; but it 
looked as if the stone had been removed in order to 
render the miracle possible, and not, as the theologians 
taught, in order to demonstrate it. As compositions 
of this kind were numerous, both in northern and in 
Italian painting, it is only natural that the Eesurrection 
story was often subjected to misrepresentation ; but the 
orthodox view was shortly to prevail in art. During 
the fifteenth century the holy grave was usually repre- 
sented with a closed lid. In these pictures Christ often 
stood with one leg outside the chamber of death and 
with the other sunk in its surface. 18 Later, however, 
it became common to represent the Saviour as floating 
above the closed grave, and in order to emphasise the 
miraculous element in the event still more clearly, 
painters did not omit to paint on the front of the grave 
a great red circle, i.e. the unbroken seal. 19 

The magical element is accentuated by this seal with 
a clearness such as would be used to illustrate a con- 
jurer's trick, and it was in this way that the Eesurrec- 
tion was regarded by the faithful The Saviour was a 
mighty magician who, in early Christian sculpture, was 
even sometimes represented with the magician's staff 


in his hand. 20 He performed greater wonders than any 
heathen sorcerer, but the greatest of all His arts He 
manifested at His birth and at His resurrection. The 
shrines in which He was enclosed were, therefore, not 
only holy, but also magical shrines, i.e. boxes which the 
Highest could enter and leave without their being 
opened. The idea of a sealed room being penetrated 
by the Divine Power was evidently dear to the pious, 
for they combined all the stories they knew about 
miracles of this kind. Even the lions 7 den, which 
was sealed with the king's seal and in which Daniel 
nevertheless received a visit from the angel of God, was 
compared by interpreters of the Bible both with the 
grave and with the Virgin's womb. 21 - It may be taken 
for granted, therefore, that even if the expositions of 
the old Fathers of the Church had sunk into oblivion 
the great seal in the pictures of the Eesurrection 
reminded the faithful of that shrine from which God 
had appeared without the seal of His mother's virginity 
having been broken. The analogy between the two 
miracles is so complete that, so far as the symbolic 
mport is concerned, we can speak of the grave while 
referring to the Virgin. This is all the more advan- 
tageous because we are thereby spared from having to 
introduce those gynaecological details which render the 
virginal birth a delicate subject. 

For the doctrine of the " virginitas in partu " is not 
yet completely treated. It is not sufficient to say that, 
according to the Church's view, God left His temporary 
abode as closed as it had been. It must also be ex- 
plained how this miracle actually took place. On the 
one hand, it is conceivable that the mighty magician 
broke the seal of the grave and then immediately 
replaced it in its former condition ; but it can also be 


imagined that He had the power to pass through all 
closed gates without their seals being broken even 
for a moment. The first interpretation was evolved 
by Hieronymus, who by its help could embrace the 
dogma of a virgin birth without attaching himself to 
the Doketist theory. 22 In the Eastern Church the 
same explanation was advanced by some writers in 
the fifth century, but later this hypothesis became of 
small importance. 25 The general view in which an 
influence from the heresy that Hieronymus sought to 
avoid cannot be denied was that the Saviour's shape, 
unlike earthly bodies, could freely pass through all 
material objects. It was all the easier to maintain this 
opinion, inasmuch as a similar phenomenon could be 
observed in nature. Light could pass through a clear 
medium without hurting that medium, and without 
diminishing in power. God was the great light above 
all else. It was natural, therefore, that His passing 
through the closed doors should be explained as a 
phenomenon of radiation. 

From the beginning of the ninth century theologians, 
in writing about the virgin birth, commenced to quote 
the analogy of the passage of light through glass, and 
poets knew well how to make use of so apt and poetical 
a simile. It is even probable that they would have been 
led to employ this simile independently of all dogmatic 
definitions. As early as the seventh century Venantius 
Fortunatus had compared Mary to a church which shone 
with the light of day through clear windows : 

Lumine plena micans, imitata est aula Mariani. 
Ilia iitero lucem, clausit et ista diem. 24 

Once it was granted that God was enclosed in Mary's 
body in the same way as daylight in a church, it was 


easy to liken His issuing from the womb to the stream- 
ing of light through a glass window. In the same way 
it could be explained that the Madonna's virginity had 
not been lost at the Incarnation. The window and the 
rays of light became, therefore, perpetually recurring 
similes, by the aid of which Church poetry illustrated 
both the Conception and the Birth. In the thirteenth 
century Alexander Neckham sang of the first miracle : 

Intrat vitrum radius 

et non violatur 
vitrum ; sic castissima 

verbo fecund atur. 25 

During the same century the birth was described by 
an anonymous writer as follows : 

Si cut vitruin radio 

solis penetratur, 
inde tamen laesio 

nulla vitro datur, 

Sic, immo subtilius 

matre non corrupta 
deus dei filius 

Sua prodit nupta. 26 

S. Birgitta describes in detail how God entered " the 
body of the Virgin just as the sun shines through 
purest stone or glass." 2V In a French mystery of the 
fifteenth century Gabriel seeks, by the help of the same 
similes, to convince Mary that her virginity will not 
suffer any lessening from her motherhood : 

Mais tout ainssy com la verri&re 
Du soleil qui demeure entikre 
Quand son ray par my oultre passe, 
Qui ne la brise ni ne quasse, 
Ainsi demoura ton corps sains ! 28 

And a German song gives a still clearer application 
of the comparison : 


Als die Sonn durchsclieint das Glass 

mit ihreni klaren Sclieine 

Und docb. nit versenret das 

so mercket allgemeine : 

In gleicher Weiss geboren wardt 
von einer Jungfrau rein und zart 
Gottes Son der werdte. 29 

In all these poems nothing is said as to the kind of 
glass though which the light streams in. For the 
purposes of the simile it is only presupposed to be clear 
and pure. In mediaeval churches, however, the windows 
were most often coloured. If the many-coloured panes 
in such a cathedral window were compared to the Holy 
Mother, the simile afforded a still more complete 
illustration of the course of events at the virgin birth. 
The glass, without suffering injury, allowed the light to 
pass into the church, but it also coloured the rays 
which were reflected on the floor and the walls. Again, 
the light was not dimmed, although it borrowed the 
colour of the window; that is to say, it retained its 
essence but altered the form of its manifestation. In 
this phenomenon, according to the view of Catholic 
theologians, a deep thought lay hidden. It was in the 
same way, they said, that God, when He issued from 
Mary's womb, borrowed from His mother His human 
shape, without losing His divine nature. "Brader 
Hans " has poetically expressed this ingenious idea in 
one of his " Marienlieder " : 

Went wy der sonnen glantze 

Sick nacn dem glase varwet, 

So hat der hymmelscnrantze 

Mit dyme fleysch und blute sich. ghegarwet 

Und bleyf dock god in godlicher nature, 

Bo daz wort wart fleyscli ghemacht, 

Und bleyf in dynen wax der prent figure. 80 

If God could be compared to a ray of light, it was 


still more natural to liken Him to the great source of 
light itself. It has been observed by A. Meyer that 
such a metaphor is indicated, if not worked out, as early 
as in the Protoevangile, for the way in which Christ's 
birth is described spontaneously calls to mind a sunrise. 
When Joseph and Salome entered the holy grotto, they 
first saw a light cloud, then a diffused shining, and 
finally the Divine Child. 31 " Sol splendidissimus," this 
Child was often called by the Fathers of the Church. 
His mother, again, according to the symbolical view, 
was a cloud in which the light of day was enclosed before 
it broke forth over the world. The metaphors used to 
describe the sun issuing from a cloud could, therefore, 
be applied without alteration to the holy birth. In 
this, as in so many other respects, the Psalms had to 
pay tribute of similes to the Christian poets. One of 
them in especial has been imitated time after time in 
the poetry of Mary that great hymn, the mightiest of 
all songs to the sun, in which the sun's issue from the 
clouds is compared to a bridegroom who rises from his 
bridal bed or bride-chamber, in order, like a hero, to run 
forth on his course : 

In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun, Which is as a bride- 
groom, coming out of his chamber, and rejoiceth as a strong man to run 
a race. His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit 
unto the ends of it : and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof. 
Ps. xix. 4-6. 

" In sole posuit tabernaculum suum ; et ipse tanquam 
sponsus procedens de thalamo suo Exultavit ut gigas 
ad currendam viam. A summo coelo egressio ejus Et 
occursus ejus usque ad summum ejus; nee est qui se 
abscondit a calore ejus" (Versio Vulgata, Ps. xviii. 
6-7). 32 

These verses were all the more applicable to the 


holy birth, because, as has already been pointed out, 
the Incarnation was regarded as a marriage relationship. 
Mary's womb, it was said, was a bride-chamber in which 
God united Himself to mankind. Therefore, without 
doing any violence to the Catholic view, Ambrosius, or 
the unknown poet who wrote the great Christmas Hymn, 
could sing of the virgin birth : 

Proeedat e tnalamo suo 

Pudoris aula regia 
Geminae gigas substantiae 

Alaeris ut currat viam. 

" May the giant of the twofold nature rise from his 
bed in the kingly hall of chastity to run forth in joy 
upon his course." 33 

Augustine, Pope Leo IX., and many other authors 
have given varying expressions to the same idea both 
in verse and prose, 34 and it is the old Psalm which is the 
basis of the description of the Birth Night in Sedulius's 
Carmen paschale : 

" What new light goes not up over the world, what 
shining over all Heaven, when Christ in shimmering 
splendour issues from Mary's womb, as a bridegroom 
goes forth in triumph from his richly adorned bridal 
chamber, more beautiful than any child of men, and 
with grace and comeliness outpoured over His shining 

Quae nova lux mundo, quae toto gratia coelo I 
Quis fuit ille nitor, Mariae cum Christus ab alvo 
Processit splendore novo 1 Velut ipse decoro 
Sponsus ovana thalamo, forma speciosus amoena 
Prae natis honrinum, cujus radiante figura 
Blandior in labiis diffusa est gratia pulchris. 35 

It is noticeable that in this, as in so many others of 
the Church's poems, the Child is not compared with the 


sun, but is sung of as a new sun. The figurative 
expression by "which the Saviour called Himself "the 
Light of the World/ 7 was often understood by the 
pious quite literally. As Hofmann well pointed out, we 
ought, if we are to follow correctly the Catholic idea, in 
speaking of the mystery of the Holy Night, not to speak 
of the new-born Child as having for the first time seen 
the light of the world, but of the world having for the 
first time seen its true light. 36 The mediaeval writers 
affirmed in their sermons that the Child's body at His 
birth "shone like a sun." So far as lay in their power, 
the painters also sought to illustrate this thought in 
their pictures during the Middle Ages by surrounding 
the little figure by a circle of golden rays, 37 and during 
the late Renaissance, when technique allowed of a more 
illusive treatment of optical phenomena, by making the 
light extend over the whole composition from the God 
who rested upon the ground. 

The import of all these pictures and poems is not 
difficult to understand. The old sun, so they seem to 
say, had been replaced by a purer and more spiritual 
light, and it was a new era that set in with the virgin 
birth. Therefore the whole world stayed in its motion. 
Springs welled forth from the earth's interior and the 
idols tumbled down. Life was honoured by God 
submitting Himself to its changes, and all relations 
existing between mankind were purified in His birth. 
Motherhood and virginity, conception and childbirth, 
were idealised in Mary, who bore a Child without losing 
her innocence. From nature and all belonging to it 
the stains of sin were expunged ; but what was outside 
nature, and in conflict with it, could not be purified 
but only destroyed. It might not exist in a world 
sanctified by the presence of the Highest. Just as 


the idols fell Into pieces, so at tlie moment of the 
holy birth all men who had been guilty of unnatural 
vices were rooted out. 38 They had offended so deeply 
against the laws of nature so the legend was probably 
explained that they could not survive the new birth of 



I am not proud meek angels ye invest 

New meeknesses to hear such utterance rest 

On mortal lips "I am not proud" not proud ! 

Albeit in my flesh God sent His Son ; 

Albeit over Him my head is bowed, 

As others bow before Him ; still, mine heart 

Bows lower than their knees. 


The Virgin Mary to the Child Jesus. 

As has been shown in the preceding chapter, Mary's 
virginal childbirth afforded Catholic theologians an 
opportunity for nmch daring speculation. The mirac- 
ulous event has been treated as a biological miracle, 
which indeed baffled every attempt at explanation, but 
which none the less lured men to repeated and far- 
reaching expositions ; and God's human birth has been 
represented as a cosrnological phenomenon by which 
the old order of nature was entirely shattered. Such 
philosophical interpretations have undeniably allowed 
the great and mysterious elements in the pious legend 
to acquire their due prominence, and they have further 
afforded literature the occasion for ingenious conceits 
and stately descriptions of nature. They are, however, 
too abstract to be able to serve the purposes of pictorial 
art, and they do not offer sufficient nourishment to the 
poetic imagination, which demands living and graphic 
ideas of the religious mysteries. 



The Gospel narratives had not educated the pious to 
regard the Birth as an astronomical phenomenon, or as an 
union of incompatible ideas. S. Matthew and S. Luke 
made no mention of a sun that came forth from a 
cloud, but of a woman, a child, and a manger in a 
stable. The earthly scene in Bethlehem, therefore, was 
a subject which for devotional purposes became dearer 
and more profitable than all the philosophic and 
dogmatic thoughts attached to the ideas concerning 
God's birth. However much the rhetorical embellish- 
ments, with which the theologians adorned their de- 
scriptions of the Holy Night, were appreciated and 
utilised, the symbols and similes were not permitted 
to overshadow the purely human moments of the event. 
People's thoughts lingered with the mother and the new- 
born Child, and they sought to make their ideas of them 
as vivid as possible. The Bible's description was com- 
pleted by new features drawn from the Apocryphal 
gospels, from popular legends, from the visions of seers, 
and from the imagination of individual artists which 
were to give the situation a richer illusion of reality. 
Thus was developed, from elements derived from the 
most different sources, that picture of the miracle of 
the Holy Night which both in art and poetry has 
exercised so immeasurable an influence on Catholic life. 1 

In the earliest Christian art, so far as is known at 
present, the Birth is represented not by itself alone, but 
only in connection with the worship of the Shepherds or 
the Magi. 2 Mary sits by the Child's bed, or holds the 
little God on her knee, to receive on His behalf the 
homage of the first believers. Her position is stiff and 
dignified, and there is nothing to denote that she has 
lately brought a child into the world. These com- 
positions have clearly been influenced by antique 


sculpture. As Venturi pointed out, one seems to 
recognise, in the Madonna's figure and bearing, traits 
belonging to the Olympian Juno or to the stern 
Pudicitia those high models which, a thousand years 
later, lend their dignity to the Madonnas of the early 
Renaissance sculptors. 8 

At the transition to the Middle Ages men began 
to treat the Nativity in independent compositions. 
Mary is now portrayed as the bearer of a child, lying 
or half-sitting on her bed, and, in accordance with 
the account in the Protoevangile, a midwife is often 
represented by her side. When this woman stretches 
out her right hand towards the Child, she may be 
identified as the unbelieving Salome, whose arm was 
paralysed as a punishment for her doubt and regained 
its power of movement when she confessed her faith. 
Sometimes we recognise also the faithful Joseph, who 
brought the two midwives to Mary's bed. By the intro- 
duction of these subsidiary persons the compositions 
gain the character of genre pieces a character which 
during the later Middle Ages becomes more and more 
accentuated. Thus we can often see the new-born 
Saviour, like the little child Mary, being bathed and 
dried and wrapped in swaddling-clothes/ In the 
great reliefs of Niccol6 Pisano and his pupils such a 
washing scene has a regular place by the manger and 
Mary ; and in Giotto's fresco at Padua a woman hands 
the swathed Child to its mother, who lies stretched upon 
a bed. 

This last detail, however, openly conflicts with the 
Gospel narrative. S. Luke says expressly that Mary 
herself, when she bore her Son, "wrapped him in 
swaddling-clothes and laid him in a manger." Giotto's 
fresco has therefore been strongly disapproved of by 


orthodox art critics. Not only, indeed, have they 
censured those compositions in which Mary is made 
to accept help in her first care of the Child, but in their 
opinion the whole mediaeval type of illustrations to the 
Nativity scenes, which has been shortly characterised 
here, contains a misrepresentation of the sacred history. 

Zealous protests, for instance, have been made against 
the artists' representation of the washing of the new-born 
Child. It is, indeed, intelligible that all those who 
disapproved of the pictures of Mary's bath, were 
shocked with far greater reason by the introduction 
of such a motive into pictures of God's birth. The 
idea, it was argued, that He whose birth was as pure 
as His conception, could have been in any need of 
washing, is fundamentally erroneous. Some of the 
early Fathers had already sternly rejected this idea, 
and modern authors used much ingenuity to show 
its absurdity. Since, however, it could not be dis- 
puted that many Christian artists had painted the God- 
child's bath, and that even a number of pious Fathers 
had mentioned such an event, some explanation of the 
inconvenient circumstance had to be sought for. 

Thus Trombelli has argued that one may wash even 
a clean being, "just as we often wash our hands and 
face, in spite of their not being the least unclean " ; 5 
but the modern writer Grimouard de S. Laurent has 
found a more satisfactory interpretation which, even 
if it dates from the nineteenth century, agrees admirably 
with the mediaeval point of view. If, he says, it is in- 
conceivable that any water could purify purity itself, on 
the other hand God could cleanse the water He touched in 
His bath. Such a purification was all the more fitting, 
inasmuch as the water was to have a significant use in 
the Church's Sacrament. In the washing after the 


Nativity there should be seen, therefore, a reference to 
Baptism. 6 In support of such an explanation it might 
be advanced if one desires to follow Catholic art 
criticism that in certain mediaeval sculptures the 
bath takes a form which calls to mind a font. 7 To the 
theological mind there must be something attractive 
in the idea that immediately after His appearance on 
earth God sanctified the element which in Baptism 
sanctifies the faithful. If this interpretation became 
commonly accepted, the bathing scenes in the old 
Nativity compositions could not do any harm to pious 
spectators, who ought only to recall that distinction 
between the two different kinds of washing which 
gave rise to the use of double washing-basins in the 
Mass apparatus. 

Grimouard de S. Laurent has further given an 
orthodox explanation of the presence of the two mid- 
wives at Mary's bed. It must be supposed, he says, 
that they were summoned only to confirm the youthful 
mother's virginity. Thus, like the angel at the grave, 
they were not required in order to bring about the 
miracle, but only to demonstrate it. If the artists 
desired to suggest that the Holy Mother had 
accepted any assistance from them, that, according to 
the Catholic view, would be a heresy which could not 
be condemned sufficiently strongly. 8 The utterances of 
the early Fathers are in this respect quite unequivocal. 
Not even Hieronymus, who had been led to a relatively 
materialistic view of the Nativity during his dispute 
with the Doketists, and who confessed with a defiant 
frankness that he " did not blush " at all the humiliation 
to which the Mother of God was subjected at her child- 
birth, even he does not admit that there could have 
been any need of serving-women when the highest of 


all children came Into the world : " Nulla ibi obstetrix, 
nulla muliercnlarum sedulitas intercessit. Ipsa [Maria] 
pannis involvit infantem, ipsa et mater et obstetrix 
fait" 9 The Holy Mother was herself her own midwife ; 
and she could the better dispense with all external 
assistance, because her birth was painless and easy. 
For she who had conceived her Child without sin must 
have been free from all the pangs which, with other 
earthly beings, accompany delivery. 

The very way in which God's birth was explained 
by similes included an idea of a mild accouchement. 
He came into the world as light filters in through 
a window ; or as the sun, not breaks, but quietly 
streams out through a dispersed cloud. Therefore the 
believers could in imagination paint with naive traits 
pictures of Mary, who, having been warned by no 
pang or spasm, was surprised at having given birth to 
the Divine Child. 

This view has been developed as early as by Zeno 
of Verona in one of his sermons: "Mary does not 
know the suffering of motherhood, for she has taken 
into her the world's Creator, and she bears Him not 
with pain, but with joy. Marvellous ! she brings 
rejoicing into the world a child that is older than all 
Nature. And the young mother does not lament, and 
the new-born babe does not, as is usually the case, 
begin its life with tears. Its mother does not lie 
outstretched upon a bed, she is not strained after 
the birth, or prostrate in her limbs. Nor is either 
Son or mother made unclean by the birth, and no bath 
is necessary for Him who came into the world to purify 
the race from the stains of sin." 10 

In The Meditations of Bonaventura it is said that 
" God's Son in the same hour issued without pain from 


the Virgin's womb, and lay in front of her, and His 
mother bent down and lifted Him up, embraced Him 
affectionately, and took Him to her bosom. And at 
the inspiration of the Holy Ghost she rubbed all His 
noble body with her milk" u The child, indeed, received 
a bath, but it was washed in an element which was purer 
than water. S. Birgitta, who in her visions witnessed 
the holy event with her own eyes, says that " the Saviour 
was born so suddenly that she could neither see nor 
understand how it happened. She only saw the glorious 
child lying pure and naked and shining on the earth." 12 
A still more peculiar description is given by S. Mechthild 
von Magdeburg. " When the time was come," says the 
pious sister in her Offenbarungen, " when other women 
feel prostrated and troubled in their movements, Mary 
was light of heart and merry ; for she bore in her womb 
God's most perfect Son. Mary knew nothing of the 
hour when God desired to be born of her, before she 
saw Him resting in her bosom, on the way during the 
night at the strange town of Bethlehem, where she 
herself was a stranger without a lodging." The con- 
tinuation is too precious to be rendered in a translation : 
"Der allmachtige Gott mit seiner Weisheit, der ewige 
Sohn mit seiner menschlichen Wahrheit, der heilige 
Geist mit seiner wonnigen Seligkeit, gieng durch die 
ganze Wand des Leibes Maria mit schwebender Wonne 
und miihelos. Das war so bald geschehen, wie die 
Sonne giebt ihren Schein nach dem siiszen Thau in 
minniglicher Ruhe." 13 

A birth which is like the sunshine over dewdrops can 
naturally occasion no weariness in the mother. This 
had been pointed out by Zeno, and it was repeated time 
after time by the mediaeval writers. Therefore dis- 
approval was also expressed of those compositions in 

xviii THE HOLY MANGEE 357 

which the Holy Mother was represented In a recumbent 
posture ; although, on the other hand, in excuse for the 
artists the suggestion was thrown out that after the birth 
Mary remained at home and observed the ceremonies 
usual for mothers, " in order not to distinguish herself 
from other women/' 14 

It is difficult to determine whether in this respect 
orthodox criticism exercised any immediate influence on 
artistic production. Whether it was due to a stricter 
observation of theological dogmas, or to a change in 
the direction of aesthetic taste, it is in any case a fact 
that the realistic Nativity compositions become more and 
more rare with the commencement of the Renaissance. 
After the thirteenth century the figures of the midwives 
gradually disappear, although, probably under the in- 
fluence of the religious theatre, they became popular 
once more during a transitional period ; 15 and in 
later times the Madonna is but seldom represented 
in a recumbent position. "When men wanted to portray 
a childbirth they chose as their subject the birth of 
Mary, but not that of Jesus. In accordance with the 
descriptions of poets and theologians, the Mother of 
God was represented as a woman who was not even 
outwardly troubled by her motherhood. In many cases 
it was only the manger, the ox, and the ass which 
showed that the compositions referred to the Holy Night, 
and these compositions did not represent the actual 
moment of birth, but some later events which took its 
place as subjects of devout meditation. Both in art and 
poetry three motives aroused special attention, namely, 
Mary's worshipping of the Child, her suckling it, and 
her motherly caresses. The two later subjects could 
of course be isolated from the holy birth, but as a 
Catholic author has pointed out, they none the less 


invite pious imagination to meditate on the mystery 
at Bethlehem. 16 It is therefore most proper to give an 
account of these subjects also in the chapter on the 
Madonna at the manger. 

That Mary worshipped her new-born Child is men- 
tioned neither in the canonical nor in the Apocryphal 
gospels. This idea belonged instead to those which 
theological imagination derived from its dogmatic pre- 
suppositions without any external prompting. When 
the earthly mother had given birth to her heavenly 
Son so it was argued it could not be her first care 
to look after His physical well-being. She who saw the 
Incarnate God before any one else, must first think of 
doing homage to His greatness. She kneeled before the 
tender Being, praised the power that hid itself in His 
little form, and prayed to be allowed to take care of 
Him as of her own child. As early as in Ephraim Syrus's 
sermons the mother humbly addresses the new-born 
Child before she " offers the sources of her milk to Him 
who is Himself the source of all things." 17 The mystical 
authors of the Middle Ages often set forth how the 
Madonna subjected herself to her own child, 18 and in 
the Church office it is expressly said, " Virgo quern 
genuit adoravit " " the Virgin worshipped Him whom 
she had borne." It is on this text that most of the 
Eenaissance pictures of the Holy Night have been 
composed. Sometimes, like Correggio in his famous 
canvas in the Uffizi, painters confined themselves to 
representing only the worshipping mother and her 
Child. As a rule, however, Joseph too gets his place in 
the picture, 19 and partakes in the act of homage together 
with the two pious beasts, the ox and the ass, who 
kneel before Creation's Lord. The angels of Heaven 

xviii THE HOLY MANG-EB 359 

unite In Mary's prayer with songs of praise, and the 
shepherds enter as silent and humble witnesses of the 
religious act. The grotto or shed becomes a temple, 
with the manger as an altar, at which the first Christian 
service is held. Thus the historical description gives 
place to a ritual ceremonial picture, whose motive is 
purely mystical in purport. Instead of the family scene, 
which shocked pious feelings with its bath and swaddling 
clothes and its group of busy mid wives, there appeared 
a purely religious composition, the solemn character of 
which was not marred by any realistic details. 

In poetic and artistic descriptions of the suckling of 
the child at Mary's breast we have to make a similar 
distinction between the theological and the realistic 
conceptions of the subject. As early as the first 
centuries, religious poetry, as appears from the recent 
quotation from Ephraim Syrus, had paid attention to this 
motive. For those who, like the Eastern bard, specu- 
lated as to the import of the dogmas, there must have 
been something grand in the idea of the Creator of the 
world receiving His food from an earthly being. Such 
a thought was advanced all the more readily because 
Nestorius in his heresy had dared to deny the possi- 
bility of the Highest having in human wise " sucked a 
woman's breast. 20 But no theological argumentation 
was necessary to cause the suckling of the Divine Child 
to become a favourite subject for pious meditation. Ac- 
cording to S. Luke's narrative, it was a woman of the 
people who had invoked the Saviour in the words which 
were afterwards adopted by the liturgy of the Catholic 
Church : " Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the 
breasts which thou didst suck" (Luke xi. 27). 21 And it 
harmonised well with the popular view that in worship- 


ping Mary men's thoughts should be devoutly directed to 
her virginal mother's bosom. The breasts and their milk 
were included in the sanctity of motherhood. Through 
them G-od was bound in gratitude to her who had given 
Him food. He could not, so people imagined, refuse His 
assent to any of her prayers, if only she reminded Him of 
the time when He lay as a child at her bosom ; 22 and when 
in pictures of the Last Judgment Mary was represented 
as the advocate of the accused, she was made, as if to 
give her pleadings more weight, to direct her hand to her 
breast or to expose a part of her bosom to the Judge. 23 
Accordingly the sinful saw a hope of forgiveness in " the 
breasts which thou didst suck." 

All these associations of thought make it intelligible 
why the Church's poets unceasingly sang of "Mariae 
matris mammulae," 24 and why artists often portrayed 
the Madonna with her bosom exposed. 25 During the 
fourteenth century, when it became usual to repre- 
sent the suckling mother, the subject was still treated 
with great caution, but during the Eenaissance it 
sometimes happened that the sacred breasts were 
entirely exposed to view. Catholic critics have even 
expressed their disapproval of the Madonna being 
given too deep a decolletee. There are, however, 
few if indeed any pictures of the Madonna which 
could arouse misgivings of this kind in any but a 
Puritan beholder. Purely sensuous beauty has indeed 
often been portrayed in religious works of art, but it 
is usually the Magdalene or some other of the penitent 
sinners who represent this type. The Virgin's figure, 
on the contrary, is characterised by chastity and 
sublimity even during the least rigorous periods of art. 
Mary, it seems, bares her bosom in naive innocence, 
because she is a mother, and because the suckling of a 


child is a worthy action that can only be looked upon 
with respect. Indeed the " Madonna and Child " is a 
devotional picture even for those who do not confess 
the Catholic dogmas ; and there have been times 
when this picture -has been employed, with praise- 
worthy intention but doubtful taste, for educational and 
hygienic purposes. The religious paintings have been 
reproduced on fly-sheets, by the help of which it was 
attempted to arouse mothers to a sense of their duties 
towards their children. From the Holy Virgin, it was 
said, it should be learned that every mother ought 
to suckle her child. 27 

Such is the worldly and non-dogmatic view of the 
"lactatio" motive, but Catholic theologians do not 
consent to see in pictures representing this subject only 
a glorification of human motherhood. Such an import 
is for them far too simple and ordinary. They will not 
even admit that the little child should be regarded 
as a child. "The Eldest of Days" and "The Lord of 
Worlds" He is called in the chants and services in 
which God's suckling is celebrated. " He was the same 
in the bosom of the Father and in the Virgin's womb, 
in His mother's arms and on the wings of the wind." 28 
Mary was not, so it was said, a mother feeding her child 
at her breast, but she was a virgin giving the breast to 
her own and to all Creation's father. Theological inter- 
pretation even went so far as to compare the pictures of 
Mary and the little Jesus with the pictures of " Caritas- 
Eomana," i.e. with the representations, common in the 
late Eenaissance, of the old legend of a young Roman 
girl who fed her starving father in prison with the milk 
of her breasts. 29 

As the Divine Child was thus made into an old 
person, so Mary's milk was not to be ordinary mother's 


milk, nor her breast an ordinary breast. In the descrip- 
tions of pious writers the allegories often gain such 
an ascendancy that the motive, so simple in its great- 
ness, obtains a purely dogmatic import. One has only 
to read how Mechthild von Magdeburg describes the 
vision in which she witnessed the suckling of the 
Divine Child. Mary had wrapped the new-born infant 
in swaddling clothes and duly laid Him in the manger : 
" But then He began to cry like a little human child, 
for as long as children cannot speak they weep when 
they suffer a real need. And thus did Our Lord now, 
for He, because of our sin, in spite of His noble nature 
had so hard a bed in a narrow cattle-stall, and He wept 
over the whole human race and thus concealed [by 
weeping] all His sweetness and all His power. Then 
was the Virgin sorrowful and the child was hungry 
and cold, and the mother must quiet her Son ; it 
was His Father's will and the Holy Ghost's pleasure. 
Then the Virgin bowed with motherly love in virginal 
humility to her suffering child and offered Him her 
young breasts. Behold now the great miracle. The 
shining flowers of her lovely eyes, and the spiritual 
beauty of her virgin's countenance, and the melting 
sweetness of her pure heart and the grace of her noble 
soul these four things, according to the Father's will, 
the Son's need, and the Holy Ghost's blessed joy, united 
in her virgin bosom. Then the sweet milk flowed from 
her pure heart painlessly, and the child sucked His food 
in human wise, and His mother rejoiced lovingly, 
the angels sang a hymn to God, and the shepherds 
came, sought and found our true Kedeemer, swathed 
in swaddling clothes, and lying in a little manger." 30 

It is important to notice the symbolical way in 
which Mary's motherhood is here explained. For S. 


Mechthild employs an allegory which was used by the 
theological writers bo^h before and after her day, and 
which was in perfect agreement with the fantastic descrip- 
tions of the Incarnation mystery. The conception of 
the Divine Man had been brought about by a heavenly 
dew, but the dew was an image of the grace that 
descended upon mankind. The sublime Child, again, 
had been fed at a human bosom and was quieted by 
Mary's mother's-milk ; but the bosom was an image of 
the mercifulness, and the milk issued not from the 
Madonna's body but from her virtues and beauty. 31 In 
this manner all the natural events could be explained 
as similes, and the concrete pictorial motives could be 
regarded as expressions of purely theological thoughts. 
Mary was looked upon not as an individual human being, 
but as the incarnation of an eternal principle which 
had exercised its power long before it became embodied 
in the figure of the Jewish girl. The Madonna's 
motherly care had previously been directed to all the 
faithful, who had been fed by her " milk " in the same 
way as the Child of Bethlehem. In Mechthild's 
revelations it is even expressly said that the Madonna 
suckled the prophets before Christ descended into the 
world. Later, she fed during His childhood " the God 
of her and all of us," and when He was full-grown she 
offered her milk to the Christian Church. All friends 
of God could get strength at her bosom. " Eja, darnach 
sollen wir bekennen Die Milch und auch die Briiste 
Die Jesus so oft kiisste." 32 

In the great Swedish seeress we find the same daring 
similes as in Mechthild. When S. Birgitta reproaches 
the Pope for not having remained in Eome, but 
returned to his place of exile after his short visit to the 
holy city, she makes Mary say : " He had the inspiration 


of the Holy G-host to come to Eome and exercise justice 
and strengthen the Christian faith and renew the Holy 
Church. And even as a mother leads her child whether 
she will "by showing him her breast, so I led him without 
any bodily peril to Rome. But now he turns his back 
to me, and not his face, and will go from me.' 7 33 In 
another passage of Birgitta's visions the Madonna 
promises her aid to the Pope if he will only fulfil his 
duty and take his place in the capital of the Church. 
" Mary, the Mother of God, said : As a mild mother 
who sees her beloved son lying cold on the earth and 
powerless to raise himself, crying for his mother's help 
with mournful voice then she lifts him up and 
warms him with motherly love, and quickens him 
with the milk of her breasts. So will I, the mother of 
mercifulness, do to Pope Gregory, if he will come to 
Rome and stay there for his soul's good and renew the 
Holy Church's statutes in humility and love. Then like 
a mild mother will I lift him up naked and cold from 
the earth that is, separate his heart from all worldly 
lust and affection that is contrary to G-od's will and I 
will warm him sweetly with my breast's love and quicken 
him with the milk of my prayers. how innumerable 
are they who have been supported by the milk of my 
prayers and fed sweetly by it." 34 

It may perhaps seem as if in these and similar utter- 
ances we have to do merely with a rhetorical imagery 
which had no influence on the view held of the Madonna. 
It is true that Mary's figure often absolutely disappears 
in the allegories, and that what is said of her can in 
many cases be equally well applied to any other of the 
saintly personages. S. Birgitta, for instance, on one 
occasion makes G-od the Father Himself speak of how He 
nourished mankind with " the milk of His "Word " ; 35 and 

xviii THE HOLY MANGEE 365 

in Mechthild, and Catholic authors generally, the Mother 
of Gk>d and the Church are often used as interchangeable 
terms. When it is said that Mary nourished the 
Apostles and the faithful at her bosom, the idea 
"Church" has lent a number of its attributes to the 
idea of the Virgin. Sometimes, on the other hand, 
the Church is' in its turn described by qualities 
that originally belong to Mary. This is the case when 
Mechthild relates how S. Francis and S. Dominic were 
" fed at the two breasts that are so full of sweet milk 
that they never can run dry for these breasts are 
the Old and New Testament, with which our mother 
the Church suckles all the children of God/ 1 36 In read- 
ing these daring similes one might feel uncertain whether, 
even in those cases where she expressly mentions Mary's 
name, the pious seeress was really thinking of the Virgin, 
and not rather of an abstract idea. But if the theo- 
logical and philosophic literature and it is under this 
heading that the writings of Mechthild and Birgitta 
must be classed has to do with indefinite concepts, on 
the other hand the legends and works of art are quite 
unambiguous in their concrete language. 

Thus there can be no question of symbolism when 
in the miracle-histories it is related that the Madonna 
cured pious invalids with her healing milk. 37 It is also 
told of some holy men that they were quite literally 
refreshed by Mary's breast. The pious Suso relates 
without reserve, and in a description of great detail, how 
he tasted " den himmlischen Trunk " ; S8 and Bernard of 
Clairvaux, who merited the Virgin's gratitude more than 
any other man, was rewarded for all his panegyrics and 
poems by Mary visiting him in his cell and letting his lips 
be moistened by the food of the Heavenly Child. 39 This 
event has been represented many times in pictorial art. 40 


In all these cases it Is probable that the legends 
arose from a too literal interpretation of the symbolical 
language of the theologians, but the hidden meaning 
of the notions " milk " and " breast " naturally remained 
unknown to the majority of those who read the legends 
or looked at the pictures. In the Madonna's gift to 
S. Bernard a real " lactatio " was seen, just as in the 
"Madonna and Child" nothing was seen save a picture 
of human motherhood. All the dogmatic profundities 
attached to the idea of Mary's bosom did not succeed 
in exercising any immediate influence on artistic pro- 
duction. All that can be supposed is that the ecclesi- 
astical art-patrons perhaps excused, with the help of the 
symbolical interpretation, such compositions as might 
otherwise have appeared too worldly and ordinary. 
The pictures themselves lose nothing of their religi- 
ous or aesthetic worth through our not knowing that 
the naked breasts can signify the Old and the New 
Testament, or through our not remembering that the 
suckling infant is " older than the worlds." For art 
and poetry it is an actual woman, and not the symbol 
of an abstract idea, that gives her milk to her child, 
and gladdens her faithful worshippers with drops of the 
Divine Food. 

When once men began to conceive of the relationship 
between Mary and the Divinity as a purely human rela- 
tionship, they naturally wished to express the Madonna's 
love for the Child. She would not have been a real 
mother if she had only suckled her son. It could not 
but be imagined that, as it said in the old Swedish 
song, " she laid Him on her breast, and sweetly patted 
Him and kissed." 41 When the Highest so far concealed 
His might as to let Himself be born into the world 


as a helpless baby, He must, like other children, 
have needed to be comforted with caresses, baby-talk, 
and games. Mary knew well how the little one should 
be cheered, and as pictured in later mediaeval art and 
poetry she is, in motherly affection also, a pattern for 
all earthly women. It was long, however, before this 
trait became predominant in the Catholic Madonna-type, 
for so much weight was attached to the divinity of the 
new-born Child that men neither could nor would take 
into account the possibility of any intimate and familiar 
relations between Him and His mother. Therefore there 
is, as a rule, no nai'vet^ in the accounts of the Nativity 
given by the old Christian poets. 

This rule is, however, limited by one great and 
notable exception. Ephraim Syrus, the fourth-century 
Eastern bard, has expressed in his Christmas Songs a 
purely personal and almost dramatically vivid concep- 
tion of the Holy Mother's loving play with her Child. 
These Hymni de nativitate Christi in carne are all 
the more interesting, inasmuch as they are not only 
distinct from the poetry of the period and of the follow- 
ing centuries, but also stand in sharp contrast to the rest 
of the poet's works. Ephraim's diction is usually, as 
appears from the examples recently quoted, stately and 
cold in its rhetorical splendour. As a rule he emphasises 
the theological and philosophic ideas so strongly that 
he completely loses sight of the human element. " The 
Eldest of Days," "The Mighty," "The Ail-Embracing " 
are the epithets with which he most frequently praises 
the new-born Son of God. He can even, in order to 
illustrate the Child's loftiness in relation to the mother's 
lowness, choose such strained similes as that in which 
he compares Mary to a dove which bears an eagle on 
its wings : " The tender dove bears on its wings an old 


eagle, bears him and sings his praise in caressing 
tones : Mighty Son, that didst will to prepare thy 
conch in my poor dwelling, give power to my voice, 
so that I may proclaim thy name with the voice of 
Cherubim." 42 

Such eloquence can naturally not be applied to 
descriptions of a mother who caresses her child or 
romps with it. In his Christmas Songs, however, the 
old rhetorician climbs down from his high stilts and 
condescends to talk in simple language. He makes 
Mary say to the new-born Child : " Thou art to me a 
child and a bridegroom and a God." And he describes 
graphically how she comforts the little one in His 
sorrows: "Mary bore the hero of the ages, the strong 
giant, who issued from the Father's being, and who lay 
hidden in the bosom of God. And the Virgin warmed 
at her breast the new-born Child, caressed Him, and 
rejoiced with gladness at His bed. And He Himself 
looked smilingly at her, as a little child, where wrapped 
in His swaddling-clothes He lay outstretched in the 
manger of the stable. When He began to cry, His 
mother arose to give Him milk from her breast, embraced 
Him with affectionate caresses, and rocked Him on her 
knee, and then the Child's crying ceased." 43 

In another song Ephraim sets forth the humility with 
which Mary fulfils her motherly duty. " She bore the 
Child in her arms," he says, " caressed it, embraced it, 
sung to it, and worshipped it, saying, ' Permit, Master, 
that I embrace thee.'" 44 But if here, too, the poet 
recalls the subordination of man to God, he does not 
allow the mother to be troubled by her inferiority : 
"Mary stands by thy side, thy mother, thy sister, 
thy bride, and thy servant ; herself she bore thee, and 
now she embraces thee with love, presses close to thee, 

xvm THE HOLY MAtfGEB 369 

kisses thee, praises thee, calls upon thee and thanks thee, 
and offers thee milk from her breast ; she holds thee in 
her arms, sings to thee, and smiles at thy childishness, 
whilst thou, gay and smiling, dost receive thy food from 
her bosom." 45 

Over Ephraim's detailed, genre-like, and almost inti- 
mate description of how the mother rocks the Child on 
her knee and smiles at His joyful face, there lies a poetic 
atmosphere for which one looks in vain throughout the 
early Christian literature. Nearly a thousand years 
passed before the Western Church made use of the 
familiar method of treating religious motives. The 
Roman Fathers spoke of the Divine Child as one 
speaks of a dogma, and its mother was regarded either 
as a dogma or as a moral example. Her qualities were 
deduced with dialectical acumen from certain predomi- 
nant fundamental qualities, and her beauty and virtues 
were praised in majestic rhetoric ; but she was not seen 
as a living and feeling human being. Only after the 
Franciscan movement had taught the faithful to regard 
religion as a purely personal experience, could pious 
imagination form pictures of the mother's affection and 
the Child's loveableness. 

In his great work on S. Francis, Henry Thode has 
shown how profound an influence the life and teaching 
of the Umbrian saint exercised on Christian art-produc- 
tion. He has specially emphasised the fact that it is in 
the Franciscan poets that the earliest expression is found 
of the naive poetry which is indissolubly associated 
in our consciousness with the idea of the Madonna and 
her Child. 46 It was Francis himself who, by his Christmas 
festival at Greccio in 1223, originated the cult of the Holy 
Manger that joyful and popular cult which includes 
in its dramatic ritual so many naively poetical antiphons 


between Mary and the watcMng shepherds and kings. 47 
In the Umbrian "Lauda," the Madonna's worship of the 
Child and the marks of affection she showed to it is 
described in a tone which unites the simple joy of 
folk-song with the devotion of the religious hymn. 48 
And in that Franciscan devotional book known as 
The Meditations of Bonaventura is described in 
detail how Mary " with joy and comfort and motherly 
love " embraced and kissed Him " whom she knew to be 
her God, and her son and master " ; how she " kneeled 
before Him, before she took Him up from the cradle, and 
when she laid Him down in it " ; and how frequently 
and affectionately she gazed at His face and His " blessed 
body." 49 The Meditations of Bonaventura, as is well 
known, was one of the most widely read books of the 
Middle Ages, and by it the Franciscan point of view 
was spread through the Catholic world. Indeed, one 
finds that after the thirteenth century Mary's relation- 
ship to the Child was more and more regarded as a 
subject which could be more suitably treated of in lyrical 
poetry than in theological rhetoric ; and in this relation- 
ship the mother is praised for that peculiar mixture of 
reverent worship and pious familiarity which is sung of 
in the Umbrian hymns, and which is so effective in the 
Christmas Songs of Ephraim Syrus. 

In pictorial art the motive has, to a great extent, 
undergone the same development as in poetry. The 
Mary who, on early Christian reliefs, presides over the 
homage of the Magi or the shepherds, is too much of 
a ceremonial figure to express any feeling of familiar 
affection ; and we do not see any essential motherliness 
in the woman who, in mediaeval reliefs, ivory carvings, 
enamels, or manuscript illustrations, lies outstretched on 
her bed close to the new-born Child. The artists have 


often so sharply accentuated the Son's divinity that the 
idea of a relationship between Him and His mother is 
quite precluded. Thus, there are many works, especially 
from the thirteenth century, in which the manger In 
order to commemorate the connection between the sacra- 
mental and the human incarnation has received the form 
of an altar. 50 The woman who rests by the altar appears 
here more as the foremost protectress of the high mystery 
of the Sacrament than as a human parent of the tender 
Child. In cases, again, where the Church j s symbolism 
has not been expressly emphasised, i.e. where G-od's 
bed is really a manger, this has often been placed 
above Mary an arrangement by reason of which It 
has been a technical impossibility to place Child and 
mother In any kind of mutual relationship. 51 And 
when, in exceptional cases, the mother rests beside 
her Child, no motherly pride or affection has been 
expressed in her bearing. She stares straight in front 
of her, with a gaze which often seems sorrowful and 
gloomy, and which gave some interpreters occasion to 
assert that she was oppressed by presentiments of the 
sufferings her Son would have to experience. 52 

It should be added, however, that it is only during 
a comparatively primitive period of art that the severe 
and stiff Madonna-type is met with in representations 
of the Holy Night. It is indeed still to be found in 
Niccol6 Pisano's pulpit at Pisa, where Mary, in a 
posture worthy of Juno, lies outstretched before the 
manger, with eyes directed out into space in a calm 
gaze, as if she were quite unmoved by the great event. 
But already by Niccolb's son, Giovanni Pisano, mother- 
liness has been expressed by the beautiful gesture with 
which the Virgin lifts the veil from the Child's bed, 
in order to look with joy and love at its face. In 


later art It has often been attempted to represent 
Mary's feelings towards her new-born babe by the aid 
of the same movement. Thus the lifting of the veil 
has become the subject of manifold variations : the 
gesture is a solemn one in the relief on Orcagna's 
tabernacle in Or San Michele at Florence, melancholy in 
the fagade sculptures of the Duomo at Orvieto, and 
graceful in "Raphael's famous Madonna in the Palazzo 
Pitti. However mutually unlike these compositions 
may be, in all of them the ceremonial element has 
been completely overcome by the expression of a purely 
motherly tenderness. 53 

In the history of those works which represent the 
Virgin with the Child at her bosom, a similar develop- 
ment may be observed from a Church severity to a 
humanly poetic conception. In the earliest sculptures 
and paintings there is no relationship between the God 
and the earthly woman, and, although He sits upon her 
lap, He appears to be as far apart from her as when, 
in the pictures of the Holy Night, He lies in His manger 
above or behind the resting Madonna. 

Only by degrees were the two figures brought into 
connection with each other. The decisive step was 
taken during the eleventh or twelfth century, when 
Mary was made to carry the Child on one of her arms. 
This made it possible for Mother and Son to look at 
each other, but it was long before a closer con- 
nection between them was portrayed. Guido da Siena's 
great painting in the Town Hall of his native city is 
if, as the inscription says, it really was painted in 1221 
one of the first compositions in which any expression 
of real motherhood can be observed in the Madonna. 54 
Nevertheless this Mary still stares almost absently out 
of the picture. It is only in the statues of Giovanni 


Pisano that the Virgin turns towards the Child, and their 
glances meet familiarly. As soon as this arrangement 
had been discovered, the group acquired a far greater 
Intimacy. The mother looks into the Child's eyes, 
sometimes with sad affection, and sometimes with arch 
joy, and the Child reaches up towards His mother to 
finger her dress or to feel her crown. Sometimes He 
plays with objects that Mary offers Him : an apple which, 
according to the theological interpretation. He will bless, 
to take away the curse brought by Eve upon the fruit ; 
some grapes, which refer to His own blood in the trans- 
formation of the Sacrament ; or a little bird, which Is a 
symbol for the soul. 55 It also happens that He rubs 
His hands against the Virgin's cheeks or takes hold of 
her chin to win from her a caress, and she fulfils with 
affection His desires. Thus the pictures of the Madonna 
become during the Renaissance so realistically vivid that 
their high and mystic meaning is quite lost in an atmo- 
sphere of human tenderness. 

For an outsider it is not easy to decide where the line 
Is to be drawn between the expression which harmonises 
with the Church's view, and that which is too life-like 
to be approved of by orthodox Catholics. Joy is not 
considered in itself condemnable in religious pictures, 
just as it is not banned in religious poetry, and tender- 
ness Is described in exalted terms even by the preachers. 
But when, as is the case with many of the late 
Renaissance painters in Italy, and with the French 
sculptors of the end of the thirteenth century, the 
Madonna's joyful playing with her Child becomes a 
coquettish archness, and when the caressing becomes a 
" mignardise," then art indeed loses its religious 
character. The faithful probably feel best satisfied 
by compositions in which they see a motherly love 


combined with reverence for God, for Mary adores her 
Child in a more literal sense than any human mother has 
ever worshipped her first-born. There are, indeed, some 
gestures in which this very characteristic of the 
Madonna's tenderness is clearly expressed, and which, 
therefore, wherever they are represented, give the 
pictures a Catholic and religious character. When 
Alessio Baldovinetti, for example, painted the Virgin 
looking down at the Child in her lap with lowered eyes 
and a translucent light over her face, we recognise that 
there is devotion in her love. 56 We are reminded of 
Crashaw's ingenious conceit, "'Iwas once look up, 'tis 
now looke downe to heaven." 57 We seem also to see 
how modest and careful was Mary's way of treating her 
Child when we look at any of the pictures those of Fra 
Angelico, for example in which the mother does not 
kiss her little one, or embrace Him, but only lightly 
rubs her cheek against His head. 58 There is tenderness 
in this caress, but there is also a modest reserve, show- 
ing that even to His own mother the Child is a god 
more than a child. 



Der Mutter Antlitz blaszt in Todesschauer, 
Die thranenlosen Augen sind verglommen, 
Ihr stnmmer Mtuid vermag nicht melir zu flehen, 

Kein sterblich Weib erfuhr so tiefe Trailer. 
Das propbezeit' ihr einst das Wort des Frommen : 
Bs wird ein Schwert durch deine Seele gehen. 

A. W. SCKLEGEL, Mater dolorosa. 

FROM the period immediately following the Divinity's 
birth, the Church, has selected three events for com- 
memoration : the Circumcision, the homage of the Magi, 
and the Purification or Presentation in the Temple. 
Of these events, the homage of the Magi, as has already 
been mentioned, was often rendered in early Christian 
art in connection with the miracle of the Holy Night, 
In the Church calendar, however, " the day of the three 
kings " is marked by a special festival two weeks after 
Christmas ; and, in spite of exceptions occurring in 
the production of the first centuries, both art and 
poetry have as a rule made the greeting of the Wise 
Men the subject of special compositions, which differ in 
their whole character from the pictures and poems 
which refer to the birth. While "the worship at the 
manger" is conceived as an idyllic scene, where the 
pious parents and the simple peasants adore the new- 
born God-man, the so-called Epiphany is invariably 



treated in the style of a festival. Here, what has to be 
visualised is a meeting between earthly power, which 
reveals itself in outer and visible pomp, and that 
higher power which concealed itself in the person of the 
little child. In proportion as art developed, such a 
thought was more and more clearly emphasised. 1 

Thus, during the Middle Ages, the Wise Men were 
given crowns instead of the oriental caps or mitres 
which they wear in the early Christian pictures, and in 
literature they are more often spoken of as kings than 
as Magi. Like vassals in the act of homage, they bow 
meekly before the sovereign, the " rex regum," whose 
empire is greater than any earthly sovereignty. By 
the gifts they offer they express their reverence to each 
of the dignities which distinguish the Divine Child. 
Caspar, the eldest of them, brings gold to the king ; 
Melchior, incense to the God ; and Balthasar, salves and 
balsam to the man who will experience and conquer 
death and suffering. He is all the more fitted to carry 
these signs of sorrow, because he himself is a representa- 
tive of the Camites, the black race oppressed by Noah's 
curse, and he comes last in order because his people 
were the last to partake of Christianity. Melchior, on 
the other hand, stands for the race of Japhet, i.e. the 
Aryans, who showed themselves the most receptive of 
the doctrine of the divinity of the Saviour. The oldest 
king is, of course, a Semite, who hands over the kingly 
crown of the chosen people to the Jewish Messiah. Thus, 
according to this interpretation, the greeting of the Magi 
is equivalent to the homage of all mankind, i.e. of all 
the known races, to the divine Saviour. 2 

It is only natural that the little Child should occupy 
a position in keeping with the solemnity of so great 
an occasion. It would not do to follow the example 


given by the Florentine painters in their pictures of the 
worship of the shepherds by letting the God-man lie on 
the ground and suck His finger. At the visit of the 
kings, not only is His finger out of His mouth, but He 
understands how to raise it, with a kingly and priestly 
dignity, in a gesture of blessing towards His worshippers. 
He is the new Solomon, a prince who gives audience in 
His mother's lap. He sits on her knees, and leans 
benevolently, not to say graciously, forward towards 
the kneeling Caspar. The Madonna, again, is on this 
occasion no longer the poor girl who has given birth to 
her Child in a stable. She is loftily enthroned like a 
Mother of G-od. She often wears a royal dress, and 
occasionally, too, her head is adorned with a diadem or a 
crown. Sometimes a canopy has been raised over her 
place, sometimes she sits on a bishop's chair. It is 
especially in northern painting that the greatness of 
the Madonna has been emphasised by such outer 
arrangements. The Italian artists, on the other hand, 
have usually observed a simple form of composition, 
but even with them the Virgin as a rule has a stiff 
bearing which often gives an impression of indifference. 
Only during the Eenaissance does her face begin to show 
a more mobile expressiveness. We see that she shares 
with interest in the homage to the little God, on whom 
she looks down affectionately, and she regulates His 
position with motherly care, so that Caspar may be able 
to kiss the foot of the Child. 

According to Venturi, the stiff expression in the 
mediaeval pictures was due to the fact that the artists 
desired to represent the fear experienced by Mary 
when she was informed by the kings of Herod's threats. 
Such a fear on the part of the Madonna has 
indeed, as Venturi pointed out, been described in 


religious poetry ; 8 but predisposition is needed in order 
to discern any indication of this feeling in the sculp- 
tures or paintings. We do not often find in art any 
sign that Mary felt oppressed by the visit of the 
lofty princes. On the other hand, this characteristic 
has been set forth by those sacred poets who never lose 
any opportunity of praising the Madonna's humility. 
Thus, the author of The Meditations of Bonaventura 
says : " See further, how shy Our Lady is of talking to 
such great Lords. And how courteously she looked 
down while she spoke, for she did not like to be seen or 
to talk with them. But God gave her strength and 
power in this great affair." 4 

The Circumcision, the memory of which is celebrated 
on New Year's Day, has comparatively seldom been 
treated in art and poetry. It may, indeed, seem as if 
such an event were in itself too unimportant to be 
made an object of devout meditation. To a Catholic 
mind, however, even this act is full of significance. It 
was at the Circumcision that the Saviour received the 
name Jesus, which to His worshippers is so full of 
"sweetness, power, and greatness"; 5 and at the Cir- 
cumcision was first poured out that blood which on 
three later occasions on the Mount of Olives, at the 
scourging, and on the Cross was to flow for the sins 
of men. In those and in many other reasons, which 
are expounded at length by Jacobus de Voragine, 6 lay a 
sufficient cause for the Church to commemorate the day 
when the God-man submitted to the ritual of the 
Jewish race. It is quite intelligible, on the other 
hand, why the ceremony itself did not offer many 
motives suitable to artistic representation. Therefore, 
also, those painters who have treated this subject the 


compositions of Fra Angelico, Filippo Lippi, and 
Mantegna are the most famous 7 have departed from 
historical accuracy in order to give the subject greater 
solemnity. They have portrayed the operation as 
taking place in a temple, and not, as was the Jewish 
custom, in the child's home; and they have further, 
as Abbe Barth61emy pointed out, been guilty of a 
disturbing anachronism in representing Mary as present 
in the Temple, although she would not have the right to 
enter the holy place until after the purification and 
sacrifice, forty days after the child's birth. 8 The way 
in which the Madonna's figure has been portrayed 
does not afford any opportunity for aesthetic or sym- 
bolical interpretations. 

If Mary does not play an important part at the 
Circumcision, her place is all the more notable at the 
Presentation in the Temple. 9 The Virgin is the actual 
protagonist in this ceremony, in which in order that her 
miraculous motherhood might be concealed from the 
world, she underwent the same purification as other 
mothers. 10 Candlemas, which is celebrated in memory 
of this event, is therefore one of the great Madonna- 
festivals, 11 and among the pictures connected with the 
Presentation are some of the most important representa- 
tions of Mary. One cannot speak or write of the 
Madonna-type in art unless one has studied such com- 
positions as Giotto's " Purificatio " at Padua and Assisi, 
Ambrogio Lorenzettfs painting of the same subject in 
the Accademia, and Fra AngeKco's fresco in the cloister 
of S. Mark's at Florence ; for in the conception of 
this motive appears an important feature which has not 
come so clearly into view in any of the pictures referring 
to Mary's earlier life. The Mother hands her Child 


over the altar to the old priest, who receives it with 
veiled arms, that his bare hands may not touch its 
purity. The pictures make an impression of quiet 
devotion by the mere affectionate reverence with which 
the Holy Child is handled; but the figure of Mary, 
as painted., for example, by Giotto, speaks of something 
in addition to this. When she has parted with her 
child, she stretches out her hands as if to lure it 
back, and gazes after it with a long look of yearning. 
In her bearing can be seen a clear harbinger of the 
expression predominant with her when she has become 
a mater dolorosa, and one feels all the more convinced 
of the correctness of such an interpretation of the 
pictures when one finds that in literature also the 
motive was treated as a sad and serious one. 

According to Catholic criticism, S. Luke's narrative 
of the Presentation in the Temple contains a direct 
prophecy of the sufferings Mary was to live through. 
In the words spoken to her by the aged Simeon, we are 
told, the whole great drama that the Madonna was to ex- 
perience was foreshadowed : " And Simeon blessed them, 
and said unto Mary His mother, Behold, this child is set 
for the fall and rising again of many in Israel ; and for a 
sign which shall be spoken against ; (Yea, a sword shall 
pierce through thy own soul also), that the thoughts of 
many hearts may be revealed" (Luke ii. 34-35). In 
the Catholic Bible, the Versio vulgata, these obscure 
words are translated in a more explicit sense : " Et tuam 
ipsius animam pertransibit gladius " " And his sword 
shall pierce through thy soul." His, i.e. the Saviour's 
sword, could, according to the commentators, only be 
understood as the lance which pierced Jesus' body at 
the Crucifixion. By this explanation Mary's visit to 
the Temple became associated with her suffering at 


Golgotha, and the words of Simeon caused the Madonna 
to be placed in a closer connection with her Son's 
sacrificial death than the canonical text would in 
itself have justified : " Ferrum lanceae militaris latus 
quidem Salvatoris, anunam vero transivit Virginis 
Matris" 12 "The point of the soldier's lance pierced 
at once the Saviour's side and His Virgin Mother's soul." 
On the basis of this combination of passages a special 
moment was even invented in the Passion Story, the 
so-called Transfixion, when "the sword went through 
Mary's heart." ls It is this moment that is sung of in 
the great G-ood Friday hymn : 

Stabat mater dolorosa 
Juxta crucem lacrymosa 
Dum pendebat Filius, 

Gujus animam gementem, 

Contristatam d dolentm, 

Pertransivit gladius. 

The Transfixion at Golgotha, however, belongs to a 
later stage in the Madonna's life. The " sword in her 
heart," which Mary experienced during her visit to the 
Temple, was only due to a presentiment of future 
disasters; but the forewarning as such was a real 
pain, in which all the Madonna's coming sorrows lay 
enclosed as in a seed. The Presentation in the Temple 
was regarded as the first station on the way of her 
suffering, and this event has therefore, as an intro- 
duction to the long series of sorrows, been the subject 
of many pious meditations and religious outpourings. 
Such meditations on Mary's temple-going became more 
common than ever, when in the thirteenth century 
it was made a task for devotion to seek in imagination 
to live through Mary's so-called seven sorrows. Just 
as, with a preference for the mystical number, seven 


joyful events had been distinguished in Mary's life 
the Annunciation, the Birth, the homage of the Magi, 
Jesus 7 appearance after the Resurrection, the Ascension, 
the Whitsun miracle, and Mary's Assumption so seven 
sorrowful events were compiled in a corresponding series. 
This series consisted of: (1) Simeon's prophecy; (2) 
the flight into Egypt ; (3) the search for Jesus in 
Jerusalem ; (4) the meeting with her Son on the way 
to Golgotha; (5) the Saviour's death; (6) the descent 
from the Cross; and (7) the burial. 14 These seven 
sorrows formed together a Via Matris, corresponding 
to the Saviour's Via Crucis. In the same way as 
people ought, in imitation of Christ, to place them- 
selves in His situation at every stage of His suffering, 
so, in worshipping the Madonna, they ought in imagina- 
tion to follow in her footsteps through all her experiences. 
For the Servite monks it was absolutely a form of divine 
service to think devotionally on the seven sorrows. 
Religious art, again, naturally strove to represent these 
situations, which had become so familiar to all believers 
through devotional literature. Small song-cycles were 
written, in which each separate strophe referred to one 
of the seven joys or sorrows. 15 These selected events 
were also portrayed in small pictures arranged side 
by side on one and the same great canvas, or each of 
the different sorrows was represented in a little frame 
of its own, the separate pictures being united as 
medallions on a single ribbon. 16 There even exist some 
costly mediaeval rosaries with beads which can be opened, 
and which contain inside small carved representations 
of one of the joys or sorrows of Mary. 17 

The first sorrow, which forebodes and includes all the 
rest, is usually represented by a picture of Mary before 
the altar, being addressed by the aged Simeon, but there 


are many works in which a purely symbolical method 
of illustrating the Biblical story has been employed. 
Thus in mediaeval manuscripts, as in pictures and sculp- 
tures, we often find representations of a solitary upright 
Madonna with a sword stuck through her breast. During 
the Middle Ages people were satisfied with one sword 
only, which referred either to Simeon's words or to the 
mother's suffering at the Cross ; but later, attempts 
were made to include the whole long line of sorrows in 
the pictures, Le. a special weapon was introduced for 
each of the seven griefs. Thus arose those bizarre 
pictures and images in which the Virgin carries a whole 
set of swords stuck in her bosom. Where the images 
were sufficiently large, all the sorrows represented by the 
respective weapons were set forth in medallions on the 
pommels of the swords. The symbolism had reached its 
culmination, but the artistic effect suffered from a striving 
after a too complex expressiveness. 18 

The second of Mary's sorrows was caused by the 
Flight into Egypt. In the canonical Gospels this event 
is but shortly described, but the legends treat it all 
the more fully. The apocryphal Book of the Childhood 
of our Lord Jesus, especially, contains a number of 
fabulous anecdotes concerning the adventures of the 
Holy Family on the journey. 19 These stories, however, 
have no direct nor indirect importance in the Madonna's 
history. It is unnecessary, therefore, to pause over 
the miracle of the idols which were shattered when 
the Holy Child passed by or over that of the corn- 
field wliicli grew up in a single night, so that the 
sowers could truthfully answer Herod's emissaries that 
they had not seen any family like the one pursued 
"since they had sown their corn" or over the tale 
of the robber who, moved by the Child's innocence and 


the mother's beauty, harboured the holy fugitives in his 
cave and, as a reward for his hospitality, received the 
privilege thirty-three years later of being crucified on 
the right hand of the Divinity. Of greater interest is 
the story of the miracle performed by the Holy Child 
when He commanded a palm-tree to bow its crown to 
the ground, so that Mary could slake her thirst with 
its fruit, 20 for it is significant that with this, His first 
miracle, the Saviour does a service to His mother. 
Therefore the palm-tree of the legend, which is often 
represented in pictures of the Flight into Egypt, 21 affords 
a proof of the good relationship which reigned between 
the Holy Mother and her Divine Child, and which, 
according to tradition, prevailed during all the stages 
of the Saviour's life. 

As regards this relationship the New Testament 
narrative is altogether too meagre to satisfy the be- 
lievers. They could not imagine that He. who had 
been a model of all human virtues, had not also been 
a good and affectionate Son, and that she, who had 
borne the most perfect of all children, had not guarded 
and loved it more affectionately than any other mother. 
Pious visionaries, therefore, painted in imagination a 
communion between mother and Son which was more 
loving than any human relationship, and they de- 
scribed with close details Mary's way of fostering the 
little God. If the authors themselves had experienced 
the joys and sorrows of parentage, they introduced, 
perhaps unconsciously, their own recollections into the 
tales of the perfect mother. 

It was by such an unintentional act of composition 
that S. Birgitta built, out of dreams and her own ex- 
periences, a description which is so just in its realism, that 


the fiction becomes as convincing as any reality. There is 
a true motherliness in the manner in which the Swedish 
Abbess makes Mary tell of all her Son's marvellous 
qualities. She describes in detail His little body, the 
whiteness of His limbs, His purity and His good 
behaviour from the very first day of His life. She does 
not even fail to say that "there was never any dis- 
order nor any uncleanliness nor any insects in His 
hair." 22 We see how motherly pride satisfies itself in 
that garrulous talkativeness which is so unintelligible 
and wearisome to all childless people, and so inexhaust- 
ibly interesting to all mothers. We understand the 
naive circumstantiality with which Mary describes how 
" with tears of sorrow and bitterness " she clothed her 
Child in the tunic which she knew would be taken 
away from Him at His Passion that tunic, she adds 
bitterly, " for which they who crucified Him cast lots, 
and none had that tunic while He lived but He alone." n 
And we are moved above all by the evident satisfaction 
with which the mother speaks of all the filial solicitude 
and all the proofs of affection that the God-man gave 

Birgitta's visions of the relationship between the 
Madonna and her Son are unsurpassed in their naive 
intimacy probably just because she who had experi- 
enced the visions was herself a mother, who had had 
to bury some of her own children. But there are in 
mediaeval literature many other authors who completed 
the Gospel narratives with equally detailed, if with less 
life-like descriptions of the mutual affection of Mary 
and her Divine Son. In The Meditations of Bona- 
ventura, for example, a lengthy account is given of 
many everyday details in the life of the Holy Family, 
and of many small occurrences, unnoticed in the Bible, 


by which the Child's obedience and His mother's 
affection are shown. We learn to return to the Flight 
into Egypt that during their residence in a foreign 
country the Virgin supported her family by working 
at the spinning-wheel and by sewing for hire. 24 We 
read of how, when confronted by her third sorrow 
the Search for Jesus in Jerusalem she sorrowed over 
the loss of her Child, and of her joy when she found 
Him in the Temple ; and one is specially struck by the 
way in which the meeting between mother and Son is 
described. "The boy," it runs, "immediately went 
forward to her, and she took Him affectionately to her 
bosom, and kissed Him lovingly and laid her face 
against His, and holding him to Her breast she rested 
an hour with Him." 25 It is seen that on this occasion 
also Mary employs the same characteristic caress which 
has been so often portrayed in artistic representations 
of the Madonna and her tender Child. 

It is a significant addition to S. Luke's Gospel that 
the boy, as soon as He sees His mother, of His own 
accord goes to meet her. As in this example, so on 
the whole no opportunity was missed of showing how 
happy the Son was in Mary's company. Therefore 
the author of " Bona Ventura's " Meditations has specially 
mentioned that Our Lord, when leaving the marriage 
at Cana to begin His work of teaching, first wished 
to accompany His mother to her home : " For such an 
escort should Our Lady have : See now how humbly 
they go home on foot, and how sweetly they walk 
together Mother and Son." 26 

An instance, still finer in its naivete, of God's love 
for His earthly home is given in the chapter of the 
Meditations dealing with the forty days in the wilderness. 
When the temptations were over, says the author, the 


Saviour was fed by angels, but we are not told in 
the Scripture with what kind of food He was fed. We 
cannot suppose, however, that the angels brought any 
earthly food from heaven, and it is still less con- 
ceivable that Jesus should have performed a miracle 
merely to satisfy His own bodily necessities. Neither 
did He need to take any unusual step, for He well knew 
where He could get the meal He liked best. " Therefore 
He said to the angels, ' Go to my dear mother, and get 
and bring me what she has just prepared. For I eat 
no food so gladly as hers/ Then two of the angels 
betook themselves and were at the same hour with 
Mary. They greeted her reverently and proffered their 
message. And they took what little she had prepared 
for herself and Joseph, together with bread and a nap- 
kin and whatever is needed for a meal, and brought it 
all to the Lord. And Our Lady took care to procure 
some small fishes, and when she had got them she sent 
them by the angels to her Son." 27 

The intimacy of the relationship between Mary and 
the Saviour appears most clearly, however, on those 
occasions when the Son is compelled to separate Himself 
from His mother. Thus Bonavenfrura [?] has described 
how the Virgin takes leave of Jesus with tears, when 
at the age of twenty-nine He leaves His home to begin 
His work of teaching ; 2S and he has written a long chapter 
on that other parting which is even sadder, because 
both know that it is irrevocable when the Saviour 
goes forth to celebrate the last Easter-festival at Jeru- 
salem. 29 At this farewell, which has been represented 
pictorially by Diirer, Correggio, and Lotto, among 
others, Mary definitely takes on that expression of a 
" Mother of Sorrows " which predominates with her 
during all the great events of the Passion Story. 80 


The drama of the Passion, as is well known, is 
introduced by Mary's fourth sorrow, i.e. the meeting 
between the mother and the bearer of the Cross on the 
way to Golgotha. 31 S. Luke's account of how the Saviour 
turned to the weeping women has given artists an 
opportunity of bringing Mary into close contact with 
the condemned man. For she has been given a place 
at the head of the crowd, and consequently it is she 
who first meets the Saviour's eye. In the composi- 
tions of Giotto and his successors a severe dignity 
marks the silent meeting of Mother and Son. He walks 
erect, bearing His Cross over His shoulder, and she like- 
wise stands upright when she answers His look. Only 
by wringing her hands does she show the grief that is 
rending her. In Raphael's " Spasimo," on the contrary, 
and in the late Renaissance pictures, the Saviour sinks 
under the Cross, and Mary falls to the earth at His side. 
This arrangement is more dramatic than the composi- 
tions of the earlier painters, but Catholic criticism 
prefers the Trecento view, in which the religious and 
divine element is better recognised. 

When at the foot of the Cross Mary witnesses God's 
death-struggle, her suffering has reached its culmina- 
tion. One is apt to imagine that this fifth sorrow 
could not have been represented either in picture or 
poem otherwise than as a violent emotion. Even with 
regard to this motive, however, the Church writers have 
striven to impress on artists the necessity of observing 
a strict and dignified reserve. In pictorial representa- 
tions of the Crucifixion, therefore, may be observed 
the same opposition between a hieratically stiff and a 
dramatically expressive conception which has so often 
been referred to in the preceding chapters. 


In the few Passion scenes wMcli are to be met 
with In early mediaeval art, both the Crucified and His 
mother have been given a quiet bearing, free from 
suffering. So far as the Madonna is concerned, this 
is due in many cases to the fact that her figure fills 
a purely symbolical function. She is expressionless, 
because she is an idea and not a human being; for 
in pictures of the Passion Mary often represents the 
Christian Church, whose empire commences at the 
moment when the synagogue which is represented 
on the opposite side of the Cross by the apostle John 
is shattered at the death of the sacrificial Lamb. 32 

It would be incorrect, however, to apply this sym- 
bolical explanation to all the earlier mediaeval repre- 
sentations of the Passion. There are many compositions 
in which the artists clearly desired to give purely 
historical descriptions of the sad scenes of Good Friday, 
but even in these pictures we seek in vain for any 
expression of that violent grief which one imagines the 
Holy Mother to have experienced. Mary does not weep, 
and her body is undisturbedly dignified and erect. 
She only puts her hand to her cheek to rest her weary 
head, or raises her mantle to her face as if to conceal 
her sorrow. It might be supposed that the artists 
represented these gestures of still and restrained grief 
which were perhaps borrowed from antique models 33 
because they felt their technical inability to render 
violent outbursts of feeling. It would, however, be a 
misapprehension to assume only some such external 
reasons for the dignified character which marks the 
earliest pictures of "Maria juxta crucem." It was a 
predominant conception of the Madonna which was 
thus reflected in art. The faithful wished to think that 
she, who had borne her Child without pain and who 


had been freed from all the impurity and infirmities 
of human nature, could also lose her Child without 
being broken by sorrow. She was a pattern of moral 
self-control, as of all other virtues. In this connec- 
tion she is invoked by Ambrosrus in his elegy on 
the death of Valentinianus : "Durum quidem funus 
videtis, sed stabat et sancta Maria juxta crucem Filii, 
et spectabat Virgo sui unigeniti passionem. Stantem 
illam lego, flentem non lego " " I read that she stood 
[at the Cross], but I do not read that she wept." 34 
These words of the old Church Father have often 
been quoted in support of criticism of those art-works 
in which Mary sinks to the earth in sorrow, and 
many reasons have been advanced for the contention 
that the Madonna could not have failed to preserve 
her dignity even at her Son's death. 35 Just as the 
orthodox aestheticians will not permit the Holy Mother 
to be portrayed at her child-birth as lying or resting 
upon a bed, so they are unwilling to admit that she 
should be represented otherwise than in an erect 
position at the Crucifixion. 36 

As has already been mentioned, however, it is only 
in earlier mediaeval art that the demands of Church 
aesthetics for stoicism in expression have been fully 
complied with. In contrast to the emphasis laid by 
the early Fathers on the courage "and self-restraint of 
the Madonna, a new conception arises, according to 
which Mary not only suffered at the Cross, but also 
expressed her suffering in lamentations. This view 
becomes prominent in literature earlier than in art; 
and, as is generally the case with the literary treatment 
of holy subjects, such an emotional element is in the 
first centuries more developed in the Eastern Church 
than among Eoman Catholics. 


Thus in an old Syrian poem which, probably in- 
correctly, bears the name of Ephraim Syrus, Mary 
is described as weeping and lamenting over "her 
heart's deep wound." 37 Her suffering receives here as 
dramatic an expression as does her mother's joy in 
the Birth Songs of the great Oriental bard which have 
already been quoted. In Greek literature we meet with 
a similar treatment of the Madonna's "fifth sorrow/' 
which is dramatic also in form. In the old poem, " The 
Suffering Christ/' which was long ascribed to Gregorius 
of Nazianz, more than half the verses consist of an 
almost unbroken monologue, in which the Mother of 
God gives expression to her sorrow. In its form, 
this, the oldest of Christian dramas, is an imitation 
of classical tragedy. A great number of verses have 
even been copied, with unimportant alterations, from 
the tragedies of Euripides. 38 It is only natural, there- 
fore, that Christian martyr-heroism does not show 
forth in the portrayal of the Virgin's grief. In some 
editions of the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus (also 
called the Acta Pilati), a Greek work thought to 
date from the fifth century, it is related that the 
Madonna fell unconscious on the way to Golgotha, 
and that at the Cross she wept in despair. 39 And in 
those lyrical poems that are named Staurotheotokia, 
the Holy Mother is described as crying in a loud 
voice. In one of them it is even said that she tears 
her hair in an excess of anguish. 40 

So far as is known to us, no such descriptions of the 
Madonna's sorrow occur in Latin literature throughout 
the first ten centuries. 41 The only analogy to the Greek 
poems that we are able to quote is the " Meditations 
upon Christ's Suffering," which has been ascribed to 
Bede, and in which it is related how Mary weeps from 


sorrow and confides her Son to God, and, after His 
death, falls on her face to the ground. 42 It Is im- 
possible to say, however, whether the work actually 
dates from the time of Bede or from a much later 
period. All that can be definitely asserted is that 
from the commencement of the twelfth century re- 
ligious authors began with a marked predilection to 
observe the Madonna's anguish and her share in her 
Son's suffering upon the Cross. 43 This was due not 
merely to the fact that from this time Mary occupied 
a more and more lofty place in Christian devotional 
life. It was also based to a large extent on the dog- 
matic assumptions, to the effects of which we have 
frequently had occasion to refer. The old Doketist 
heresy, which had so often been refuted and which 
nevertheless always came to the front in some new 
disguise, was at work in the explanation of the Passion- 
drama. However zealously the dogmatists sought to 
impress the fact that the Saviour was a real human 
being at the same time that He was a God, people 
could not imagine that the Almighty even in His 
earthly shape had suffered in a death-struggle. They 
could not but think that, had He only desired it, He 
could have made an end of His anguish, or at least 
have won comfort from the consciousness that His 
death was a passing thing. 44 

Mary, on the contrary, was a human being like 
all others, and her unhappiness was therefore quite 
intelligible. The more intimately the relationship 
between Mother and Son was conceived, the more 
profoundly must she be imagined to have partaken of 
His suffering. Thus was reached the conclusion 
which has, of course, been of inestimable importance in 
the development of the Madonna -cult that by her 


sorrows the Virgin actually had a share in the work of 
Atonement. S. Birgitta, for example, in one of her visions 
makes the Saviour say : " And therefore I wish to say 
that my Mother and I saved mankind as with one 
heart, I suffering in body and heart, and she suffering 
the heart's sorrow and love." 45 In another vision the 
Saviour pays this tribute to His mother : " I bear thee 
witness that thou [didst suffer] more and bear more 
agony in the hour of my death than any martyr." 46 
And Mary herself explains: "For as Adam and Eve 
sold the world for an apple, so we redeemed the world 
with a heart" 47 

In the Meditations of Bonaventura, indeed, Mary 
is not spoken of as assisting in the Eedemption, but 
her suffering at G-olgotha is set forth as emphatically 
as by Birgitta. " The grief and sorrow of Mary," we 
are told, " increased greatly her Son's anguish, and He 
pitied her tribulations more than His own. And well 
may it be said that she suffered on the Cross with her 
Son, for she would have chosen to die with Him rather 
than to survive Him." 48 She suffers agony with the 
Crucified One, and prays to God that His anguish may 
at least be lightened for she no longer dares to ask 
to have Him back alive. He, again, entrusts her to His 
Father's care, and points out how innocently she suffers, 
"for I was to be crucified and not she." He has 
such a loving solicitude for her that He avoids every 
word which might increase her sorrow. It is for this 
reason, says the author of the Meditations , that he said 
to John : "Behold thy Mother," but to Mary : " Woman, 
behold thy Son." For He would not address her by the 
dear word " Mother," lest " in her affectionate love she 
should grieve even more than before." 49 

In the monological, and sometimes dialogical form, 


in which Mary's fifth sorrow is treated, the chapter on 
the Crucifixion in the Meditations corresponds with 
the so-called Planctus poems. These remarkable songs, 
which from the beginning of the twelfth century become 
more and more common both in Latin literature and in 
that of the modern languages, have so many points of 
contact with the Greek poems just alluded to, that it 
has even been supposed that they were directly in- 
fluenced by them. 50 It is not necessary, however, to 
assume any such influence. The personal and inti- 
mate devotion, which appeared in Catholicism during 
the thirteenth century, must naturally have led people 
in imagination to dramatise we use the term in its 
widest meaning the events of the sacred history. 
Meditations were directed more than ever before to the 
drama of the Passion, and in this drama, for the reasons 
already given, attention was above all paid to the part 
of the human mother. When by pious imagination 
her sorrow had been made one's own, it was inevitable 
that the utterances of poetry should become more 
human and more passionate than the old orthodoxy 
would have permitted. Thus arose the essentially, 
and often formally, dramatic Lamentations of Mary 
or Planctus, which offer so striking a resemblance 
to the Syrian Good Friday hymns and the Greek 

S. Ambrosius would certainly have had much to criti- 
cise in this kind of Mary poetry. In the Planctus songs 
the Mother of God does not refrain from weeping, nay, 
she even weeps tears of blood. She stands by the Cross, 
indeed, but she also time after time falls unconscious, 
and she loses her self-control in repeated shrieks of woe. 
The extent of her suffering appears in the prayer which 
occurs in most Planctus and also in the lately quoted 


extract from S. Birgitta's visions that she herself may 
die rather than have to survive her Child. The intimate- 
ness of her feeling is seen in the bitterness with which 
she recalls in memory all the joy which the Crucified 
had given her from His tenderest infancy. Motherhood 
thus finds a natural and purely human expression in 
the Madonna's hopeless despair, but there is nothing 
of the dignity of the God-bearer in her lamentation, 
and still less is there any Christian resignation. In this 
respect all the Planctus songs differ from that great 
hymn which corresponds with them in subject, and 
which has therefore often been wrongly denominated a 
" Lamentation of Mary." 51 Stdbat mater dolorosa is 
sadder than any other of the chants of sorrow of the 
Catholic Church; but it reveals to us not so much 
Mary's own lamentation, as the sympathising grief of 
the unknown poet. The Madonna is represented indeed 
as sorrowing, groaning and weeping, but she does not 
break out in shrieks. This reserve contributes more 
than anything else to the lofty and imposing character 
of the hymn. 

The artistic representations were of course in many 
respects influenced by the literature concerning the 
lamentation of Mary. Planctus poetry indeed belonged 
to that branch of literature which no one could help 
knowing. In all the modern languages songs were sung 
about Mary's sufferings at Church festivals, at the 
assemblies of the Franciscans, the Flagellants and the 
Laudesi, and at religious theatrical representations. The 
dramatic element in the form of these poems made them 
especially suitable for recitation at the great feasts. In 
many cases it even appears, from, accompanying stage- 
directions, that the songs were originally intended for 
theatrical purposes. 52 In other cases, again, it has been 


possible to show that they formed a kernel round which 
greater dramas were grouped. The religious theatre, 
again, as has often been pointed out, has exercised a 
direct influence on the compositions of pictorial art. 
It is therefore to be expected that we shall recognise 
in pictures and sculptures many of the gestures and 
expressions described in the Planctus poems. 

As related above, however, it was long before the 
dramatic and emotional conception passed from literature 
into art. In the northern countries people still preferred 
in the thirteenth century to represent the Madonna as 
unbroken by her grief. In Italy, on the other hand, 
where the great devotional movements influenced 
aesthetic production almost immediately, the figure of 
Mary received a humanly agitated expression even 
during this century. In his treatment of the Crucifixion, 
Giotto himself portrayed the Madonna's spasimo, 
though in such a way that in the excess of her grief she 
yet retained her lofty dignity. 53 Later, her fainting 
became a common motive, which was repeated number- 
less times in Italian, German, and Dutch pictures 
of the Crucifixion. At the same time, in pictures of 
a symbolic rather than an historical character, the old 
stiff arrangement was still employed, according to which 
the Madonna and John stand upright on either side of 
the Cross. 54 In some Renaissance pictures of this kind 
such, for example, as Perugino's Crucifixions the ex- 
pression is so quiet and restrained that the bearing of 
the Madonna would satisfy even Ambrosius. During 
the later Renaissance the naturalistic treatment gains the 
upper hand both in the representation of the Crucified 
and of His mother, but even now artists usually avoid 
rendering the extreme emotions described in literature. 
Mary still retains in her sorrow that grace which always 


distinguishes her movements, while the Magdalene on 
the contrary throws out her arms and distorts her 
features with violent shrieks. 

The same contrast between the Madonna and the 
Magdalene in their mourning over the dead appears in 
the treatment of the sixth sorrow, i.e. the descent from 
the Cross and the preparations for burial. The latter, 
who was once a sinner, shows an almost earthly passion 
in the gestures by which she expresses her intense 
despair. Mary, too, is sorrowful in the presence of the 
dead, but at the same time she is quiet and restrained, 
and she embraces the corpse with that mild affection 
peculiar to motherhood. In this respect the descriptions 
of poetry and art correspond admirably. 

According to an old legend, the Madonna herself 
assisted in the descent from the Cross. She loosened 
the Saviour's right arm and supported His body, while 
Nicodemus removed the nails from the left hand and 
the feet. Then she seized the Dead One's hands and 
kissed them and bedewed them with tears. 55 This 
motive has often been rendered In manuscript illustra- 
tions and reliefs of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. 
In some Western works of art perhaps in connection 
with the directions given in the Greek " Painter's 
Handbook " from the monastery of Mount Athos the 
Madonna is even made to receive the Saviour in her arms 
and kiss His face. 56 In the view of later ages it was in- 
conceivable, however, that the sorrowing mother should 
have had sufficient strength to partake in a work which 
must have been too great a tax on her in both a physical 
and a mental sense. In the description in The Medita- 
tions of Bonaventura which may have been the model, 
for example, for Niccolo Pisano's relief at Lucca Mary 


only takes the right hand of the dead Man, kisses it and 
holds it to her eyes ; 5T but even compositions of this 
kind are exceptional. In the majority of Renaissance 
works the Madonna lies swooning on the ground while 
her son is being taken down from the Cross. Her 
motherly caresses are portrayed instead in connection 
with the later events which constitute the subjects of 
" The Lamentation of Christ " and of the so-called 
" Pieta " compositions. 

The subject for these compositions is given in detail 
in The Meditations of Bonaventura, Soon after Our 
Lord had been taken down from the Cross, we are 
told, Joseph requested Mary that the dead body might 
be wrapped in a shroud and buried. But she would 
not part from Him, and asked that she might keep her 
Son a little longer. And she wept and dropped tears 
when she saw the wounds in His side and on His hands, 
and gazed at His face and His head that had been 
dealt with so discourteously and contemptuously. She 
plucked the hair from the wounds and removed the 
stiffened blood, the spittle and the tears, " and could 
not be satiated with the pitiful sight." But as it was 
now late in the evening John sought to persuade Mary 
to delay the burial no longer. Our Lady, who was 
reasonable and forbearing, kept her friends waiting no 
more but allowed them to shroud Our Lord as they 
wished. And she herself held His head in her lap, and 
prepared to wrap it up, while Magdalene with tears of 
sorrow washed " the feet at which she had found mercy." 
"When they had shrouded the dead body they looked at 
Mary as if to ask that she should allow herself to be 
led to the grave, and thereat they all began to weep 
anew. And when she saw that she could delay no 
longer she laid her face against her Son's and said : 


" My dearest Son, now I hold dead in my bosom. 
Hard is the band which death has to break. Glad and joy- 
ful was our communion. Without malice and ill-feeling 
we lived among men, and yet thou art now killed as he 
who has forfeited his life. Thy Father would not help 
thee and thou hast died for mankind. Where shall I 
go now ? I desired to be buried with thee and may not 
be, but my soul is buried with thee." " And while she 
thus spake, she washed His face with the excess of her 
tears far more than the Magdalene had washed His feet, 
and then dried it, and kissed His mouth and eyes, and 
carefully wrapped His head in a napkin. Afterwards 
she blessed Him, and all fell upon their knees and 
prayed to Him and kissed His feet. Then they bore 
Him to the grave ; Our Lady held His head and the 
Magdalene His feet, and the others bore Him in the 
midst." 58 

It is difficult to decide if it is this description which 
originally gave rise to the representations of Christ's 
burial, or if " Bonaventura's " narrative was influenced 
by ancient pictures and sculptures; but it is in any 
case certain that the Meditations exercised a decisive 
influence on pictorial art. We are reminded of the 
unknown author when we see the compositions of 
Cimabue, Loranzetti, Giotto, Fra Angelico, Perugino, 
and indeed of all the great Renaissance masters. The 
washing of the corpse with the tears of the holy women, 
the mother's kisses and embraces, and the sad proces- 
sion to the place of burial have been represented 
numberless times in sculpture and painting. Still 
more often has that moment been rendered when Mary 
holds the dead body to her breast and, with the same 
caress that she had so often given the tender infant, 
strokes her face against His. Such a "pieta" forms 


a complete correspondence, or rather contrast, to the 
pictures of the Virgin's mother-joy. We imagine that 
we see the Madonna dreaming herself back to the 
time when she used to play with her new-born child on 
her knee. 

This resemblance between the two scenes has been 
set forth by some authors even more clearly than in the 
Meditations. According to the Kevelations of Birgitta, 
Mary experienced when caressing the dead body the 
same joy as when she held her Child to her breast, " for 
she knew that her Son would die no more, but live 
eternally." 59 S. Bernard of Siena has given a still more 
ingenious interpretation of the story of Mary and the 
Saviour's body. The Madonna, he says, dreamed that 
it was her little Child which she held to her bosom. She 
rocked Him to and fro, and she covered Him in the 
shroud as if it had been swaddling-clothes. 60 There 
exist also some old sculptures which might be under- 
stood as illustrations of this thought, for in them the 
Saviour's body has been made so small that Mary can 
comfortably carry Him on her knee like a child. It is 
probable, however, that this manner of portrayal was 
due rather to technical limitations than to any deliberate 
purpose, 61 for the great artists have all represented the 
dead Man as tall and full-grown. Few of them, however, 
have succeeded in solving the problem of placing His 
figure on the Madonna's bosom gracefully. In some 
cases, as in the great picture of a Provengal master in 
the Louvre, the Saviour lies in an arch over Mary's 
knees, with His feet resting on the ground. In other 
compositions such, for example, as Cosimo Tura's 
picture in the Museo Correr at Venice the effect of 
seeing the tall body embraced like a little child in the 
arms of the aged mother is absolutely grotesque. 


Michelangelo alone, in his Pieta at S. Peter's, has suc- 
ceeded in treating the subject in a powerful and dignified 
style. He has made the Madonna supernaturally great 
rather like the antique Demeter he has let the dead 
body attach itself gracefully to the lines of the mother's 
imposing shape, and he has given her countenance the 
quiet expression of a strong woman in her full and 
unspoiled beauty. As is well known, Michelangelo 
had to meet the criticism that he had represented the 
Mother of God as much too young in relation to her 
Son ; but in the famous answer with which, in the 
presence of his friend Condivi, he met these objections, 
he proved that he had made his Church's view of the 
Madonna his own. " Do you not know," he said, " that 
pure virgins retain their good looks better than the 
impure ? All the more must she have remained youth- 
ful, in whom stirred not the slightest sensuous desire 
that could affect her body. But I will say still more. 
We must also remember that such a freshness and 
youthful bloom, quite apart from its having been pre- 
served in her in natural ways, had been brought about 
by a divine miracle, simply in order that her virginity 
as a mother and her eternal purity might be demon- 
strated to the world." 62 This view has by no means 
universally reigned among artists. Some of them 
Crivelli may be mentioned as an example have even 
made the Madonna much older than she was, according 
to the legends, at the time of her Son's death. 63 

Mary's participation in the burial, as has been said, 
forms the seventh of her sorrows. The renderings of 
this subject in art and poetry throw no new light upon 
the doctrine of the Madonna's personality. The only 
notable feature in the legend is that already touched 


upon in an earlier chapter namely, that the Virgin 
before returning to her home blesses the grave as the 
place in which God would for a time be enclosed in the 
same way that for nine months He had dwelt in her own 

From the grave, we are told, the mother betook 
herself to the place of execution and there prayed to 
the Cross on which her Son had rested. As, say the 
Meditations, she had been the first to worship the 
Divine Child, so she was also the first to perform her 
devotions at the Cross. 64 On the other hand, she was 
not among the pious, who three days later betook them- 
selves to the grave with spices and ointments to do 
homage to the dead. Those artists who ascribed to her 
a share in that pious action have, according to Catholic 
critics, been guilty of misrepresenting the true facts. 
It ought not to be imagined, they tell us, that Mary 
felt any need of visiting* the death-chamber. She was 
too firmly persuaded that her Son would soon rise again. 65 
And to her, before any one else, it was revealed that 
He was alive again. 

The pious worshippers of the Madonna have not 
been able to reconcile themselves to the idea that the 
God-man omitted to reveal Himself to Mary immedi- 
ately after the Resurrection. In the Apocryphal legends, 
in devotional literature, and in the poems on Mary's 
life, the Bible narrative has been completed by a chapter 
on how the Saviour, in filial love and reverence, betakes 
Himself to His mother. 66 According to the Latin Vita 
B. Virginis Marie rhythmica, He even pays her two 
visits; first to inform her of His resurrection, and 
later to give her the promise of her ow r n Assumption. 67 
In one of S. Birgitta's visions the Madonna herself insists 
with emphasis that she had been gladdened by the 


earliest appearance of her risen Son. " And/' she says, 
" He was seen earlier by me who was His mother and 
grieved by inconceivable sorrow, than He was seen by 
any one else. And He appeared to me sweetly and 
affectionately, gladdening me and saying that He would 
ascend to Heaven in the sight of many. And although, 
for the sake of my humility, this has not been expressly 
written, yet it is the most certain truth that my Son 
when He arose from the dead showed Himself to me 
before any other person." 6S 

Even this event in Mary 7 s life, which introduces the 
series of her four last joys, has been described in detail 
by the author of the Meditations in a short and 
graphic chapter. It is interesting to see how even at 
this last meeting all the affection which existed between 
Mother and Son is condensed in expressions combin- 
ing veneration and love. It was, we are told, early on 
the Sunday morning when Our Lord arose from the 
grave. His mother was sitting at home, praying to 
God that He would let her Son come back to her. He 
had promised to come on the third day, but still He was 
not there. "But while she thus prayed, so that the 
tears flowed from her heart's sweetness, suddenly Our 
Lord Jesus entered from one side in whitest garments, 
with shining face, mild and glad and proud and full 
of honour and said to her : c Salve Sancta parens.' 
While she turned she said : c Art thou my son Jesus ? ' 
And she fell on her knees and prayed to Him. He 
likewise fell on His knees and said : ' My sweetest 
mother, it is I ; I have arisen from the dead and now 
am here with thee.' And when they arose she em- 
braced Him with flowing tears of joy, and pressed Him 
close to her, and they laid their faces side by side, and 
she leaned upon Him and He supported her." 69 


It is in this position, with, her face laid by His, and 
affectionately embracing Him, after first having prayed 
to Him on her knees, that the earthly mother should be 
thought of in connection with her Divine Child. She 
is familiarly tender with Him who was born of her 
womb, but she never forgets that He is a higher Being 
than she. 


Mortals, that behold a Woman, 
Rising 'twixt tlie Moon and Sun ; 
Who am I the heavens assume ? an 
All am I and I am One. 

Multitudinous ascend I, 
Dreadful as a battle arrayed, 
For I bear you whither tend I ; 
Ye are I, be undismayed 1 

I the Ark that for the graven 
Tables of the Law was made, 
Man's own heart was one, one Heaven, 
Both within my womb were laid. 

For there Anteros with Eros 
Heaven with man conjoined was, 
Twin stone of the Law, Ischijros, 
Agios Athanatos. 


Assumpta Maria (New Poems}. 

FROM tlie last chapters it should be clear that the 
Apocryphal literature is relatively poor as regards the 
period in Mary's life which coincides with the Saviour's 
activity as a teacher. The legends are principally 
attached to the canonical narrative, and they complete 
only those chapters in it which were thought to have 
been too scantily treated by the evangelists. The 
Passion Story itself has indeed been enlarged by the 
important additions of the Madonna's sufferings at the 
Cross and of the risen Saviour's visit to His mother ; 
but concerning the whole time between Jesus' birth 



and His death, the pious legends have little to tell us 
about Mary. The circle of miracle -stories which is 
associated with the Flight into Egypt does not add any 
notable features to her character. It seems thus as if 
religious authors had been shy of touching the narrative 
which had been treated in the canonical text ; or it is 
perhaps more correct to say that they did not wish to 
write anything about Mary's life during the time her Son 
claimed the devout thoughts of the faithful for Himself 
alone. Before He had been born, Mary was a pro- 
tagonist in the sacred story ; but for as long as He was 
alive on the earth, she was thrust into the background 
in favour of the Divine Man. From the moment, how- 
ever, when His earthly existence had ceased, Mary 
regained her rank as the foremost of all created beings, 
and the legend- writers were free to treat a subject in 
regard to which the canonical narratives had absolutely 
nothing to relate. Therefore there exists a rich circle of 
stories comparable with the legends of the Madonna's 
birth and childhood referring to this last stage of 
Mary's life. 

Immediately after the departure of the God-man, 
His mother, according to the Catholic view, occupies a 
predominant place in the first Christian community. 
Tradition has in this case based itself on certain meagre 
indications in the canonical text, and boldly drawn 
conclusions from them. It has been attempted, by the 
aid of forcedly ingenious interpretations, to decipher 
hidden references to the Virgin in the apostolical letters ; 1 
and special weight has been laid on that passage in the 
first chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, in which it is 
expressly said that among those who assembled with 
the disciples for common prayer and devotion were 
Jesus' brothers and certain women and "Mary, the 


mother of Jesus." It was easy, on the strength of this 
expression, to suppose that she had also been present at 
the festival of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost was 
outpoured over the disciples. By the use of a some- 
what freer interpretation, it could also be assumed that 
the Madonna had witnessed the mystery by which her 
Son had been taken up to Heaven. Therefore, ever 
since the fifth century her figure has been introduced in 
pictorial representations of the Ascension and the out- 
pourings of the Holy Ghost. These events moreover, 
as we have already seen, have been regarded as the two 
last of Mary's seven joys. 

In the earliest renderings of the Ascension Mary is 
often pictured as an orant, i.e. as a praying woman 
with outstretched hands. Her figure is here probably 
symbolical. She represents the society of the faithful, 
the Holy Church, and it is only natural, therefore, that 
she should occupy the central place in the compositions. 
During the later Middle Ages, when she was conceived of 
as a person and no longer as an idea, it might happen 
as in the case of Giotto's fresco in the Arena Chapel at 
Padua that Mary's figure was placed a little on one 
side; but the worship of the Madonna even at this 
time, and similarly during the Eenaissance, usually 
led to her being given the foremost place in the 
pictures. In the representations of the miracles of 
Pentecost, moreover, in the earliest as in modern art, 
it is round the Madonna that the Apostles are grouped. 
Thus, if we judge by the tale told by pictures and 
sculptures we receive the impression that when their 
Master was absent, the faithful directed their reverence 
instead to His mother. 2 

There are also many Apocryphal legends, according 
to which Mary was an object of worship and venera- 


tion even during her lifetime. In De divinis no- 
minibus, a work by the half-mythical writer Dionysius 
Areopagita, we read of a visit that this disciple of S. Paul 
pretends to have paid to the Mother of God. " "When 
John/' we are told, " presented me to the sublime Virgin, 
I was surrounded by an infinite and divine light which 
penetrated me, and I was filled by such a stream of 
perfumes that neither my body nor my soul could bear 
this full and eternal blessedness. I felt my heart and 
senses fail me when I was overwhelmed by the majesty 
of her glory." 3 Such gorgeous descriptions are indeed 
exceptional in Mariologic literature, but the actual 
fact that Mary was visited by the faithful is mentioned 
time after time in the legends. The newly converted, 
we are told in mediaeval poems, betook themselves 
to Jerusalem in order to see her who had borne the 
Divinity in her womb, and to receive from her a 
confirmation in their faith. S. Paul remained some time 
with her before beginning his missionary journeys, and 
it was by the Mother of God herself that he was 
initiated into the mystery of the Incarnation. S. Luke, 
it is said, wrote his Gospel at Mary's dictation, just 
as with his brush he portrayed her features in those 
ancient pictures of the Madonna which, during the 
Ages of Piety, were thought to possess indisputable 
authenticity. Ignatius, John's disciple, exchanged 
letters with the Virgin on the Christian religion, the 
contents of which are still preserved for the edification 
of the faithful. 4 The Madonna also visited the believers 
herself when they could not come to her, and 
strengthened them both by her advice and by her mere 
presence. She healed the sick and brought the dead to 
life, and performed more miracles than any of the 
Apostles. But the greatest miracle was her own life. 


For on the model of the Protoevangile's description of 
Mary's childhood, a pious story concerning the Virgin's 
last years was composed during the Middle Ages. Just 
as in her childlike innocence so this legend made clear 
she was a pattern for all young girls, so as an old 
woman she was " a mirror of virtue " for the Christian 

The same qualities which marked the infant Mary are 
distinctive of the character of the old woman, with the 
addition only of the dignity of advanced age. Siie 
continues to be so humble that she shows reverence 
for every one who comes in contact with her, and 
regards herself as inferior to all others. She is lovable, 
kindly, and easy of access in society ; ready to give her 
sympathy to the unfortunate, but herself serene and 
mild. Although she avoids all superfluous talk, she is 
willing to speak of her Son, and by her tales converts 
many to a belief in Him. At the same time she is so 
shy that she shuns all great assemblies, and even in the 
Temple seeks for some inconspicuous corner. When she 
goes along the street on some pious errand, she walks with 
head bowed and eyes directed to the ground. Seldom 
does she look those who meet her in the face, but if she 
is greeted by them she always answers Deo gratias, 
tibi pax. Her dress is dignified and simple, and 
has never been either stained or torn since her Son left 
the earth. Her clothes and furniture are poor, but 
spotlessly clean, and clean is everything belonging to 
her or surrounding her. 

In the whole of this description which, with many 
details that are omitted here, may be read in the 
old poem Vita JBeate Virginis Marie et Salvatoris 
rhythmica the influence of the ascetic ideal of life can 
be easily recognised. 5 In diligence and exercises of 


devotion, the Madonna was a model for all cloister 
sisters ; but none the less it would be incorrect to liken 
her to a Christian nun. It appears from the poetical 
biography that Mary does not wear a penitential dress, 
since she had no need to be cured of any faults. 6 She 
did not kill nature in herself, because she was by nature 
absolutely pure. There was no overcoming in her life 
and no struggle with temptations ; therefore she is not 
ascetically severe, but graceful, humorous, and serene 
as naive virtue and original instinctive innocence. She 
is a perfect being, chosen to bear the Godhead in her 
womb. During her years of growth she was pure, since 
no pollution could cleave to the tabernacle in which the 
Highest was to take up His abode, and in her old age 
she was no less pure, because the temple could not be 
soiled in which He for a time had dwelt. Purity, again, 
was regarded in each case not only as a moral but also 
as a physical notion. Just as in the Protoevangile 
Mary was nourished with heavenly food, so, according 
to the Vita rhythmica, the aged Mother of God 
daily received angels who brought her bread from 
her Divine Son's table. No other food, we are told, 
might pass her lips. We see how the idea of the 
sanctity of the shrine prevails even in the last chapter 
of the biography of the Madonna. 

This thought, however, receives its most notable 
expression in the legends of Mary's death and assump- 
tion. If people would not admit the possibility of any- 
thing earthly polluting the living temple, still less, of 
course, would they allow that this temple had been 
subjected to decay and transformation. That the God- 
man Himself suffered from all the conditions of human 
existence was an inevitable consequence of His sacrifice ; 
He had to die to perform His work of Atonement, and in 


order to convince men of His humanity H3 must undergo 
physical pains and humiliations. On the other hand, 
His mother, who was likewise free from sin and who was 
not under the necessity of making any sacrifice (beyond 
her suffering at the Cross), ought to have gone free from 
the punishment for sin. She had been born without 
spot, and brought her Child into the world without 
pains therefore she ought also to be released from life 
without the death-struggle which forms the end of 
earthly beings. Just as her childbirth was not con- 
nected with anything impure, so after death her body 
ought not to have undergone any of the humiliating 
changes to which all other human beings are subjected. 
Pious feeling resisted the idea that that, which had been 
a home for the Divinity, should decay in the earth and 
be consumed by worms. 

In the earliest Christian literature not many expres- 
sions of this view are to be found/ but it may be 
concluded that such a line of thought, even during the 
first centuries, unconsciously lay at the root of the 
faithful's idea of the Madonna. It is, indeed, significant 
that as late as the fourth century the Fathers of the 
Church do not apparently know anything as to the 
manner of the Virgin's departure. Accounts were written 
of the deaths of all the great saints, and relics were dug 
up of even the least important persons who had been 
mentioned in the sacred history. Only in the case of 
her who stood nearest the Divinity was there nothing 
to tell in this respect ; it was not known, it was said, 
when she died or where she was buried, nor could the 
smallest relic of her body be shown. Such reticence, 
as Professor Lucius has pointed out, could only have 
been due to the fact that people were shy of the mere 
thought of the Madonna's death. 8 Pious imagination 


sought some expedient which should release it from the 
necessity of associating the idea of the Mother of God 
with the idea of mortality. So long as such a way was 
not found, people refrained from speaking or writing 
about Mary's departure; but her death was openly 
recognised, and was made the object of devout medita- 
tions, as soon as a legend could be cited which served 
to explain away all that was natural and human in 
the event. 

In this case also it was Eastern Christianity which 
provided the faithful with the fiction required. Experts 
have not indeed succeeded as yet in definitely deciding 
when and where the legend of Mary's death originally 
arose, but it is for many reasons considered most 
probable that it was some Syrian worshippers of the 
Madonna who composed from the old legends a new 
legend concerning the Virgin's last days. In any case it 
is from some Eastern country that the Transitits sanctae 
Mariae was introduced during the fifth century into 
the Eoman Church. At first it spread slowly, and the 
Fathers expressed themselves unfavourably towards it ; 
but this did not prevent the faithful from delighting in 
a legend that harmonised so well with existing ideas 
ab'jut the Virgin. Later, when in the seventh century 
a special festival the 15th of August had been estab- 
lished, on the oriental model, in commemoration of 
Mary's death, the narrative of her Tran&itus, or Dormitio, 
and her Assumptio won ever extending recognition. 
Artists and poets made no distinction between these new 
apocrypha, and the older canonical or apocryphal texts 
from which they derived motives for their works. 
Preachers, again, even if they did not directly intro- 
duce the oriental legend, made use of the stories 
related in it. Thus the idea that Mary even in 


her death formed an exception to all other created 
beings, and that her body had been transported to 
Heaven, entered once for all into the minds of believers ; 
and the legend of the Virgin's ascent into Heaven 
became the subject of numerous adaptations in the 
language of both the Church and the laity. 9 

It is not necessary to give an account of how all 
these variations differ. If we desire to give a clear 
and complete general view of the pious narrative, it is 
most advantageous to confine our attention to some one 
of the later versions which have borrowed features from 
many different sources. Of all these mediaeval com- 
pilations, again, none is so well known, and none has 
exercised so great an influence on art and poetry, as 
that which Jacobus de Voragine wrote for his great 
Saints' Calendar. It is, therefore, the text of the 
Legenda aureti, that will here be summarised and com- 
mented upon. 

When the Apostles so the narrative begins had 
dispersed in order to preach the G-ospel to the heathen, 
the Virgin remained in her home, which lay at the foot 
of Mount Sion. She was, according to Epiphanius, 
seventy-two years old at this time ; but Jacobus con- 
siders, on the strength of what Eusebius asserts, that 
she had not exceeded the age of sixty when she was 
taken up into Heaven. 

Mary was now more alone than ever before, for 
on her recommendation John, too, had betaken himself 
on missionary journeys. She lived, it seems, as a per- 
petually sorrowing mother, in memory of those years 
when the Saviour was on earth, for, says Jacobus, " she 
did not cease to visit with assiduous piety those places 
that had been hallowed by her Son, i.e. where He had 
been baptised, where He had fasted, prayed, suffered, 


and been buried, and that from which He had ascended 
into Heaven." 10 These pilgrimages, however, could not 
quench her yearning, and one day her longing to see 
her Son again became so strong that she burst into 
bitter weeping. "But then an angel appeared, sur- 
rounded by light, and greeted her reverently as his 
Master's mother, and said to her : ( Hail, blessed Mary ! 
. . . Behold I bring thee a branch of a palm from 
Paradise, that thou must have borne before thy coffin 
after three days, for behold thy Son waits for His 
venerable Mother.' And Mary answered the angel : ' If 
I have found grace before thine eyes, I pray thee tell 
me thy name. But before all I beg 1 thee that my sons 
and brothers, the Apostles, may be collected around me, 
so that I may see them before I die and give up my 
soul in their presence and be buried by them. And 
this, too, I beseech : that my soul, when it leaves my 
body, may not meet any evil spirit, and may not fall 
into the power of Satan.' And the angel answered : 
c Why dost thou wish to know my name, which is great 
and venerable ? But know that this day all the Apostles 
shall assemble here, and that in their presence thou 
shalt breathe out thy life. For He who once carried 
the prophet of Judah to Babylon by a lock of His hair 
needeth not more than a moment to bring all the 
Apostles to thy side. And for the evil spirit, thou 
hast nothing to fear from Mm, thou that hast crushed 
his head under thy foot and robbed him of all his might. 
But thy wish shall come to pass, and thou shalt not see 
him/ And when the angel had said this he ascended 
to Heaven, and the palm he had given Mary shone with 
a blinding light. It was a green branch, but its leaves 
were as bright as the morning star." n 

It seems peculiar that Mary, who was guiltless, 


should feel any fear of evil spirits and the power of 
the devil. 12 This passage in the legend has its explana- 
tion, however, if read in connection with the twelfth 
chapter of the Revelation of S. John. For it is there 
said (xii. 13-14) that the great dragon, i.e. the ancient 
serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, persecuted 
" the woman which brought forth the Man Child." And 
to the woman, it is said, " were given two wings of a 
great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into 
her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, 
and half a time, from the face of the serpent." The 
place of salvation was probably, as Renan conjectured, 
the little desert town of Pella, where the Christian 
Church, i.e. the woman with the Man Child, took refuge 
from the persecution of the Romans after the fall 
of Jerusalem. 13 This historical counterpart to the 
apocryphal image was unintelligible, however, to the 
later generations of Christians, and the woman of the 
Book of the Revelation "clothed with the sun, and 
the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of 
twelve stars " (xii. 1) was explained instead as a symbol 
of the Virgin Mary, who stood in perpetual conflict 
with the old serpent. It was, therefore, natural to 
suppose that the Madonna, when she learned that her 
end was approaching, was disquieted by the thought of 
the dragon's attack. On the other hand, there was con- 
tained in the Revelation a prophecy that the powers of 
death should not prevail against the woman; and it 
would have been no unusually free interpretation had 
the prophecy been taken to mean that the Madonna 
had ascended on the wings of the eagle to the Child 
who had gone up to Heaven before her. Professor 
Lucius, at any rate, has attempted to show that the 
verses in the Revelation concerning the woman and the 


dragon were one of the original sources of the legend 
of Mary's Assumption. 14 

The story of the angel comforting Mary by recount- 
ing her victory over the devil is based on a remarkable 
misinterpretation of another passage in the Bible. The 
great prophecy in Genesis : " It (i.e. the woman's seed) 
shall bruise thy (i.e. the serpent's) head, and thou shalt 
bruise his heel," has been rendered in the Vulgate by 
" Ipsa conteret caput tuum, et tu insidiaberis calcaneo 
ejus " " She shall bruise thy head, etc." This erroneous 
translation has naturally contributed to increase the 
weight laid on Mary's share in the Redemption, 15 and 
it has also had its importance for the artistic representa- 
tion of the Madonna. Just as, in connection with the 
recently quoted verses from the Eevelation, she was 
portrayed as a star-crowned figure surrounded by light 
and standing upon a half-moon, so too she has also 
been made to trample upon a crawling serpent. 

The actual vision of the angel is, of course, a copy of 
the narrative of the Annunciation. There must have 
been something attractive to religious imagination in 
the idea that the Madonna's death and reunion with her 
Son were introduced by a message similar to that of 
the Incarnation, by which she was first united with 
the Godhead. Strangely enough, however, the latest 
Annunciation has seldom been illustrated. The most 
famous and important treatment of this motive is to be 
found in one of the reliefs round Orcagna's tabernacle in 
Or San Michele at Florence. 16 Mary is here represented 
as an old woman with a widow's cap over her head. 
Her countenance wears a grave expression, showing 
that she has experienced many trials since she received 
Gabriel's greeting ; but otherwise her position is the 
same as in the pictures of the "Annunciation of the 


Virgin." She sits with a book on her knees, as then, 
and now, too, her right hand is raised in a defensive 
movement towards her neck. The palm-branch in the 
angel's hand is the differentiating characteristic of the 
later angel visit. More clearly than this attribute, 
however, the grave demeanour of the giver and receiver 
of the message is witness to the fact that it is a greeting 
of death, and not of life, which is this time brought to 
the Madonna. 

In the matter of the angel's gifts to Mary, the 
various forms of the legend do not agree. The poetical 
biography of Mary, Vita rhythmica, for example, 
makes the messenger give the Madonna not only a green 
branch, but also a winding-sheet, sewn by angelic hands. 17 
Again, the palm-branch, which corresponds to the lily- 
stem in the first Annunciation, is, according to Jacobus de 
Voragine, plucked in the groves of Paradise. In another 
version, on the other hand, it comes from the tree that 
bowed its crest to the Madonna and her Child during 
the flight into Egypt. 18 As a reward for its obedience 
the palm received a promise that it should never be 
withered up ; and after one of its branches had been 
borne before the Virgin's coffin, the entire tree was 
taken up into the garden of Paradise, where it provides 
the saints with palms of victory. 19 

In the chapter on the Death- Annunciation there is 
nothing further to comment upon, except the angel's 
mention of the prophet who had been carried by his hair 
from Judah to Babylon. These words refer to the story 
of Ezekiel (viii. 3 and xi. 24), who was transported to and 
fro between his place of exile and his mother-city. God 
was now to perform a similar miracle, for Mary's sake, 
with His Apostles, but on this occasion He did not 
employ so harsh a method as in the case of the Jewish 


prophet. For It happened, we are told in the continuation 
of Jacobus de Voragine's narrative, that on the same day, 
while John was preaching in Ephesus, the sky suddenly 
rumbled, and a white cloud seized the Apostle, and car- 
ried him through the air to Jerusalem, to the threshold 
of Mary's house. 20 He was greeted with tears of joy 
by the Virgin, who told him of her imminent death, 
and bade him take care of her body, that the Jews 
might not gain possession of it. John replied, regretting 
that the other disciples were not present to partake 
in the funeral and praise Mary's name ; but he had 
not finished speaking when all the Apostles, at all 
the different places where they were preaching, were 
lifted up by white clouds and carried to Jerusalem. 
They were at first utterly astonished at finding them- 
selves assembled outside Mary's home, but John 
explained to them why God had brought them back 
to the sacred city, and warned them not to weep when 
Mary died, in order that the people might not be dis- 
turbed in their faith by seeing that they who preached 
of the Eesurrection to others were themselves afraid 
of death. 

Mary, however, prepared for her death. She sat in 
the midst of the Apostles, and had lamps and candles lit 
around her. Thus she devoutly waited for her Son to 
receive her soul. At the third hour of the night Jesus 
Himself came, followed by legions of angels, troops of 
patriarchs, armies of martyrs, cohorts of confessors, and 
choirs of virgins. The whole of this heavenly host 
grouped itself before Mary and sent up pious hymns. 
At first, we are told, Jesus said to His mother, " Come, 
my chosen one, to my throne, for I long for thy beauty," 
and Mary answered, " Lord, my soul is ready." Then 
those who came with Our Lord sang softly in the 


Madonna's praise. But Mary sang : " All generations 
shall call me blessed ; for He that is mighty hath done 
to me great things ; and holy is His name." (As we see, 
the legend makes the Virgin repeat a part of the hymn of 
praise which, according to S. Luke's Gospel, she sung at 
her visit to Elizabeth.) And the leaders of the heavenly 
choir chanted, "Come from Lebanon, my bride, come 
from Lebanon, to be crowned queen" (cf. Song of 
Solomon iv. 8). And Mary answered : " Behold I come, 
for it has been said of me that I shall fulfil Thy will, 
my God, and my soul rejoiceth in Thee." In the same 
moment her soul went out from her body, and flew into 
her Son's arms, and she was as free from all fleshly pain 
as she had been strange to everything impure. After- 
wards Jesus bade the Apostles bear His mother's body 
to the valley of Josaphat and bury it in the grave that 
was prepared for her, and to wait for His return in three 

" But her soul was surrounded now by red roses that 
were the troops of martyrs, and by white lilies of the 
valley that were choirs of angels, confessors, and virgins, 
and carried by the Son it ascended with them towards 
Heaven. The Apostles cried after her, c Whither goest 
thou, wisest mother? Eemember us, thou our 
mistress ! ' The saints, too, who had remained in 
Heaven, heard the singing of the mounting hosts, and 
saw with amazement how their King was bearing a 
woman's soul in His arms, and how she leaned upon Him, 
and they cried out in astonishment : ' Who is this that 
comes up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?' 
(cf. Song of Solomon viii. 5). But those who followed 
her answered, ' She is fair among the daughters of 
Jerusalem, as ye have seen that she was full of mercy 
and love.' And thus Mary's soul was carried in joy to 


Heaven, where she sits on the throne of honour at her 
Son's right hand." 

Such, according to the Legenda aurea, was the 
course of events at Mary's death. Jacobus de Voragine's 
account includes the most important of those moments 
which have been rendered in poetry and art, but 
many episodes were described with greater detail 
in other variations of the legend. In sermons and 
poems, also, the events have often been adorned with 
effective details which lend a greater realism to the 
narrative. Thus Metaphrastes, for example, mentions 
that when Mary received the angel's message, she not 
only had many candles lit in her home but also had her 
room cleaned and her bed prepared. Further, we are 
told, she summoned her neighbours, and all the poor of 
Jerusalem, whom she used to support with her gifts, to 
communicate to them her coming departure. 21 In the 
Vita rhythmica, again, it is related that after the 
angel left her, Mary showed her palm-branch and her 
shroud to " the women who lived together with her." 
Then the poet describes how these women wept at losing 
her "motherly breast" and her kindly conversation. 22 
In this as in so many other renderings of the legend, 
Jesus makes His entry during a heavy rumbling in the 
sky. The room is filled by sweet scents and the place 
around Mary is surrounded by a dazzling light. The 
perfume was so strong, we read in one variation, 
that all present, except the Apostles and three 
torch-bearing women, fell into a deep sleep, which 
prevented them from seeing the heavenly guests. 28 
All these details, however, have so little influence on 
the general character of the narrative, that it is 
unnecessary to examine them closely. 24 It is more 
important to notice how the legend gained increased 


life and vividness through being represented in pic- 
torial art. 

Mary's death could not, of course, be illustrated in 
early Christian art, since the legend itself was unknown 
at that time ; but from the tenth or eleventh century 
the motive appears in ivory carvings, manuscript 
pictures and mosaics, and it has often been represented 
by the later Mediaeval and earlier Eenaissance painters. 
In Germany this subject, like the birth of Mary, has 
been very popular, perhaps because it afforded oppor- 
tunities of portraying one of those house-interiors which 
have always been so dear to German artists. In this 
respect also the religious plays have probably had 
their effect on pictorial art. 25 In their composition the 
majority of the pictures roughly correspond with one 
another. Mary lies outstretched on a bed, round which 
the Apostles are grouped in different positions. Some 
of them read in great folios, and others swing censers, 
or sprinkle holy water over the dying woman. The 
Saviour usually stands at the Madonna's head, and He 
bears in His arms her soul, which has flown from out 
her body. The soul again, in accordance with the 
ancient tradition in art, is represented as a little child, 
clothed in white linen or in a mantle reaching to the 
feet. 26 When we see the little figure carried upon the 
Saviour's arm, we think we recognise the same infant 
as has been represented so often in the pictures of the 
Madonna's Presentation in the Temple. 

In the attitudes and gestures of the Apostles is 
expressed, quietly and restrainedly, the grief they feel 
at losing their own and their Master's mother. Some 
of them hold their mantles in front of their faces to 
conceal their tears, others appear lost in pious and 
sorrowful meditation ; but they all remember John's 


warning not to show any fear of death. No outburst 
of lamentation occurs by the bed on which the pure 
Virgin takes leave of life, and the dying woman her- 
self is the calmest of all. She rests with her hands 
crossed or closed in prayer, while lights shine on her 
embellished and carefully -prepared bed. Her face 
wears the clear and peaceful expression of one who 
slumbers in a quiet sleep, 27 One is reminded of those 
mediaeval preachers who zealously asserted that Mary's 
departure was a " repos," and the Church does not allow 
mention of her death, for the rubric of the text which is 
read in memory of her departure is written not MOTS, 
but Dormitio beatae Mariae Virginis** 

The strictly Church point of view could, however, 
be carried still further than in the compositions described 
here. When believers had really steeped themselves 
in the idea of Mary's sinlessness, they would not even 
admit that any weakness had come upon her before her 
pure soul left her body. Thus there are pictures in 
which the Madonna does not lie down, but sits upon 
her bed; and in the older Holbein's picture at Basle, 
Mary has not gone to bed at all, but awaits her death 
in a chair. From such an arrangement it was only a 
step to represent the Virgin as kneeling in the midst 
of the Apostles. In this way the last chapter of Mary's 
history could be brought into complete harmony with 
the earlier events of her earthly life. Just as she had 
no need to lie down and rest when her Son was born 
so it was probably reasoned and just as, in spite of 
her deep sorrow, she stood by the Cross when she lost 
Him, so, too, she was upright when she herself was to 
depart from the earth. " I will not believe/' says 
Molanus in his great work on the ways of representing 
holy subjects, " that she was outstretched upon a bed, 


like the sick, and those who end this life in pain (cum 
venia pictorum et sculptorum), but I will rather suppose 
that she, who was not discomforted by any smarts or 
oppressed by any infirmity, gave up her soul to God 
with knees reverently bowed and with hands stretched 
out towards heaven in prayer/' 29 

There are not many works of art whose composition 
would fully answer to Molanus's description, which 
indeed dates from a time when Church symbolism had 
lost a good deal of its vitality; but one of these 
strictly orthodox pictures, that by Martin Schaffner in 
Munich, belongs both symbolically and aesthetically to 
the most remarkable of the representations of Mary's 
departure. 30 The mild grief which, according to custom, 
had to prevail in the treatment of this motive, has 
seldom been expressed so beautifully as in the poetical 
painting of the Ulm master. The censer, the vessel of 
holy water, and the lighted candelabrum show, indeed, 
that it is a death-room which is portrayed ; but we can 
see clearly that Death has been powerless against the 
pure Virgin. She stands upright, although her hands, 
which had been lifted in prayer, have sunk to her sides. 
John and James support quite lightly her lifeless body, 
while over her face there still remains a look of trans- 
figured calm. Her earthly existence has just ceased, it 
seems, but at the same moment her celestial life 
has begun. Therefore, in the upper corner of the 
picture, Schaffner has represented the soul making its 
entry into Heaven. It is a little girl with long flying 
locks, who, borne on a cloud and surrounded by angel 
" putti," stretches out her arms towards the Saviour, who 
waits to receive her into His home. A second Presenta- 
tion in the Temple this picture might well be called. 
The attitude and gesture are here the same as those 


of the Mary who with, such glad courage ascends the 
lofty steps to the Tabernacle at Jerusalem. The child- 
ishness and the na'ive grace by which Anne's daughter 
"won all the people's love/' are retained unaltered in 
the old woman's soul. A Catholic dogmatist would 
probably see in the G-erman picture a proof that one 
who lives a long life without being defiled is inwardly 
as young in her old age as in her childhood. 

Martin Schaffner's composition, as we see, departs 
from the legend in making Mary's soul be received 
by the Saviour only when up in the clouds. Some 
Italian painters, on the other hand, following the 
apocryphal writings, let the little child float up skyward 
in the Divinity's arms. 31 It was, however, only in 
exceptional cases that the Ascension of the Soul was 
represented at all. Catholic art and poetry have usually 
preferred to render the so-called Assumption (i.e. the 
taking up of Mary's body), which is the subject of 
the later chapter in the story of the Madonna's 

The Virgin was unlike all created beings in that 
even her body was perfectly pure. It was this body 
which had enclosed God, and therefore it could not 
be allowed to remain on the earth. To the faithful 
it was in itself holy, even after the soul had aban- 
doned it. Therefore the outer, purely material part 
of Mary's being had its own history, which symbolically 
and aesthetically is the most notable portion of the 
Madonna-legend. This miraculous history, which closes 
with the Ascension of the Body, takes place immedi- 
ately after the "Dormitio," i.e. after the moment when 
the Virgin fell asleep in a painless death. 

When Jacobus de Voragine has mentioned how 


Mary's soul was transported to Heaven, tie returns in 
Ms narrative to the room of death. We learn that the 
three virgins who were present began to disrobe the holy 
body in order to wash it; but as long as the work 
lasted, the corpse shone with so strong a light that it 
could not be distinguished even by those who were 
touching it. It should not be forgotten that already 
Johannes Damascenus had affirmed that at this washing 
it was the water which was cleaned by the corpse. 82 
Afterwards the Apostles reverently and carefully lifted 
the dead woman and laid her on a bier. When Mary 
was about to be carried to her grave, a noble strife 
arose amongst the foremost disciples as to their pre- 
cedence in the procession. John wished Peter, whom 
God had chosen as shepherd of His sheep, to walk 
before the bier with the angel's palm -branch in his 
hand ; but Peter thought that this place was due to 
John, who had become Jesus' disciple while His body 
was still virginal. " It is most proper," he said, " that 
a virgin should bear the Virgin's palm " ; and it was 
Peter's will that prevailed. Peter and Paul bore the 
dead woman with the help of the servants, while the 
other Apostles walked beside the bier, and sent up 
the chant which had been sung when Israel went out 
of Egypt. "And the Lord surrounded with a cloud 
both the bier and the Apostles, so that their voices 
were heard, but they could not be seen. And the 
angels joined with the Apostles and themselves sang 
also, so that the air was filled with marvellous sounds." 
During the procession to the grave Mary's presenti- 
ment that the Jews would attempt to capture her corpse 
were confirmed. The people in Jerusalem, who heard 
the celestial song and saw the cloud round the Apostles, 
understood that it was the tabernacle of the Lord which 


was passing. They incited each other to kill the disciples 
and burn the body which had borne " the impostor/' The 
High Priest raged most furiously of all, and he rushed 
towards the bier to overthrow it, but his hands were 
paralysed and stuck to the bier, while the angels that 
were hidden in the cloud struck the other Jews with 
blindness. Only when the priest was converted to a 
belief in the Saviour and His mother were his hands 
released, and he regained the use of his arms when he 
kissed Mary's bier. Those of the Jews who were willing 
to believe were cured of their blindness after their eyes 
had been touched by the heavenly palm-branch. The 
Apostles continued their procession, and laid the Virgin 
in the grave prepared for her. According to the 
Saviour's command, they stayed there three days to 
wait for His return. 

It is not difficult to understand how the legend of 
the miracle of Mary's burial arose. The Virgin's body 
had been compared, in its character of a sacred shrine, 
to the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant. It was 
an easy step, therefore, to let that body be surrounded 
by a cloud when it was carried at the head of the 
procession of the faithful. Neither was much imagina- 
tion required to think out the episode of the High Priest 
who was paralysed when he touched the Virgin's coffin. 
For the miracle is the same as that told of Uzzah, who 
ventured to touch the Ark of the Covenant when it was 
being carried into the city of David (2 Samuel vi.) 
with the difference only that Uzzah was " smitten " for 
his audacity, while the High Priest only lost the use 
of his arms. This milder form of punishment recalls 
the story of Salome, the unbelieving midwife in the 

If we start from Peter's saying that John, as an 


undefiled youth, was most worthy of bearing the 
Virgin's palm, we may find our way to another source 
of the legend. For this saying is not the only example 
of the pure disciple being put forward as a male counter- 
part to the Virgin. 

It was he who, next to Mary, had stood closest to 
God, and followed Him most faithfully during His 
Passion. It was also thought that there was an in- 
dication in the Scriptures of John's love for the Saviour 
having been rewarded. In the Fourth Gospel it is said 
(xxi. 23), "Then went this saying abroad among the 
brethren, that that disciple should not die." These 
words were not confirmed by the canonical books ; but 
in the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, which were 
widely disseminated during the first centuries, there 
was a Gnostic legend concerning John, according to 
which he, like Enoch and Elijah, was taken up to 
Heaven, both body and soul. 

If this could be told of him who had lain on the 
Saviour's breast and preserved his chastity for His sake, 
it must be supposed that a similar privilege would be 
granted, with still greater reason, to her who bore the 
Saviour in her body and who was by nature pure from 
the very commencement of her life. Such a line of 
thought, as Lucius pointed out, is responsible for certain 
features in the story of Mary's departure being taken 
from the legend of John. 83 Just as the legend of Mary's 
birth was influenced by the account in the Gospel 
narratives of John the Baptist's aged parents, so the 
legend of Mary's death was shaped under the influence 
of the legends about the Apostle John. The corre- 
spondence between the two miracle-histories is indeed 
striking. John, like Mary, receives an annunciation 
of his departure, for the Saviour Himself, we are told, 


appeared to him and told him that on the next Sunday 
he would be united to his Master. John, like Mary, 
summoned all his disciples and forewarned them that he 
would shortly leave them. Then he went with them 
outside the city of Ephesus and chose a place where 
he had a grave dug. At the grave he prayed for the 
last time to God, praised the Saviour as a Eedeemer 
of souls and a conqueror of demons, and thanked Him 
for the grace which had befallen him in that he had 
succeeded in living a pure and virginal life. When 
he finished his prayer, his figure like Mary's body 
was encircled by so brilliant a light that no one could 
endure to look at it. Then he lay down in the grave 
and gave up his spirit. But when the disciples betook 
themselves next morning to the open grave they did 
not find John's body, but only his sandals, which clearly 
proved that the Apostle had been miraculously taken 
up to Heaven. 

So scanty an account, however, was not sufficient in 
the legend of Mary. The Saviour Himself, it is said in 
the continuation of the Golden Legend, went down to 
earth a second time to fetch the tabernacle in which He 
had rested. He came accompanied by hosts of angels, 
and He saluted the waiting disciples. And He asked 
them what honour they thought He should show to 
His mother. They answered : " It seems right to Thy 
servants, Lord, that even as Thou, after Thy conquest 
over Death, reignest through the ages, Thou shouldest 
now awake Thy mother's body and give her for ever a 
place at Thy side." In the same moment the angel 
Michael brought Mary's soul from Heaven. And Jesus 
said : " Arise, Mother, my dove, thou tabernacle of glory, 
thou vessel of life, thou heavenly temple, that thy body, 
which has never been polluted by fleshly sin, may not 


suffer in the grave the decay of the flesh." Then her 
soul returned with Mary's body, which arose shining 
from the grave, and with the hosts of angels ascended 
through space. 

This, however, Is only a relatively meagre and matter- 
of-fact account of the miracle. In sermons and books of 
devotion the event has been the subject of far more ex- 
tensive expositions. 84 In these descriptions the appari- 
tion of the Saviour is accompanied by shining clouds and 
heavenly sounds and sweet scents, and Mary's entry 
into Heaven is described as a splendid triumph. If, it 
was said, God ordained that the Ark of the Covenant 
should be borne in pomp into the city of David, He 
must certainly have taken care that His own mother, the 
human ark, was carried into the Heavenly Jerusalem with 
far greater pageantry. Elijah was taken up from earth 
in a fiery chariot, but Mary was taken up to Heaven 
by hosts of angels, and her approach awoke wonder 
and admiration among the inhabitants of Heaven. Just 
as at her soul's ascension the people of God had sung, in 
the words of the Song of Solomon, of her who went up 
from the desert, so now they could with still better 
reason apply the terms of the old poem to the Mother 
of God. 85 For Mary's body was the vessel, in which the 
Holy Ghost made the incense, which the High Priest 
Christ offered upon the altar of the Cross to His Father. 
By carrying this incense within her, the Virgin had her- 
self become sweet and fragrant in her beauty. 86 There- 
fore she arose from the grave like " a pillar of smoke, 
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all 
powders of the merchant" (Song of Solomon iii. 6). 
Sung of and glorified in the same similes that were 
used in praise of the Jewish bride, Mary was borne 
as a queen up through the circles of Heaven unto her 


Son's kingly throne. 37 The nine angel-choirs welcomed 
her with chants of praise, the thrones and principalities 
glorified her, the saints came to meet her worshipping 
her, the Trinity was rejoiced to receive her, 38 and the Son 
opened to her a new home in return for that which she 
had offered to Him at the Incarnation. 39 

The legend of the Assumption, as has already been 
mentioned, gives rise to numerous pictures. Most 
artists have elected to treat the moment when the 
holy body ascends into the air, or that when Mary is 
received by the heavenly hosts ; but the events enacted 
on the earth below have also, though less frequently, 
been illustrated in painting and sculpture. Thus the 
attack of the Jews on the funeral procession has been 
portrayed, and in doing so artists have not omitted 
to show two hands hanging loose by the bier. 40 The 
burial, which in Greek art was made the subject 
of many compositions, has seldom been noticed by 
the Western painters, though Taddeo di Bartolo 
devoted one of his frescoes at Siena to the moment 
when the Saviour leans down from Heaven to lift 
up His mother's reanimated body from the grave. 
On the other hand, the grave itself, with the Apostles 
surrounding it, has often been represented in pictures 
of the Assumption. The Apostles gaze down at the 
empty tomb from which, in accordance with a 
free interpretation of the old legend, roses and lilies 
spring up or up at Mary as she disappears. Wonder 
and reverence at the miracle are revealed in their 
attitudes. As Eaphael portrayed the holy men in his 
picture at the Vatican, devotion is the predominant 
feeling among them. It looks as if they tried to listen 
to the heavenly music with which the angels in the 
upper compartment of the picture accompany the 


Virgin's Coronation. In Titian's famous " Assumptio " 
at Venice, on the other hand, it is not a mild religions 
feeling, but a dramatic, not to say theatrical astonish- 
ment, which is expressed by the Apostles' outstretched 
hands and violent bodily attitudes. 

Into the circle of the Apostles artists have often 
introduced a disciple who, according to the legend, was 
not present at the actual resurrection. S. Thomas, we 
are told, only arrived after the miracle had taken place. 
With his well-known lack of faith he hesitates on this 
occasion also to allow himself to be persuaded by the other 
disciples' account of the miracle ; but the Madonna, 
who wished to appease his doubt and perhaps also 
mildly to reproach him for his scepticism, gave him a 
tangible and indubitable proof of her Ascension, for she 
dropped from the clouds her own girdle into Thomas's 
hands. This girdle was preserved in Jerusalem after 
the Apostle's death, and during the Crusades was stolen 
by a girl who fled with her Italian lover to Prato. It 
is not part of our subject to tell the tale how the pure 
Virgin's girdle during many adventures helped the two 
lovers to a happy end of their escapade, but the result 
of the story is worthy of note. Out of gratitude the 
runaway Crusader deposited his precious relic in the 
church of his mother-city, where it is kept in a special 
chapel decorated with representations of the legend of 
" la sacra cintola." 41 The transference of the girdle to 
Prato caused the Madonna's gift to Thomas to become 
a subject dear to Italian art. The motive has usually 
been united with the motive of the Assumption that 
is to say, Mary has been made to drop her girdle to 
Thomas during her Ascension ; but it is also probable 
that many compositions which pass under the name of 
Assumption pictures do not represent the actual Assump- 


tion, but that later moment when from her new home 
the Madonna sends testimony of her resurrection to the 
doubter. Artists have usually treated the legend with 
so great a freedom that it is often difficult to determine 
which particular situation they meant to illustrate. 42 

This indefiniteness appears also in the portrayal of 
the chief figure in the compositions. Jacopo Avanzi 
makes the Saviour carry His mother's body in His arms, 
in the same way that in pictures of the Madonna's death 
He lifts the soul-child up to Heaven. 43 In a picture in 
the Martin collection at London, ascribed to Giotto, it is 
the ascension of the soul, and not of the body, which is 
represented in connection with the burial. 44 Ottaviano 
Nelli's fresco at Foligno, on the other hand, leaves no 
room for misapprehension, for it is here a full-grown 
woman, with aged face, who floats up enclosed in the 
Saviour's arms. 

It is, however, only in exceptional cases that the 
Mother and Son make their entry into Heaven together. 
In the majority of the pictures of the Assumption the 
Madonnas figure is alone. She sits on a throne, 
surrounded by an almond-shaped glory, the so-called 
" mandorla," which is borne by angels, or she floats in an 
erect position towards the clouds. The latter disposi- 
tion is distinctive of High Renaissance art ; the former 
was employed during the fourteenth and fifteenth 
centuries. Angels circle around the Virgin singing and 
playing, and angels receive her with music into the 
highest Heaven. In this manner it was attempted to 
render in pictures the gorgeous descriptions of the 
Madonna's Assumption given in the legends. Never- 
theless, art did not employ all its resources in repre- 
senting the actual journey to Heaven. The greatest 
effects were reserved for the situation which forms the 


culmination of the Madonna's history, and the supreme 
glorification of humanity. 

When Mary was received by the Trinity, that 
promise was fulfilled which the Son had given her when, 
in the words of the Song of Solomon, He called her soul 
to Himself: "Veni de Libano, sponsa mea, veni de 
Libano, veni, coronaberis" (iv. 8). She was conducted, 
we are told, by the foremost princes of Heaven to the 
throne of the Trinity, where she knelt humbly before 
God. The angels brought her a royal robe, and the 
seraphs procured the crown of the Eternal Kingdom and 
handed it to the Trinity. The Father and the Son 
laid the crown upon the Virgin's head and consecrated 
her as Queen of Heaven and Earth. The new-crowned 
queen was then set upon a divine throne amidst the 
joy and wonder of all the hosts of Heaven. 

It is in its representations of the Coronation of the 
Virgin that art made its most important contribution to 
the cult of the Madonna. All that could be achieved in 
colouring and gilding, in costly apparel and effective 
grouping of masses, has been combined to give splendour 
to the great apotheosis, when Mary is worshipped as the 
enthroned Queen of Heaven. Jacopo Torriti's mosaic of 
the thirteenth century, Fra Angelico's painting in the 
Uffizi, and Filippo Lippi's fresco at Spoleto, are the best- 
known examples of this kind of ceremonial pictures. 
The Madonna sits at her Son's side, or kneels before His 
throne, while He presses the crown upon her head, and 
angels in full orchestra send up music to the Virgin's 
praise. Long golden bassoons, harps, organs, violins, 
flutes and cithers accompany the heavenly choirs. 
When further, as is the case in Fra Angelico's painting, 
the divine figures are outlined against a background of 
shining gold, which gleams over the picture like the 


Northern lights, and throws its strong glare on all the 
holy faces, the splendour has reached a culmination 
which no work of Church art is able to surpass. 

This external luxuriance decreases gradually during 
the late Renaissance. In the pictures of the Virgin's 
Coronation, as in the representations of all the other 
religious motives, it can be seen how the new ideils of 
style have lead to a simplification of the composition. 
The gorgeous instruments disappear, the dresses become 
less showy, and the figures fewer. At the same time it 
becomes a more and more common custom to let the 
Virgin be crowned, not by the Son alone, but by the 
Father and the Son together. 45 These divine figures 
dominate the pictures, from which all superfluous 
personages and accessories have been removed. Sym- 
metry and proportion replace the former richness of 
detail. If, however, the works of art thus become poor 
in colour and brilliancy, there is no doubt that to the 
faithful they are still pregnant with significance. Mary's 
Ascension and Coronation must indeed make a deep and 
powerful impression on all pious minds. As at the In- 
carnation, Earth and Heaven had united, but this time 
it was Earth which had ascended to Heaven. In Mary's 
body, which was rescued from the dissolution of death, 
the whole created and visible world was glorified. All 
that was purely human and earthly partook of her 
honour. Therefore it is aptly written in Bonaventura's 
Psaltare: "Ave praeclara omnibus Angelicis virtuti- 
bus Cujus fuit Assumptio Nostra glorificatio." 46 



Ich sehe dich in tausend Bildern, 
Maria, lieblicli ausgedriickt, 
Dock keins von alien kann dich schildern, 
Wie meine Seele dich erblickt. 

NOVALIS, G-eistliche Lieder. 

BY following Mary's life from her birth, to her Assump- 
tion we can gradually form a certain idea of her being, 
but that idea remains incomplete so long as we know 
only the narrative forms of art and literature. How- 
ever much has been written about the history of the 
Madonna, yet this constitutes only the lesser half of 
piety's offering to the Mother of God. It is in the 
glorification of her person that Mary's worshippers have 
brought forth their richest tribute. By poetical epithets 
and ingeniously selected symbols, they have sought to 
embellish that ideal form so as to make it include in 
itself all conceivable beauty. The idea of the Madonna 
has hereby been enriched with many qualities which 
cannot be visualised in external, tangible works of art, 
and which cannot, moreover, appear in all their wealthy 
accumulation in the historical accounts of Mary's life. 
What has been said concerning the Virgin in the fore- 
going chapters, must therefore be supplemented by a 
general view of the purely lyrical Madonna-poetry and 
the rhetorical panegyrics. 



To avoid repetitions it is best to arrange the similes 
and emblems of religious literature in small groups, each 
of which answers to some special stage in the relation- 
ship of Mary to the Divinity. In making such a division 
it is most natural to begin with those expressions of 
glorification which refer to the Virgin's youth, i.e. to 
those qualities in the Madonna by reason of which she 
was singled out among all as an instrument for the 

Purity was, as has already been pointed out, the 
dominant characteristic of her who was to be a covering 
for the Highest, but the child Mary was not only physi- 
cally and spiritually spotless, she was also in all other 
respects a model for young virgins. She was warm in 
her sympathetic affection, humble, obedient, and sub- 
missive, and modest even to timidity. All these inner 
qualities were reflected in her outer being and lent her 
that grace by which she involuntarily charmed all who 
saw her. She was beautiful, for only the fairest could 
be God's bride and mother ; but more important than 
her beauty was the fact that she possessed the un- 
conscious grace of mild humility. Accordingly her 
modesty and transparent innocence, together with her 
absolute purity, are the qualities which have most often 
been expressed in the symbols of the youthful Mary. 

To indicate how spotless the Virgin was, she was 
compared with the purest things known. She is the 
snow which is whiter than snow, " nix nive candidior " ; l 
she is the innocent dove which has no gall ; 2 and she 
is the mirror, " specula sine macula," which on its clear 
surface can reflect the Divinity. 3 The precious stones 
that shine with a pure light denote at once her beauty 
and her virginity. It has even been attempted to form 


an analogy between each of her virtues and some special 
jewel, and symbolical crowns and diadems have thus 
been fashioned for the Madonna. In these " petrified 
litanies " the chalcedon shines with a fire correspond- 
ing to the love in Mary's heart, the emerald is pure 
as she, the sardonyx has the same clear light as her 
meekness, the beryl awakes thoughts of her humility, 
and the agate recalls her modesty. 4 Thus the virtues 
with which as a child she won the hearts of all have 
their place in the radiant ornament round the brow of 
Heaven's Queen. This is only natural and right, for 
Mary at her highest exaltation still preserved all the 
modest grace of childhood. Nevertheless, it is not in 
precious stones that symbols of the youthful Virgin's 
nature were primarily sought for. The diamonds and 
jewels belong to the queen ; the girl, on the contrary, 
who grew up in humble circumstances, is best denoted 
by things less costly. Mary's beauty did not thrust 
itself upon the spectator, but concealed itself shyly. 
Therefore she is best likened to the flowers of the field, 
whose glory of colour is natural, simple, and often 

It is well known that the Madonna has in many 
cases lent her name to herbs and flowers. "Mary's 
bedstraw," " Mary's mantle," " Mary's mat," "hands," 
" gloves," " sandals," and many similar plant-names are 
found in all modern languages. " Les yeux de Marie" 
is one of the many designations of that " Bliimlem 
wunderschon" that we call forget-me-not. 5 It is not 
only popular imagination that has thus connected the 
idea of the Virgin with herbs, which give an impression 
of loveliness and purity. The religious poets also, and 
even the dogmatic writers, have sought in the world 
of flowers for symbols of the Madonna's virtues. The 


beauty of the colours and the scents from earth's 
gardens preserved for the pious the memory of the 
Virgin's sweetness. 6 She is the flower of flowers, because 
she is fairer than any that adorn the ground. There- 
fore, also, the queen of flowers, the rose, is her natural 
symbol. It represents Mary as Dante saw her in the 
Highest Heaven (Paradiso xxiii. 73), but its rich colour 
also corresponds to the love she bore in her heart during 
her life on earth. 7 Her steadfast piety, which did not 
fail even under the severest trials, made her a rose 
among thorns, a "rosa inter spinas." 8 The wild rose 
had fiirther, it was said, five petals, just as Maria 
experienced five great joys, and just as there are five 
letters in her dear name. 9 

By itself, however, the red rose was insufficient as a 
symbol of the Madonna, partly because it corresponded 
only to one side of her nature, partly because it was 
also used as a likeness of the Saviour and the martyrs. 10 
Therefore when the theologians wished to characterise 
the Virgin by means of a single image, they compared 
her to a rose at once red and white. 11 In such a 
flower both her love and her virginity were symbolised. 
This fantastic plant, however, has never achieved any 
common use in poetry. The simile has been completed 
instead by the addition of another symbol which, unlike 
the red flower of love, expressed the Madonna's perfect 
purity. Mary was not only the rose, but she was at the 
same time the lily, which is white, untouched and noble 
in its high virginity. 12 The lily, according to old belief, 
had the power of healing, and it therefore corresponded 
to her who was to give the world a cure for its sins. 18 
The lily also had a strong perfume, 14 and according to 
the theologians, perfume is related to a flower's glory of 
colour in the same way as are a woman's inner virtues 


to her outer beauty. Further, the lily was a symbol 
of fertility as well as of chastity, for which reason, as 
has already been pointed out, it had its given place in 
pictures of the Annunciation. The stately lily, which 
is Gabriel's attribute in these compositions, can, how- 
ever, hardly be the same plant that is described in the 
Bible poems. It is more probable that the " lily of the 
valley," the "lily of Sharon," and the "lily among 
the thorns" was a white anemone. 15 Such a flower, 
even better than the glorious symbol of the Incarnation, 
would give expression to that modesty which is always 
emphasised in the youthful Mary. 

In this modesty of hers the Virgin was likened to 
all the small herbs that hide their crests in the grass. 
Mignonette was, according to the pious, one of Mary's 
favourite flowers. 16 In Ambrosius's symbolism of plants 
the iris signified her solitude, but the daisy her modesty, 17 
and in an old French sermon the Madonna's humility 
is compared with nard : "for nard is a little low plant 
of warm nature, out of which costly ointments are pre- 
pared, and hereby is understood Mary's submissiveness, 
her love, and her piety. These three things, that were 
marvellously united, gave a strong scent that smelt 
pleasant to God." 18 The type of all these unpretending 
flowers, however, is that harbinger of spring, the violet, 
which has so often been celebrated in mediaeval poetry. 
Thus we read in S. Bernard : " Maria est viola humili- 
tatis, lilium castitatis, rosa caritatis, gloria et decus 
coeli" "Mary is the violet of humility, the lily of 
chastity, the rose of charity, and the glory and splendour 
of the Heavens." 19 The violet does not push itself for- 
ward to court attention, but its scent betrays its charms ; 
and it was the scent of Mary's humility which drew the 
Highest to unite Himself with her. 


Tlie idea of tlie odour of the flower arousing God's 
pleasure leads us to a new group of Madonna-symbols, 
i.e. to those likenesses and similes which refer to the 
Saviour's incarnation in the Virgin's body. As has 
already been mentioned, men saw in this mystery a 
kind of erotic relationship between the Creator and the 
foremost of created beings. Christ wedded the Virgin 
just as, according to theologians, He wedded her sym- 
bolical counterpart, the Holy Church. Each of these 
ideas was based on a theological interpretation of that 
cycle of ancient love and marriage chants which is 
wrongly named " The Song of Solomon." The heroine 
in the Jewish marriage songs was, it was said, not only 
a personification of the community of believers, but also 
a prefiguring type of the future Mother of God. All 
the expressions of erotic ecstasy with which the lover 
in the Song of Solomon celebrated the beauty of his 
beloved could, therefore, be applied to the Virgin. 
Indeed, we find that as early as the first centuries the 
Church Fathers in their panegyrics of the Madonna 
employed the imagery of Solomon's Song ; 20 and during 
the Middle Ages proper it was the influence of the 
Biblical love -songs which, more than anything else, 
gave its character to the Mary -poetry. 21 Chivalry 
and the Cult of Love had led men to invoke the 
heavenly woman with something of the same worship 
they accorded to the lady of their heart. Therefore 
from all the symbols of the Madonna they selected by 
preference those in which Mary was characterised, not 
as an ascetic virgin or a sublime Mother of God, but 
as a young bride. 

In the hymns of the Church and of secular bards, 
the Old Testament model was so faithfully followed that 
the heavenly bride was even allowed to borrow some of 


the epithets that were quite individually distinctive 
of " Solomon's" beloved. The youthful Shulamite had 
felt humiliated when she saw the pale faces of the town 
girls and compared it with her own dark complexion. 
Therefore she sings (i. 5): "I am black, but comely, 

ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as 
the curtains of Solomon. Look not upon me, because 

1 am black, because the sun hath looked upon me." 
This half -apologetic characteristic, " Nigra sum, sed 
formosa," is perpetually met with in the literature of 
the Madonna. It has probably even contributed in 
its degree to the custom of representing the Virgin as 
a black-haired and dark-complexioned woman. Since 
the oldest pictures of Mary had in many cases been 
darkened by age and layers of smoke, it is just these 
"black Madonnas" which have, with reference to the 
Song of Solomon, been taken as faithful portraits of 
the Mother of God. Some authors have even ventured 
to find a reason for the dark colour, so often insisted 
upon in poems and pictures. During her residence in 
Egypt, they say, the Virgin had been burnt by the sun 
in the same way as the Shulamite, when she guarded 
her brother's vineyards out in the fields. 22 

When so personal a characteristic, as her dark com- 
plexion, was transferred from the Old Testament bride 
to the Virgin Mary, it is only natural that the Madonna 
shared in all the glorifying epithets with which the Song 
of Solomon literally overflows. Of the Virgin, therefore, 
as of her prototype, it is sung that she was " a flower in 
Sharon and a lily in the valley," and a " rose among the 
thorns." She became a pigeon of the rocks, whose face 
peeped out from among the mountain clefts. Her walk 
over the mountains to her kinswoman Elizabeth was 
described, as has been mentioned in an earlier chapter, 


in the same words that are used in the Song of Solo- 
mon to describe the lover's hastening to his beloved : 
" Behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping 
upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young 
hart " (ii 8-9). When the Son-Bridegroom called Mary's 
soul to Himself, He drew her with the words from the 
ancient morning song, the inspiration of which is echoed 
in numberless modern aubades, from Ronsard's " Marie, 
levez-vous," to the Swedish "Upp Amaryllis" "Rise 
up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the 
winter is past, the rain is over and gone ; the flowers 
appear on the earth ; the time of the singing of birds is 
come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land ; 
the fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines 
with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my 
love, my fair one, and come away. my dove, that 
art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the 
stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice ; 
for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely " 
(ii. 10-14). When Mary's body ascended to Heaven she 
was welcomed by angels with those verses in which the 
old folk-bards sang of the approach of the bride, when 
she was brought to her bridegroom in solemn procession, 
surrounded by warriors like Solomon on his chariot, and 
preceded by men carrying smoking pans on high stangs. 23 
" Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like 
pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense ? 
(iii 6). And when the angels saw her enclosed in her 
Son's arms, they repeated the words in the last chant of 
the Song of Solomon : " Who is this that cometh up 
from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved?" (viii. 5). 
Mary was the " bride from Lebanon," who was called up 
from the earth to be crowned in Heaven (iv. 8). She 
was " all fair," and there was " no spot " in her (iv. 7) : 


"Tota pulckra es, arnica mea, et macula non est in te." 
To lier could be applied, better than to any other 
created being, the daring metaphors used by the lover 
in the Song of Solomon to describe his beloved's 
mighty and compelling beauty (vi. 10) : " Who is she 
that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, 
clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners ? " 
" Quae est ista quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens, 
pulchra ut luna, electa ut sol, terribilis ut castrorum acies 
ordinata ? " 

The majority of the similes in the Song of Solomon 
are so indefinite in character that they could not be 
used to express anything except the Virgin's insurpass- 
able charm, but there are certain of these similes 
into which a deeper reference to Mary's qualities could 
be read. Thus, " terrible as an army with banners" 
not only signified that Mary was invincible in her 
loveliness, but the comparison aroused also thoughts 
of that eternal war existing between "the woman" 
and " the serpent " ; and this poetical phrase has un- 
doubtedly had its share in making the Virgin a 
" Madonna of the Victories." " The morning," again, 
was an image which symbolised Mary's relation- 
ship to the Divinity ; for if Christ, in accordance with 
His time-honoured title, was "the world's true sun 
and day," His mother was the morning twilight that 
announced the sun's rising. "Mary," says Birgitta, 
"may rightly be called the break of day, which 
the true sun Jesus Christ lighted," because "she 
called and led forth the Son's sun." 24 

A still closer association with the dogmatic view 
of the Madonna could be brought about by means of 
the attributes which occur in the fourth chapter of the 
Song of Solomon. In this portion of his song-cycle, 


the poet praises the beauty of Ms beloved in a suc- 
cession of bold similes, which are to our taste rather 
far-fetched, but which to Orientals undoubtedly appear 
poetical and apposite. First he glorifies her eyes 
"thou hast dove's eyes within thy locks" and her 
hair, which is " as a flock of goats that appear from 
Mount Gilead." Then he sings of her white and 
flawless teeth, which "are like a flock of sheep . . . 
which come up from the washing " ; of her red lips 
and blushing cheeks. Then he turns his gaze to her 
neck, which rises high and straight from her body, and 
which is probably in oriental fashion adorned with 
great hanging metal ornaments, and when he sees 
how these ornaments outline themselves against the 
dark skin, he finds a comparison as apposite as 
it is effective: " Thy neck is like the tower of 
David buMed for an armoury, whereon there hang a 
thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men." The 
same simile is introduced anew in another part of the 
song-cycle (vii. 1-9), which was probably sung at a 
country wedding while the bride danced before the 
guests. During the dance the singer so the commen- 
tators tell us points out her beauty to the spectators. 
He advises the bride to turn round, so that they may 
see her from different sides ; he praises the beauty of her 
feet with shoes, her loins, her body, and finally her 
face : " Thy neck is as a tower of ivory ; thine eyes 
like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath- 
rabbim ; thy nose is like the tower of Lebanon which 
looketh toward Damascus." 

The tower which is thus quoted time after time in 
glorifying the Shulamite's beauty has received no less 
prominent a place in the poetry of the Madonna. 25 
Not only is it employed in the poets' songs to Mary, but 


it has even won a place in the official Church services. 
In the so-called Lauretan litany we find in the summary 
of the Virgin's epithets those well-known attributes 
Turris Davidica and Turris eburnea. Here, however, 
the similes do not serve to arouse any idea of external 
beauty ; they do not recall the lofty rising of Mary's 
neck, but her 'religious rank and her moral deserts. 
" Turris Davidica " is translated in French Psalm-books 
by "G-loire de la maison de David," and "Turris 
eburnea " is rendered quite freely by "Module de 
puretd" 26 It is easily understood that the tower, 
which is the highest part of a building, should be 
compared with Mary, in whose person the house of 
David culminated all the more so, because the idea 
of a house can in this case be interpreted not only in 
an architectural, but also in a genealogical meaning. 
However, it is only one side of the symbolism which 
appears in Mary's " gloire," i.e. in her splendour. The 
Virgin is a "turris" also, because the tower is more 
inaccessible than any other kind of building. Just as 
in Mass-symbolism the tower was an image of impreg- 
nable power, so in Madonna-symbolism it was an image 
of inviolable purity. Thus chastity was allegorically 
represented under the image of a woman enclosed in 
a tower. 27 Further, when probably with reference 
to some definite building in ancient Jerusalem the 
tower was said to be built of ivory, its inaccessible 
purity is still more emphasised. The thought of a 
pre-eminent and spotless isolation has its classical 
expression in the litany's " Tour d'ivoire," which words, 
as is well known, have served as a motto not only in 
religious, but also in romantic and aesthetic literature. 
Again, the tower is also something besides a "model 
of purity." It can be used as a "pars pro toto" to 


signify a whole fortress. In this sense, Mary, like the 
eucharistic tabernacle, is " a tower of David made with 
bastions/' in which the faithful can take refuge from 
the attacks of the devil ; and from the sides of the 
tower the worshippers of the Madonna can, in accord- 
ance with the simile of the Song of Solomon, seize 
" bucklers and all kinds of weapons of strong men " as 
a defence against Hell. 28 Thus even the ornaments 
on the Jewish bride's neck have gained an importance 
in theological symbolism. 

In the wedding chants of oriental peoples, however, 
it is not only the beauty of the bride that is sung. 
She is also glorified as the untouched maiden, whose 
love no one has yet enjoyed, and whose virginity is 
preserved for her husband. The bridegroom in the 
Song of Solomon also praises his Shulamite in this 
respect with some poetical metaphors, the erotic, not 
to say phallic, implication of which it is easy to grasp ; 
and the bride on her side invites him, using the same 
similes, to take possession of the treasures reserved for 
him alone. He likens her physical virginity to closed 
and well-protected things : " A garden inclosed is my 
sister, my spouse," he sings ; " a spring shut up, a 
fountain sealed " (iv. 12). Her being is to him like a 
grove of " pomegranates, with pleasant fruits ; camphire, 
with spikenard; spikenard and saffron; calamus and 
cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and 
aloes, with all the chief spices" (iv. 13). "She is a 
fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams 
from Lebanon," but he is for the bride a wind that 
streams in to the closed pleasure-garden (iv. 16): " Awake, 
north wind ; and come, thou south ; blow upon my 
garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my be- 
loved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits." 


This erotic antiplion has, of course, like all the 
other parts of the ancient poem, been interpreted by 
theologians in an allegorical and moral sense. The 
frank similes of the bride's chastity, which was to be 
guarded for her husband, have been transformed into 
symbols of the chastity of ascetic virgins, which was 
never to be broken ; and it cannot be gainsaid that, 
taken by themselves, the metaphors of the Song of 
Solomon are well fitted for such an application. It 
is perfectly apposite when Ambrosius, in his treatise 
on the education of virgins, reminds his female readers of 
the sealed spring : " Let no one trouble its waters, and 
no one disturb them, so that thou mayest see thine 
own picture clearly mirrored in the well." 29 And the 
moral interpretation is well carried out in Ambrosius's 
comment on the verse : " Hortus conclusus, soror mea 
sponsa, hortus conclusus, fons signatus." " Only in 
gardens," he says, "upon which, by such a sealing, 
God's image has been impressed, can the well-spring 
of the heart shine forth in pure waves." " There 
virtue is fenced round with the lofty hedge of spiritual 
walls, and hides itself from all robbers. Even as a 
garden enclosed against thieves is green with vines, 
smells of olives and shines with roses, so in the garden 
of holy virginity there grow, smell, and shine the vines 
of piety, the olives of peace and the red roses of 
chastity." 80 

All that could be said about pious virgins generally 
was applicable in a higher degree to her who was the 
model for all virgins, and in this respect also the similes 
of the Song of Solomon were peculiarly applicable 
to Mary. She was, says Hesychius, the fountain of 
"the river of life which has filled all the earth." 01 
Water is a symbol of grace, and Mary was " full of 


grace." The garden, again, was an image of her being, 
in which the virtues of love, chastity, and humility 
shone and smelt like flowers in a field, and the 
perfumes from this garden were spread over all the 
world when the south wind blew over it and ripened 
the fruits of the vine. 32 But "the vine" is He who 
feeds His community with His own blood under the 
form of the vine. Therefore the love-song of the Song 
of Solomon was a prophecy of the Divine Incarnation 
in the Virgin's womb. 

As applied to this miracle, however, the similes of 
the sealed fountain and the enclosed garden obtained a 
purely literal meaning. In their boldly gynaecological 
speculations concerning Mary's threefold virginity the 
dogmatists could refer advantageously to the Song of 
Solomon. If Ambrosius transferred the symbolism 
to a spiritual sphere in his treatises on virginity, yet 
that symbolism was understood by others of the Church 
Fathers in as physical (although ascetically anti-erotic) a 
sense as in the ancient wedding-chants. The fountain and 
the garden became images of Mary's virgin womb, which 
was closed both before, during, and after the miraculous 
birth. 33 All that was told of the riches of the pleasure- 
garden in the Song of Solomon was, it was said, matched 
by the pure and holy bosom of the Madonna. The 
allegorical poets of the Middle Ages strove to work 
out this analogy even in the smallest details, and, in 
doing so, probably carried their ingenuity further than 
strict theology would approve of ; 34 but even the lead- 
ing dogmatists expressed themselves in this respect with 
an unreserve which to the taste of our time appears much 
too naturalistic. " Hortus deliciarum," says S. Bernard, 
" nobis est sacratissimus tuus uterus, Maria ; quia ex 
eo multiplices gaudii flores colligimus, quoties mente 


recolimus, quam magna multitudo dulcedinis toti orbi 
inde affulsit " " A pleasure-garden for us is thy most 
holy womb, Mary, from which we can pluck manifold 
flowers of joy every time we think of what wealth of 
sweetness has thence streamed forth over the world." 35 

As tokens of her absolute virginity the garden and 
the well have been two of the most popular of all the 
images of Mary, but men have not been content with 
these similes in visualising the miraculous element in 
her motherhood. Mary is not only a " hortus inclusus " 
and a " fons signatus/' but she is also a " porta clausa." 
It has already been mentioned that, ever since the time 
of Ambrosius, people had seen in Ezekiel's closed gate, 
which no one save Israel's God could pass through and 
which would remain closed after He had passed, a prophecy 
of the Madonna's body, which retained its " closed " 
virginity both during and after the Divinity's birth. 36 
"Porta clausa" thus has the same symbolic meaning 
as "the sealed fountain" and "the enclosed garden." 
Like these attributes, however, the images were used in 
a derived sense to indicate the whole of Mary's being. 

On the basis of a similar widening of ideas, Mary 
has also been characterised as a " Vellus Gedeonis." 
Gideon's fleece, which, as already mentioned, prefigured 
the miraculous Incarnation, has won its place in 
the list of the Virgin's attributes, and as this fleece 
was moistened by the dew of Heaven, the dew also was 
regarded as an emblem of Mary. Another Old Testa- 
ment legend which afforded matter for Mary-poetry is 
that of Aaron's blossoming staff (Numbers xvii 5). 
The miracle by which Moses' brother was selected as 
High Priest had indeed been the model for the token, 
by reason of which Joseph became Mary's husband; 
and the staff, which blossomed through a miracle, corre- 


sponded to her who was fertilised through a miracle. 
Mary is therefore Aaron's blossoming staff, and she is 
" a branch out of the root of Jesse," which, according to 
Isaiah's prophecy (xi. 1), was to give forth fruit to 
Israel. 37 Further, she is not only a green and blossoming 
bough, she is also a bush. For since, without losing 
her virginity, she conceived and bore a child in her 
womb, she was like that bush in the Old Testament 
which burned without being consumed. God had 
descended to her and made her a guiding sign during 
the wandering in the desert. 38 Therefore the " rubus 
ardens non combustus," the burning bush, is an attri- 
bute of the Madonna which has often been portrayed in 
art, 89 and which poetry too has not omitted to mention. 

There are, as it appears, a variegated quantity of 
symbols of the Divine Incarnation, but this multitude 
is nevertheless far surpassed by the number of similes 
which refer to that period of the Virgin's life when 
God had His abode in her body. It was, indeed, a 
natural consequence of the dogmatic point of view 
that Mary should be glorified before all as the bearer 
of the Highest. It was in this character that she 
first became an object of veneration to the faithful. 
Ambrosius has said emphatically that she was not 
herself "a God in the temple," but "a temple for 
God." 40 All that perfect purity and holiness which dis- 
tinguished her even from her conception in Anna's 
womb, was only a preparation for that supernatural 
beauty with which she shone when she carried the 
Divinity in her body. His presence radiated from her 
being and made her a heavenly vessel Therefore the 
Madonna was glorified as the most perfect of all sacred 


In this praising of Mary's motherhood the same 
concrete and naturalistic terminology was used as in the 
lauding of her perfect virginity. In imagination, it must 
be supposed, poets and preachers saw her entire person 
before them, with all its spiritual and physical char- 
acteristics ; but the similes they chose to express their 
homage referred only to the physical shrine, and the idea 
was taken in its most limited connotation. Just as 
the emblems of chastity referred to the miracle of 
Mary's womb remaining closed at the Incarnation and 
Birth, so the symbols of her motherhood referred to 
another miraculous quality of the Yirgin : her body 
was not only a room which, without opening, could let 
God go out and in, it was also a " receptaculum capa- 
cissimum " which enclosed the greatest of all conceivable 
contents. For the child that was conceived in Mary's 
womb was the very God of whom it was said (1 Kings 
viii. 27) that "the heaven and the heaven of heavens 
cannot contain thee." 

The contrast between the Virgin's body and the 
infinite greatness of God was just such an one as could 
be used advantageously by theological orators in their 
casuistical rhetoric. When the doctrine of Mary as 
the Mother of God had to be defended against the 
Nestorian heresy, it was asserted in a defiant paradox 
that " He, who could not be embraced by the Heavens, 
did not find Mary's womb too narrow." Proclus, 
Theodetus, Methodius, Zeno of Verona, and Augustine 
expressed in similar formulae the same effective anti- 
thesis. 41 From sermons and dogmatic treatises the 
literary motive spread to religious hymns. Bphraim 
Syrus clothed it in stately guise when in one of his 
Songs of Mary he cried out : " Heaven and Earth were 
too narrow to enclose, as with two wings, their God. 


But Mary's womb was wider than Heaven and Earth, and 
greater than the world." 42 The sequence of Bernardus 
Morlanensis gave, in quick and lively rhythm, to the 
doctrine of the great mystery the additional point of a 
play upon words : 



Cujus sacra viscera 



Continentem omnia. 43 

In Latin poetry the idea of the Virgin's womb 
having enclosed Him, "quern totus orbis non capit," 
became a commonplace which was unceasingly repeated 
by the poets of the Madonna, without however gain- 
ing any new character by the small variations in 
expression ; 44 but the dogmatic paradox won a poetical 
and naive formulation when it was paraphrased in 
modern languages. Not much of Ephraim's ponderous- 
ness remains in Lionardo Giustiniani's canzone : 

o vaso picciolino, in cui si posa 
Colui, che il Ciel non piglia, 45 

and in Heinrich von Loufenberg's song the antithesis 
has entirely lost its imposing import : 

Quern totus orbis nit begreif, 
Hat sich in deines ventris reif 
Gar zartlich occultieret. 46 

It was, as has been said, from a passage in the Book 
of Kings that the expression as to the heavens being 
too narrow for God's greatness was drawn. By these 
words, it was said, Solomon had expressed at the dedica- 
tion of the Temple at Jerusalem the vainness of build- 
ing a dwelling-place for the Highest. 47 By a similar 


reasoning the author of the Acts of the Apostles showed 
that God, who is the Lord of Heaven and Earth, does 
not dwell in temples built by human hands. 48 Yet at 
the Incarnation the Eternal had compressed His being 
in order to dwell in a virgin's body. Mary's womb was, 
therefore, the temple not built with hands, which ful- 
filled the function which Solomon's great work could 
not fulfil. 

In the expositions of the dogmatists, as has been 
mentioned earlier, Mary had already been compared to 
a temple. This analogy was so consistently maintained 
that in theological discussions the one idea was inter- 
changeable with the other. When Hieronymus directed 
his accusations against Helvidius, who had dared to 
assert that Jesus had had brothers and sisters in the 
flesh, he charged him with having in heretical fury put 
into practice a Herostratic deed. " Thou hast followed," 
said he, " the example of that madman, who, to make 
himself famous, set on fire the temple of Diana, Thou 
hast sought to burn up the temple of God, and hast 
defiled the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost, since thou 
hast let two brothers and a number of sisters be born 
of the Virgin." 49 

Thus, just as it was a heathenish deed to deny 
Mary's absolute purity, so it was a pious duty to empha- 
sise all her virtues. The Virgin's qualities were the 
materials out of which a temple was built, and for such 
a building no objects could be too costly. Here we come 
to another point of comparison between the Madonna 
and the most famous building in the Old Testament. 
Mary, says Birgitta, was the new " Solomon's temple " 
erected by Him of whom the Jewish king was a proto- 
type. The temple's gold was her virtue, and her 
humility was the ivory that covered its walls. So 


sliining and costly was the house in which, as Birgitta 
expresses it, the true Solomon " walked and rested." 50 

The symbolism of a temple was naturally often used 
also in religious hymns, and it received a quite special 
importance in prayers to Mary. For the Catholic 
temple, by reason of the doctrine of the Sacramental 
Incarnation, was not only a " House of God," but it 
was also an asylum in which men could always feel safe 
from persecution. Just as the pious could get from 
" the tower Mary " " shields and all kinds of weapons of 
mighty men " to defend themselves against the attack 
of the devil, so in " the temple Mary " they could take 
refuge from all his onslaughts. " Ave templum sanctum 
Dei/ 7 men invoked her, and continued, " ad quod 
currunt omnes rei ut ab hoste liberentur a quo capti 
detinentur " : 51 " Hail, holy temple of God to whom all 
sinners hasten to be freed from the enemy who holds 
them captive." 

God's dwelling-place was not necessarily conceived 
of as a temple, however. The Saviour was also a king, 
and His mother's womb was therefore a kingly castle. 
" Aula regalis " Mary is often called in the Latin hymns. 
She was a " splendidum palatium," " a shining palace 
for the Lord of Eternity/' and she was the wedding 
chamber, where the Creator united Himself with His 
Creation. 52 But the Madonna could also be likened to 
far less impressive pieces of architecture. She was the 
tent of the Covenant into which God had entered to 
carry out the work of the Atonement, and she was the 
Holy Tabernacle that was " filled with the glory of the 
Lord." 5S Further, if the faithful recollected that it was 
only for a time that the Highest dwelt in her body, 
they were led to another group of similes. It was with 
her that He stayed when He began His residence on earth. 


Therefore Mary was a lodging-house, and, as such, the 
foremost of her kind. " For," says Dante, "it was 
fitting that the lodging where the King of Heaven 
stayed should be perfectly blameless and pure." 54 If 
one regards this comparison as too ordinary, one is 
still more astonished to find Mary characterised as 
a " guardarobba." To Catholic symbolism, however, 
there is nothing extravagant in calling the Virgin's 
womb a wardrobe. 55 It was, we are told, in this room 
that the Godhead clothed Himself in the dress of the 
human shape, to go forth into the world like an earthly 
being. By an inversion of the analogy, the cloak-room 
in the church, where the priest puts on his raiment for 
Mass, to celebrate in the Saviour's stead the renewed 
sacrifice, is compared to Mary's womb ; 56 and Mary in 
her turn is called, by the name of the holiest of ward- 
robes, a sacristy for the Trinity. 57 Often, too, the 
indefinite idea of a " room for God," "camera trinitatis," 
was employed, 58 and " domus," which applies to all 
the different kinds of buildings, is one of the most 
frequent epithets used in praise of the Madonna. In 
poems of a simpler style the Virgin's body is quite 
commonly named " the little house," in which the 
Great One dwelt in the form of a child. It is in 
this way that an anonymous fifteenth-century bard ex- 
presses himself in a song which forms a naive contrast 
to Birgitta's stately description of the model where the 
true Solomon " walked and rested" : 

Ich weisz em hiibsclies Hauselein 
Da lauft ein Kindlein aus und ein. 
Es mag wohl Jesus Christus sein, 
Maria 1st das Hauselein, 59 

From this class of symbols betokening different kinds 
of dwelling-places, it is most natural to pass on to some 


smaller constructions which have been compared to 
the Virgin. When the new Solomon left his heavenly 
throne in order, as Zeno of Verona expresses it, to " enter 
the Virgin temple's sanctuary, and to rest satisfied in 
the flowering abode of chastity " 60 Mary became his 
royal seat. " Sedes Salomonis " is therefore one of the 
Madonna's standing attributes. 61 It was all the easier to 
use this name, since Solomon's splendid bed and " chariot " 
are described in the Song of Solomon (iii. 7-10), from 
which so many of the symbols of the Madonna are drawn. 
Mary was literally a throne when she held her Divine 
Son on her knee, and she was a "chariot" in which 
He let Himself be borne to suffering mankind ; for the 
Divine Incarnation was often conceived of as a journey, 
in which His mother was the means of conveyance. 
In accordance with this view Mary was further charac- 
terised as a shining and heavenly carriage. Ephrairn 
Syrus, who, even when he describes the little Child, 
emphasises the flaming majesty of the Godhead, com- 
pares Mary to Ezekiel's burning carriage, " which shook 
under the glory of the Lord, while the Virgin's weak 
knees bore Him without being consumed." G2 In later 
poets, e.g. in Dante, the prophet's vision has been 
applied to the Christian Church. 63 But Mary is often 
spoken of also as " the most worthy chariot in which the 
King of Honour was pleased to visit sick and languish- 
ing mankind/' In Nigils Ragvaldi's old Swedish in- 
terpretation of this originally Latin text, the Virgin, 
with a Northern local colouring, even bears the name of 
u sledge." C4 It may be added, to account further for 
the symbolism of the chariot, that Mary is a carriage 
in which her adherents can ascend to Heaven. 65 

Of all means of conveyance, however, none is better 
suited to be compared to the Madonna than a ship 


which brings Its gifts from far lands. Ephraim Syrus 
likens Mary to the vessel carrying a luck -bringing 
cargo. 66 This simile was all the easier to find, inas- 
much as in its panegyric of the virtuous wife who is 
more precious than the costliest pearls the Book of 
Proverbs makes use of the expression : " She is like the 
merchants' ships ; she bringeth her food from afar " 
(xxxi. 14). In the Latin translation of this passage the 
term food is rendered by panis, a word which naturally 
calls to mind " the bread of life," the cargo of the 
vessel Mary. Thus the analogy could be carried through 
even in small details. 67 The allegorising imagination 
found an attractive task in seeking among Mary's char- 
acteristics the moral counterparts of the mast, the anchor, 
the planks, and the sails. Such a symbolical ship as 
described, for example, in an old French serventois 68 
was, however, both nautically and poetically, a very 
artificial thing. On the other hand, there is nothing 
unnatural or strained in that German folk-song which 
poetically develops Ephraim Syrus's ancient simile : 

Es kommt em SeMff geladen 
Eeclit auf sein toclistes Port 69 

If Mary could once be likened to a ship in general, 
it was all the more fitting to see a correspondence to 
her in those craft which had won fame in Biblical history. 
Moses was a prototype of her Son ; therefore she herself, 
it was said, had been prefigured by the chest, in which 
Moses had lain out on the water. 70 But a worthier 
symbol of the Madonna was that ancestor of all vessels, 
the Ark, in which Noah saved creation from the 
Flood. When Mary was created, a new Noah's Ark 
was formed for the salvation of the world ; 71 and when 
she received the Annunciation, then not all animals, 


but the Lord of all animals and of mankind entered 
into the house of salvation. 72 The old Ark knew that 
its work would be repeated and surpassed, for on the 
night when Mary gave birth to her Child the planks of 
Noah's vessel sent out fresh shoots, where they lay on 
Mount Ararat. 73 There was, it appears, a telepathic 
sympathy between the. two Arks which corresponded 
with one another in so many respects. Every physical 
quality in Noah's building had its counterpart in some 
mental quality in Mary. We have only to read how 
Birgitta expounds the likenesses and points of difference 
between these two ships. Noah was pleased because his 
Ark was so well tarred both without and within that 
nothing unclean could enter it, and God was pleased 
because Mary was so well suffused with the unction of 
the Holy Spirit that no earthly desire could approach 
her heart. Noah was pleased because his Ark was so 
spacious and large that all creatures could be housed in 
it, while God was pleased because He whose greatness 
is inconceivable could " lie and turn " in Mary's blessed 
womb. Noah's Ark was light, just as Mary's virginity 
was clear and pure. In addition to these and other 
analogies, however, there was an essential difference. 
Noah knew that his Ark would be empty when he left 
it, and that he would never again have anything to 
do with his temporary dwelling-place; but God knew 
that, even after His birth, His mother would remain 
filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that, even 
though He were separated from her body at His birth, 
she would be close to Him for all time. 74 

This last difference refers, of course, to Mary's 
Assumption. As has been explained, it was just be- 
cause the Madonna had been an Ark for the Divinity, 
that her body might not remain on the earth ; but it 


was not Noah's Ark that was referred to in the legend 
of the Virgin's Ascension. The miracles that took place 
at the bier of her dead body were borrowed from the 
stories of the Ark par excellence, the Old Testament 
Ark of the Covenant. The palladium of the Jewish 
nation was the type which best corresponded to her in 
whose person the new covenant between God and the 
entire human race had been sealed. In the Ark Moses 
had enclosed the most precious tokens of the Highest's 
care for His people : Aaron's flowering staff, a golden 
vessel with manna, and the two Tables of the Law. 
The staff was in itself a symbol of the Incarnation ; the 
golden vessel, " urna aurea," with its heaven-sent con- 
tents, 75 was a natural image of the Virgin, in whose 
body God had descended from Heaven ; and the Tables 
of Stone, which represented the summing-up of all 
necessary knowledge, corresponded to Him in whose life 
and teaching the law had been fulfilled. The Ark 
itself, again, was surrounded everywhere by a rich gild- 
ing, which betokened the perfect sanctity of Mary's being. 
Therefore, as early as in one of the famous sermons on 
the Madonna by Proclus, the Virgin had been called an 
Ark gilded both within and without. 76 The epithet has 
played an important part both in religious and secular 
poetry, 77 and it still survives in the words of endearment 
of the Swedish love-song which would be unintelligible 
if one did not know the symbolism of Mary " Thou 
noble rose and gilded shrine." 

Among the Jewish ritual - implements there are 
others also which were chosen as symbols of Mary. The 
censer hanging in front of the Ark of the Covenant 
prefigured her being, which was perfumed with virtue 
and which took into itself the living fire. The thought 
that the Virgin bore coals in her womb without being 


consumed had been lovingly developed by Ephraim 
Syrus in his hymns ; 78 and the analogy between the 
Madonna and the censer, as was pointed out in the 
foregoing chapter, was applied to the stories of how 
Mary like a cloud of incense went up through Heaven 
to the Son's throne. Thus, all the objects kept in 
the Holy of holies were associated with the Holiest 
of mankind. Moreover, in front of the veil there 
stood, in the outer tabernacle, other images of the pure 
Virgin. Mary was the candelabrum that supported on 
its seven golden arms the heavenly light, 79 and she was 
the Table on which the Shewbread was exposed to 
view. 80 And as Bread, the type of food, was a symbol 
of the Saviour, so His mother was logically betokened 
by all the articles of furniture which supported or en- 
closed that holy substance. This reasoning had, of 
course, a still greater applicability in the case of the 
implements of Christian ritual. If the Madonna was 
the table in the tabernacle, she was likened with still 
better reason to the altar-table on which the Eucharistic 
God rested in the form of bread ; and if she was the 
golden manna-urn, she was also the shrine for the 
Host ; the tower, the dove, or the tabernacle that pre- 
served the transformed wafers. 

All these epithets denote worthy store-rooms for 
holy contents, and they are therefore well suited for 
use in pious poems. On the other hand, we cannot 
from a purely aesthetic standpoint consider the theo- 
logians quite happy in comparing the Madonna's body 
to a wine-cellar, " cella vinaria/' even though we may 
understand how naturally the Mass-symbolism led to 
this image. 81 It is also more ingenious than effective 
to call the pure Virgin a library, in which all the books 
of the Old and New Testaments have been set up. 82 


In better style is the simile of the box of sweet per- 
fumes, which often appears in the poetry of Mary. 
The Madonna, we read, is a treasury in which the 
most costly spices and salves mingle their scents, as 
the noble trees mix their fruits in the enclosed garden 
of the Song of Solomon. Thus Adam de S. Victor 
sings in praise of the Virgin : 

Porta clausa, fons hortorum, 
Cella custos unguentorum, 

Cella pigmentaria. 
Cinnamon! calamum, 
Myrrhanij thus et balsamum 

Superas fragrantia. 83 

Such a list is as poetic in its import as it is firm and 
rhythmical in its metrical structure, but the fine original 
loses a good deal of its effect upon us when an anony- 
mous German translator, instead of " cella pigmentaria," 
introduces the name of that room for the blending of 
rich scents, which is called an Apothecary's shop : 

Port beslozzen, gartes brunne, 
Apothek mit lobes wunne, 
Und ein cell mit lutertranc, 
Cumin, balsam und eitewar, 
Mirr, wirouch, aster rotvar 
jFurtriffst du und rosen blana 84 

The majority of the similes described in the pre- 
ceding pages have referred to things which have been 
made by men, or which have, at any rate, received their 
peculiar shape through human intervention. All the 
different chests and arks, vessels and buildings, are 
artefacts, and so, too, in their way, are the sealed 
springs and the enclosed pleasure-gardens. They are 
each the foremost of their kind, and therefore worthy 
of comparison with the foremost of God's creations ; but 
they are, nevertheless, in their idea less than that which 


is compared to them, and they can therefore illustrate 
only certain special qualities purity, beauty, or grace 
in the Virgin. If it was desired to express the sub- 
limity of the Mother of God, the symbols ought not 
to be chosen from among the second-hand products of 
human manufacture. Only the sights of nature were 
great enough to be likened to her, whose being was 
raised above all human measure; and as a matter of 
fact we find many notable epithets of Mary which 
fall within the sphere of that original creation, which is 
untouched by human hand. The Madonna is not only 
a garden, but she is also, in her miraculous mother- 
hood, the unploughed field which gives seed without 
having been cultivated. 85 She is not only a "hortus 
inclusus," but she is also we have only to read the 
beautiful descriptions in Gautier de Coincy and Gonzalo 
da Berc^o the free meadow full of wild flowers. 86 
Further, she is that which constitutes the greatest and 
most sublime portion of a wild landscape, for as the 
Mother of God she is compared to the lofty mountain. 

It has already been mentioned, in treating of Mary's 
history, that an analogy was established between the rock 
which enclosed the dead God-man and the Virgin who 
carried Him in her womb. Another analogy between 
the mountain and the Madonna was based on the fact 
that the Saviour was born of His mother without pain 
and without the assistance of midwives. In an old 
Christmas hymn, ascribed to Ambrosius, the new-born 
Child is addressed with these epithets among others : 

Lapis de monte veniens 
Mundumque replens gratia 
Quern non praecisum manibus 
Vates vetusti nuntiant. 87 

" A stone which, according to the prophecy of the old 


seers, comes down from the mountain without having 
been loosened by the hands of men, and fills the world 
with blessing." 

The old prognostication, to which the hymn refers, 
is Daniel's narrative of the colossus on clay feet which 
Nebuchadnezzar saw in his vision. " Thou sawest till 
that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the 
image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake 
them to pieces. Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, 
the silver and the gold, broken to pieces together, and 
became like the chaff of the summer threshing-floors ; and 
the wind carried them away, that no place was found for 
them : and the stone that smote the image became a great 
mountain, and filled the whole earth " (Daniel ii. 34-35). 

It was natural for the oppressed Jews to see in 
Daniel's prophecy a promise of the restoration of their 
own power through the national Messiah. To the 
Christians persecuted in the first centuries the same 
prophecy gave a hope of better times for their com- 
munity ; and when the Church had been established 
and had conquered heathendom, the promise seemed to 
have been fulfilled. The stone which struck the image 


had become a great mountain that filled the whole 
world. Thus, when "the conquering Galilean" gave 
a meaning to that part of the simile in which the fall 
of the colossus was spoken of, people began to look for 
something corresponding to the assertion that the stone 
" was loosened without hands " from the mountain. That 
supernatural fact was placed in connection with the super- 
natural manner in which the Saviour had appeared in the 
world. The little stone that grew and grew until it filled 
the earth, was like a little child which matures into a giant ; 
and the mountain, from the bosom of which the stone 
spontaneously loosens itself, was the child's mother. 


Such, an interpretation was all the more natural, 
because, from another point of view also, the mountain 
could be explained as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. In 
his Commentary on the Books of Kings, Gregory I. says 
of the place in which Mount Ephraim is spoken of : " By 
this name can the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, also 
be continually denoted, for was she not a mountain who 
with her high dignity rose above the height of all other 
human beings ? And was not Mary like a mountain- 
top when, in order to receive the Incarnation of the 
Eternal Word, she extended the peak of her virtues 
above all the angel-hosts, up to the throne of God ? " 88 
In accordance with this reasoning " mons sublimus," the 
lofty mountain, resting upon the earth but rising up 
over the clouds, became an epithet of the Madonna, 
which was often used both in sermons and writings. 

In its quality of belonging at once to the lower 
and to the higher world, the symbol of a mountain 
corresponds with certain other emblems of Mary. For 
the Mother of God was, as theologians expressed it, 
the hyphen between Heaven and Earth. Everything 
which, either for the thought or for the imagination, 
united the two kingdoms, could be interpreted as a 
symbol of her mediation. She was " scala coeli," the 
heavenly ladder which Jacob saw in his dream, and 
down which God descended to men. 89 She was the 
rainbow, i.e. the visible bridge which stretches its arch 
across the skies from Earth to Heaven and from Heaven 
to Earth. 90 She was the opening or gate through which 
men could enter the Paradise of Heaven " Fenestra 
coeli," the window of Heaven, she was often called in 
the prayers with which the pious invoked her for their 
souls' safety. But Mary was even more than this. When 
God left His Heaven for her womb, His mother became a 


new Heaven. " Ave mater coeium/ 1 Johannes Chrysos- 
tomus Invokes lier in one of his sermons. 91 

The believers also saw tokens of Mary's qualities in 
the sights which give Heaven its splendour. The sun 
and moon recalled her beauty, and she would doubtless 
often have been called a sun of the world, had not this 
epithet been reserved for her Divine Son. The moon, 
on the other hand, became her standing emblem, as it 
had been the attribute of the chaste Diana of heathen- 
dom. By reason of various associations of ideas, the 
star has also been regarded as an apposite symbol of the 
Madonna. It sends out its light without itself losing 
any of its brightness, just as Mary gave birth to her 
Child without forfeiting her virginity. It is smaller and 
weaker than the sun, but as a morning star it can 
announce the advent of the great light, just as Mary 
announces Jesus. God's Mother is therefore the star 
which bears the sun, " stella solem pariens," and she is the 
first herald of the morning twilight, " stella matutina." 
Still more frequently, however, she bears the name by 
which she is invoked in the prayer " Ave Maris stella," 
" Hail, Star of the Sea." This expression is often 
explained as an interpretation of the Virgin's Hebrew 
name " Miriam," and it is even possible that it origin- 
ated from a mistake in translation ; 92 but that it became 
naturalised in poetry and pious literature was rather 
due to the fact that men looked up to Mary from " the 
sea of the world and of sin," as to a star of comfort. 
The old song "Stella Maris" has, both in public 
services and in private piety, become one of the most 
frequently occurring devotional expressions of Catholic 
religious life. On shipboard it has been breathed up 
innumerable times by sailors who in storms sought help 
from the mild goddess who was " the Star of the Sea," 


and who for those in peril opened a " window " in the 
dark and threatening skies. 93 

Among the heavenly symbols of Mary is also to be 
found the last, and poetically the most noteworthy of 
all the many shrines which served as similes of the Holy 
Virgin. When the Saviour had once been looked upon 
as a sun, His mother naturally had her counterpart in 
that which enclosed the sun. The sun is often hidden 
in clouds ; therefore Mary is the cloud which hides the 
great light. By the same reasoning, as has already been 
mentioned, the Host was characterised as a cloud which 
God drew over Himself in order that the eyes of men 
might not be blinded by His glory. If rightly inter- 
preted, the Old Testament metaphors could offer much 
support for such a view. The cloud brought to the earth 
the rain, which, according to the Jewish idea, was the 
type of all blessing. In a cloud God had revealed Him- 
self to His people during the wandering in the wilderness 
(Exodus xvi. 10), and in a cloud He filled His temple 
(1 Kings viii. 10). In a cloud also, according to Daniel's 
dream (vii. 13), "the Son of Man" would be brought 
before " the Ancient of Days," who gave Him " dominion 
and glory and a kingdom." 94 A still more direct applica- 
tion to the Madonna could be drawn from the prophecy 
of Isaiah (xix. 1), " Behold the Lord rideth upon a swift 
[according to the Vulgate, light] cloud, and shall come 
into Egypt, and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at 
His presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the 
midst of it." In this passage was seen a prophecy of 
the flight into Egypt, and the miracles which took place 
during the journey of the Holy Family. The analogy 
was all the more complete because the apocryphal narra- 
tive of the destruction of the idols had probably been 
composed simply to give confirmation to Isaiah's prog- 


nostication. Thus to theologians and poets Mary became 
the " light cloud," which bore the Saviour in its womb ; 95 
and she was also the beneficent rain -cloud, which at 
Elijah's prayer rose up from the sea and gave moisture 
to the dried-up fields. 96 

The symbolism of the cloud gained a still richer 
significance when it was used in descriptions of the birth 
of Christ. As early as in late mediaeval poetry it 
became customary to sing of God's appearance on earth 
by paraphrasing some verses of the 19th Psalm : " Like 
a bridegroom from his bridal chamber," it was said, He 
came forth from the temple of Mary. This stately 
simile had, as we have already seen, been conceived by 
a poet who had been fascinated by the sight of the 
daylight, when it breaks forth over the firmament. The 
bridegroom is the sun who " exults to run his course 
from one end of the heavens to the other," and the 
bridal chamber is the eastern sky which is coloured 
red and gold at sunrise, or those clouds which shine 
with the light hidden behind them. Thus when Mary's 
temple, i.e. her virginal body, is likened to the adorned 
chamber of the bridegroom, the figure of the earthly 
woman has borrowed beauty from the most splendid 
sight in nature. Her being shines with divine light in 
the same way that the clouds are shone through by the 
sun ; 97 and the relationship between the mother's little- 
ness and the Son's greatness ia clearly expressed in the 
difference between the cloud, which has no light of its 
own, and the sun, which only for a time can be concealed 
by its shimmering covering. Thus the cloud-symbolism 
was used by preference by the poets who tried to make 
clear in ingenious similes the subordination of one of the 
Holy Persons to the other. 

Since Mary, as a shining cloud, was the herald of 


tlie sun, she could naturally be associated also with 
other ideas of the morning twilight and the beginning 
of day. It was on the basis of such an association of 
ideas that the comparisons between the bride and the 
morning red in the Song of Solomon were thought 
particularly applicable to the Madonna. The same line 
of reasoning led the early rhetoricians to employ a simile 
which became famous in mediaeval and renaissance poetry. 
In his invocation to S. Francis, Dante says that Assisi 
ought properly to be called " Oriente," because a sun has 
gone forth from this town ; 98 and Borneo exclaims : 

But, soft ! what light through yonder window breaks ? 
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun ! 

One is reminded of these magnificent tropes when one 
reads in Ephraim Syrus : " The East with its [pale] stars is 
an image of Mary, from whose womb the Lord of all the 
stars went forth." " With all their strained search after 
allegories the old theologians could still find some images 
which had a powerful effect and a strong poetic vitality. 
With the symbolisation of Mary by the early morn- 
ing hours, can be associated the idea of her representing 
the Spring. 100 She was the harbinger of the Summer, as 
of the day, and the month of flowers, May, bore her 
name : " le mois de Marie." On the other hand for in 
her person contrasts meet the stillness of evening 
twilight was sanctified to her who at the time of the 
Ave was wedded to God. The rest after the labours of 
the day was suitable for devotion to the Mother of God, 
and Saturday, which was the evening of the week of 
toil, was pre-eminently the day of the Madonna. 

An attempt has here been made to comment upon 
the most important of the epithets used in the litera- 


tnre of the Madonna ; but it has not been possible to 
achieve any completeness in the summary. In excuse 
for the omissions in this chapter, however, it may be 
said that, as Bernard of Morlas expressed it, the number 
of Mary's virtues would cause even the profoundest and 
most eloquent understanding to succumb under the task 
of describing them : " Sic est densa, sic immensa laudis 
tuae copia ut profunda et facunda succumbant in- 
genia." 101 It is a no less difficult task to classify all the 
things and phenomena with which Mary has been com- 
pared. It is possible, as has been done here, to arrange 
a number of them in small groups, referring to certain 
special qualities of the Virgin or to certain fixed events in 
her life ; but whatever system of analysis be used, a quan- 
tity of epithets will always remain, for which we must em- 
ploy the makeshift heading "Miscellaneous." The only 
consolation is that such a division of unclassified similes 
does not include any notable materials for the character- 
isation of the Madonna. Therefore, on the basis of the 
likenesses and symbols which have been described in the 
preceding pages, we ought to be able to gain an idea of 
Mary's being as it appeared to the imagination of pious 
poets. That the picture may be clear, it is only necessary 
shortly to recapitulate the list of the Virgin's similes. 

It has appeared that the whole sphere of life and 
of nature was searched for symbols to illustrate the 
Madonna's virginity and. high motherhood. All that 
was pure and lovely, and all that was high and great, 
was enlisted in the praise of her glory. She became 
inaccessible as the walled-in garden, the closed gate or 
the sealed fountain. She was beautiful as the most 
splendid objects human art could produce : a decorated 
shrine, a golden urn, a kingly throne, a palace, a temple, 
and a church. She was mighty and strong as a fortress 


or as the lofty tower of David. But she was at the same 
time shy as a young girl, affectionate as a bride, proud 
as a wife, and venerable as a mother. All the caressing 
and flattering likenesses, with which men have sung 
their beloved, were applied to her who united in herself 
all the dignities of womanhood. She was the flower of 
the valleys, the rose among thorns, the lily among 
thistles, and the dove of the rocks that hides itself in 
the mountain-clefts. And if these fair things lent their 
grace to the Virgin's figure, her greatness was set forth 
by the sights of nature, which are too sublime to be 
compared with earthly things. The lofty mountain's 
scaling of Heaven, the infinity of the sea, the fruitfulness 
of the earth, the clearness of the air and the light of the 
skies become qualities of the Mother of God. 

Thus, as early as the first centuries, there was de- 
veloped an idea which during the Middle Ages was 
formulated by theologians, and which in its shape is a 
play upon words, but in its import conceals a significant 
meaning. Pious authors quoted the tenth verse in 
Genesis : " The gathering together of the waters called 
He [God] Seas" " Congregationes aquarum appelavit 
Maria"; and they continued, u congregationes gratiarum 
appelantur Maria" "but the gathering together of 
grace and beauty is called Maria." 102 As the innumer- 
able waves meet in the infinite sea, so all separate beauty 
meets in the figure of Mary. It was not merely a theo- 
logical principle or a moral pattern that was honoured 
in the Madonna. In her name was worshipped the 
whole visible and invisible creation, as it radiates upon 
us, when it is conceived of as a covering for a spiritual 
principle, or when it shines in the light of a symbol 
hidden behind the world of phenomena. 



Die Seel' 1st ein Kristall, die Gottheit ist ilir Schein, 
Der Leib, in dem Du lebst, ist ihrer beiden Sclirein. 

ANGELTJS SILESITTS, Cherubinischer Wandersmann. 

IT may be urged, with an appearance of justification, 
that it is at an arbitrary point that this work breaks off. 
The history of Mary does not end when her body is 
taken up to Heaven and she occupies her place by the 
side of the Trinity. On the contrary, at this moment 
begins a new stage of the Madonna's life, which in a 
way is more important than her earthly existence. By 
the miracles she has performed and still performs, she 
enters into familiar relations with created beings. Her 
motherhood is widened, for now it embraces not only 
cc the Son of Man," but all the children of men. As 
the Divinity no longer claims her care, she can bestow 
her love instead upon all who need a mother's help ; 
and such help none can give so richly as she, who has 
experienced the highest that motherhood implies. She 
understands earthly existence, because, without being 
defiled by its baseness, she herself has experienced all 
its joys and pains, as bride and wife, and as a happy 
and a sorrowing mother. Her sympathy with suffering 
is rich and generous, because she has known misfortune 
but is herself no longer weighed down by it. As the 



absolutely pure being, she can give assistance to those 
who strive against temptation, and she can lend encour- 
agement to those oppressed by the grief which she herself 
has overcome. But she is also a true mother, in that she 
helps her wards even when their desires are childish and 
unimportant. In their daily life she stands at their 
side, orders their affairs aright for them, and nods 
warnings or friendly approval at them from her images. 
About all these great and small miracles legends 
have been written, songs sung, and pictures painted 
without number ; but all that the Madonna has effected 
in human life belongs to a different story from that which 
we have wished to describe here. We can with good 
reason exclude all the narratives and symbols which 
refer to the time after Mary's Assumption, because from 
them no fresh light is to be gained with reference to 
her relationship to the Divinity. It is only for the 
explanation of this relation that the writings of pious 
thinkers concerning the Madonna have been summarised 
in what goes before. In this respect our summary 
ought to have been sufficiently complete to justify some 
general conclusions in regard to the religious and aesthetic 
life which expresses itself in the Poetry and Art of the 
Catholic Church. 

It has become apparent that the same idea of the 
connection of the Creator with creation, i.e. of the 
Divine Incarnation, which was the basis for the thought- 
structure of the Mass-doctrine, has been a cause not 
the only one, but the fundamental one of the wor- 
ship of the Madonna. The two dogmas by which the 
Catholic Church separates itself from the Reformed 
creeds are derived from a common principle ; and just 
as they are based on the same fundamental doctrine, 


so they correspond with one another in the corollaries 
which have been deduced from the thesis. Thus in the 
Madonna-cult one is perpetually reminded of legendary 
and symbolic motives which one has learned to know 
in the Mass-ritual. Not only is the actual miracle the 
same in either case, but in each the great paradox is 
formulated in similar antitheses. Just as the Mass- 
miracle is said to consist in the priest being able " to 
create his own Creator," so the Incarnation is character- 
ised as an event at which " an earthly woman gives 
life to her own Creator," at which " a daughter gives birth 
to her Father," and at which " the Maker of all things 
allows Himself to be made." The magically effective 
words of the priest answer to the words with which 
Gabriel greeted Mary. It is the ringing of a bell 
which signifies to the pious both that the Highest has 
descended over the altar and that He has taken up His 
abode in the Virgin's womb. Just as the ^e-toll recalls 
the idea that Heaven was joined to Earth in the body df 
Mary, so the sound-signals in the Mass are to awake 
the thought of the Incarnation of God in human form. 
According to Catholic symbolism the altar is a manger, 
and the manger is often represented in early art as an 
altar. But the table which bears the holy bread is also 
a symbol of the body of that woman who bore the 
Divine Child; and her womb, that of a mother yet 
closed like a virgin's, is a magical room in the same way 
that the old altar-room enclosed with curtains was a 
sorcerer's cabinet, in which the great transformation 
took place without its process being visible. The altar 
again is conceived of as a grave, while the Madonna 
stands for the earth, which, according to the universal 
mythological conceptions, is at the same time the 
mother of mankind and the tomb of men. 


Significant analogies between tlie Mass-doctrine and 
the cult of the Madonna are met with even in the means 
by which the miracle was brought about. When the 
young woman became a mother without losing her 
virginity, this was due to the fact that the Holy Ghost 
had " overshadowed" her ; and when the bread is trans- 
formed into a God without changing its shape, the Holy 
Ghost has descended over the Mass-table. Accordingly, 
in old churches a carved dove was hung up, which with 
its wings " overshadowed " the holy place. In pictures 
of the Annunciation, the same dove floats down from 
Heaven towards the Virgin's bowed head. In the illus- 
trations to those legends according to Church dogma, 
heretical which tell of some visible Mass-miracles, a 
little child is often seen, lifted above the altar on the 
hands of the priest ; and even in pictures of the Annun- 
ciation, likewise on the basis of an heretical idea, there 
appears a little child descending towards his mother. 

These are, however, external and relatively un- 
essential analogies. The crucial point is that the 
worship of the Sacrament and the worship of the 
Madonna are characterised by the same veneration for 
the inviolability of Holiness. In their manner of 
handling the bread and wine, and of regarding and 
describing the Madonna, the pious seek to observe the 
greatest conceivable reverence. The Host, it is said, is 
so pure that it may only be touched by pure hands, 
and if a man washes himself after having touched it, 
it is only an unbeliever who can see in that washing a 
purification. In the same way both the Divine Child 
and His human mother are so pure that they cannot be 
purified, but themselves cleanse the water with which 
they have been washed. The room which preserves the 
eucharistic God is fitted and embellished as the fore- 


most of all the shrines which artistic craftsmanship can 
produce ; and the body in which the Incarnate God 
rested is described as the most perfect of all the shapes 
of which poetic imagination can create an ideal picture. 
In the legends of Mary's life features are introduced 
which are borrowed from narratives concerning the most 
famous shrines of earlier ages. When the Virgin's dead 
body is borne to the grave it performs the same miracles 
as the Jewish Ark of the Covenant ; but it is raised from 
out the grave because, by reason of what it once enclosed, 
it is too holy to be allowed to decay in the earth. 
Again, when artists render this Assumption, they make 
Mary be carried by angels, who form an almond-shaped 
glory around her figure ; and the same disposition 
appears in pictures which, undoubtedly with a symbolical 
reference to Mary, represent a monstrance borne up on 
angel-hands to Heaven. 1 It even happens that the 
connection between Mary and the Host-preserver is 
called to mind in pictures of the Assumption by making 
some Hosts float down from the Queen of Heaven's 
mantle. 2 The two series of symbols continually blend, 
so that in some cases it becomes positively difficult to 
decide which one of the sacred shrines is glorified in 
a given poem or picture. 

This double significance of Catholic symbols is excel- 
lently illustrated in one of the visions seen by the 
German seeress, Anna Katharina Emmerich. " I saw," 
she relates, " how the Holy Virgin's figure was enclosed 
by an image that filled the whole temple, and with its 
apparition threw into shade all the light of it. I saw 
under Mary's heart a glory, and understood that this 
radiance betokened the promise of God's most holy 
blessing. But I saw also that the glory was surrounded 
by the Ark of Noah, so that Mary's head arose above 


the Ark. Then I saw that the Ark was transformed 
into an Ark of the Covenant, and that again gave place 
to a temple. Finally, the temple, too, disappeared, and 
from the glory came forth a Mass-chalice before Mary's 
breast, and over the chalice there shone before Mary's 
mouth a wafer bearing the sign of the Cross." 3 

In this, as in nearly all the meditations of the pious 
German woman, it may be observed how the visions 
are compiled out of impressions from devotional pictures 
and recollections of early religious literature. Anna 
Katharina Emmerich was versed in the Apocryphal 
traditions, and had a good knowledge of the Church's 
system of symbols ; but she had not mastered in its 
entirety the wide sphere of the Catholic teaching on 
this matter. Had she done so, she would have been 
able to see in imagination a still longer series of " dis- 
solving views." She might have seen how Mary's 
figure includes one after another of those shrines which 
became holy by reason of their costly or divine contents : 
the grave, whose contours passed into the form of the 
altar ; the saint-chest, which disappeared into the altar- 
reredos, which became in its turn a Host-preserver ; and 
the tabernacle for the holy bread, which is likened by 
theologians to the mind of faithful communicants. She 
might have seen how, in a last transformation scene, 
the Mother of God, too, is lost in a symbolical shrine 
which is as great and inclusive as the whole visible world, 
and which is sanctified by God's union with creation. 
So close is the connection between the Catholic emblems 
that the mind spontaneously glides from one symbol to 
the other from works of art to life, from life to the 
world, and from the world back to those human minds 
in which all these marvellous ideas have been produced 
and combined with each other. 


In their rhetorical hymns the Church's poets sum- 
mon the thinkers of all time to bear amazed witness to 
the miracle of infinity being able to compress itself into 
the shape of a little wafer, and of an earthly creature 
being able to include that for which the world has no 
boundary. These hymns indeed continue to fulfil their 
purpose, even if in a different way from that intended ; 
for they cannot be read without a feeling of amazement 
at the sovereignty and power of pious imagination over 
uncritical faith. 4 But not only are we surprised at all 
the conclusions which have been reached from errors of 
translation, plays upon words and naive argumenta- 
tion ; we may severely maintain a rational disapproval 
of the theologians' manner of misusing that rhetorical 
ambiguity, the equivoque^ under whose influence " tout 
sens devint douteux, tout mot eut deux visages "; 5 we 
may carefully defend ourselves against the insidious 
smuggling-in of poetic symbols in a logical demonstra- 
tion a process which makes of the arguments coins 
with a double impress, which cannot be set in circulation 
without intentionally or unintentionally compromising 
one's intellectual honesty. Yet we cannot refuse our 
admiration to the powerful work shaped during the 
ages by pious thought and pious art in collaboration. 
If once for all we put aside the question of truth, we are 
justified in judging theological constructions as purely 
aesthetic phenomena ; that is to say, we can regard the 
Catholic Mass-doctrine and the cult of the Madonna as 
a poem, into which the faithful have introduced their 
ideas of the union of infinity with what is earthly. This 
poem is naively poetical, because in the description of 
Mary's history and in the choice of her symbols it 
expresses the worship of the beauty of Nature and of 
Life ; but it is at the same time romantic and pessi- 


mlstic, because in its radical idealisation of Mary's 
history it expresses the purely biological discontent 
with all the low and earth-bound elements inherent in 
the phenomena of earthly existence. By striving to 
release, in imagination at least, one person from all the 
impurity of human life, religious fancy has given form 
to the race's dreams of an existence more perfect and 
more pure than life as it is. In doing so it has, in spite 
of all the objections that may be raised by a contented 
and serene optimism, served a need which is not only 
religious and theological, but which is also aesthetic in 
the most universal and purely human sense of the 
word. All the grotesqueness in the strainedly ingenious 
expositions of Mary's anatomical virginity, and all the 
painful refinements in the ordinances for the handling of 
the Sacrament, ought not to conceal the poetic feeling 
lying at the foundation of these extraordinary structures 
of thought ; and the bizarre elements in the reasoning 
ought not to blind us to the fact that there is in any 
case an imposing unity and, in a purely formal respect, 
a logical sequence in these constructions. 

Such aesthetically philosophic systems as the 
Catholic doctrines of the Mass and the Madonna could 
only be developed during a period which did not recog- 
nise the right of doubt or criticism in the presence of 
that in which a divine revelation was seen. The 
mediaeval scholastics knew with an enviable certainty 
all that man needed to know about life and the 
world. To us, who know nothing, their views can give 
no answer concerning the idle questions of thought. 
As regards their intellectual import, we cannot from 
the Church's doctrines draw knowledge of anything 
save the strayings of the human mind. But Catholic 
dogma can be regarded also as something other than 


a theory. By all the artistic production germinating in 
the life of faith, and by all the unconscious and unpre- 
meditated poetry concealed in the theological structures, 
the early Christian and mediaeval view of life has some- 
thing to say even to an agnostic inquirer. It is not 
entirely dead, because it has been something more than 
an edifice of thought ; that is to say, because mental 
longings and bodily attitudes of devotion and veneration 
have been immortalised in the living and visible forms 
of art. 

Like all strange and remote art, this production can 
be fully understood only if we try with critical sym- 
pathy to place ourselves at a point of view which is 
not our own. Yet there is perhaps something in the 
Church's art which can come near to us immediately, 
and without any advances from our side. However 
completely we may have freed ourselves from religious 
doctrines, we still retain certain illusions, or rather 
certain inevitable perceptions of life, which enable us 
to understand the power of the ancient symbols over 
men's minds. The world has become wider since it 
discarded those doctrines according to which the earth 
was the centre of the universe ; and man has lost his 
rank of being the Prince of Creation. None the less, 
in this fortuitous life which does not know its pur- 
pose, there are moments when the great seems to 
compress itself into the little, and when thoughts or 
impressions make the mind a covering for contents 
"that the worlds are too narrow to include." There 
are experiences during which infinity seems to descend 
upon the finite, and during which men lift their happi- 
ness on high, with the pride of the officiant, with the 
humility of the receiver, and with the trembling rever- 
ence of him who knows that he bears in his hands some- 


thing great and costly, which must not be wasted or 
profaned. "Without presuming to explain the unknown, 
it should be recognised that existence in its joys and in 
its toils which is what the faithful symbolically term 
bread and wine can appear worthy of being regarded 
with the reverence which constitutes the innermost being 
of Church art. Where such a view of life prevails, there, 
independently of all religious ideas, the old pictures and 
poems may still call forth that response of recognition 
which all living art has the power to evoke. 




1. For a more detailed treatment of the religious art of the lower races the 
reader may be referred to the author's article, "Art Origins," in Hastings's 
Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, vol. i. Allied questions are also treated 
in the author's earlier publications, The Origins of Art, and Skildringar ur 
Pueblofollcens Konstlif (The Art-life of the Pueblo Indians). 

2. Of. e.g. Shairp's utterances on the nature-feeling of the Puritan poets 
(Poetic Interpretation of Nature, pp. 108-109), and Coquerel's reflections on 
the naturalism of the Protestant portrait-painters (Rembrandt et Vindiwdualisme 
dans Vart t passim). It is not possible here to embark on the important 
questions of the relation of the Reformation to Art. The difference between 
Protestant and Catholic views of Art is excellently illustrated in the controversy 
that was occasioned by Eugene Miintz's articles " I/ Art et le protestantisme " 
(in La Re'oue des revues, March and July 1900). Of. especially N". "Weiss, 
" I/ Art et le protestantisme," in Bulletin historique et littSraire (Societ6 de 
1'histoire du protestantisme fran$ais), No. 10, 1900, pp. 505-535. 

For the influence of the form of religion on literature among the Protestant 
nations, cf. Texte, J.-J. Rousseau, p. 444 (Collection of the utterances of 
Mme. de Stael, de Villers, Bonstetten, Sismondi, and Benjamin Constant). 

3. Cf. especially Chateaubriand, Genie du christianisme, P re partie, livre 1 ; 
4&me p ar tie, livres 1-2. 

4. Goethe, Aus meinem Leben, Buch 7. 

5. Cf. Dom Gueranger, Institutions liturgiques, i. p. 95, on the life of the 
community during the earlier Middle Ages. "For the faithful the Church 
took the place of both theatre and forum." 

6. Otte, Handbuch der Icirchlichen Kunstarchaologie, i. pp. 10 and 13; 
Bergner, Handbuch der Jcirchlichen Kunstalterthiimer, p. 260. 

7. Dietrichson, Omrids af den kirkelige Kunstarkaeologi, p. 87. 

8. Schultze, Archajologie der christlichen Kunst, p. 123. 

9. Cf. e.g. Historia Francorum, x. 15, "sanctae crucis area." A reference 
to this expression of Gregory of Tours will be found in Viollet le Due's 
Dictionnaire de I' architecture, ii. p. 15. 


1. On the difference between "arcosol graves " and " sepolcri a mensa," see 
Holtzinger, Die altchristliche Architektur, p. 229. 

2. The theory that the catacomb chapels were the model for the churches 



above ground is suggested already by Seroux d'Agincourt, Storm dell' arte 
dimostrata coi monumenti, i. pp. 143-146, especially p. 145 : "II carattere che 
1' architettura offriva ne' monumenti religiosi delle catacombe, modific6 quello 
che prese al di fuori, quando il cristianesimo cominci6 a godere d' un intera 
liberta." This view has probably been widely spread by Wiseman's famous 
novel, Fabiola, p. 188 : "The early Christians thus anticipated underground, 
or rather gave the principles which directed, the forms of ecclesiastical archi- 
tecture." An attempt to explain the transept of the basilica with triumphal 
arch and apse as a gigantically enlarged copy of the monumental arcosol 
graves in the Catacombs has been made by J. P. Richter in his Der Ursprung 
der abendlandischen Kirchengeb&ude, pp. 41-44. 

That the table-like sarcophagi and arcosol-graves in the Catacombs were 
regularly used during the persecutions as Mass -tables is maintained by 
d'Agincourt (op. tit. i p. 144), de Kossi (quoted by Wieland, Mensa und 
Confessio, p. 6), Caumont (Abdce'daire, p. 7), Kraus (Roma sotterranea, pp. 585- 
586, and Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, i p. 260), A. Schmid (in Kraus, 
Realencyklopadie, i. 35), Aspelin (Siipialttarit, p. 2), Hildebrand (Sveriges 
Medeltid, iii. pp. 253 and 607), and by most of the popular writers. In his- 
torical novels underground services at the so-called grave -altars have often 
been described : cf. Chateaubriand, Les Martyrs, pp. 91 and 238 ; Wiseman, 
Fdbiola, p. 133 ; Newman, Callista, p. 261. 

3. Wieland, op. dt. p. 72 ; Kauffmann, Sandbuch der christlichen Archdologie, 
pp. 120, 142 seq. ; Kichter, op. cit. pp. 4-9 ; Holtzinger, op, dt. pp. 229, 237 ; 
Mkolaus Miiller, Koitneterien (in Herzog-Eauck, EealencyklopOdie, x. p. 836). 
The three last-named authors maintain that the grave-chapels were used at 
memorial festivals and death-meals, but that regular services were never cele- 
brated in them. 

4. Cf. e.g. the general view of the theories of the origin of the Basilica given 
by Kaufmann, op. cit. pp. 145 seq. 

5. Minucius Felix, Octavius, cap. x. 

6. The stone altars, supported by independent legs, seem to have been still 
erected in French churches during the later Middle Age. Cf. Caumont, AUc6- 
daire, pp. 528-529, 682 ; Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire de V architecture, vol. ii. 
art. "L'Autel"; Enlart, Manuel d'archdologie, i. pp. 732-733. 

Cf. also Otte, Handbuch der kirchlichen Kunstarch&oloyie, i. p. 99, on altar 
tables resting on columns in German churches of the eleventh and twelfth 
centuries. This type has perhaps been borrowed by Crusaders from the Oriental 
Church, where it survived till our. own day. 

For detailed information about the earliest altars, see Rohault de Fleury, 
La Messe, i. pp. 47 seq. ; Laib und Schwarz, Studien tiber die Gfeschichte des 
christUchen Altars, pp. 10-12, 17 ; Stanley, Christian Institutions, pp. 187, 
198-252 ; Atchley, Ordo Romanus primus, p. 19. 

7. Cf, e.g. the cupola mosaic in S. Giovanni in Fonte, at Ravenna. 

8. Schultze, Arckciologie, p. 119. 

9. The statement that the Christian communities were legalised as burial 
colleges, in order that they might under tins name possess land and common 
buildings, seems to have been first made by de Rossi. This view has been 
adopted by a great number of investigators (cf. e.g. Kraus, Geschichte der 
christlichen Kunst, i. p. 37, and Roma sotterranea, p. 97 ; Kaufmann, op. cit. p. 
143 ; Dietrichson, Den JcirJcelige Kunstarkaeologi, pp. 15, 58). But there are 
also authors who think the theory unproved (cf. Sybel, Christliche Antike, i. 


p. 121). It is not within our competence to express any opinion npon this 
juridical question. The only thing to be borne in mind is that the Christians, 
even if this was not based on any legal ordinance, felt relatively secure at 
the places where the dead were buried. According to Kenan, it was only 
during the worst persecutions, under Valerianus and Maximianus, that the 
right of the Christians to dispose of their graves was not recognised (Kenan, 
Marc-Aurele t p. 539). As is well known, during the reign of Valerianus, Sixtus 
II. was attacked and executed "in coemeterio." When, during the worst per- 
secutions, respect for the abodes of the dead had once been weakened, the 
Christians were, as Wieland rightly states, more exposed at the burial-places 
than anywhere else (Wieland, Mensa und Confessio, p. 91). But the very fact 
that it was known they could be found there shows that these places had earlier 
been used as places of assembly. 

10. Kichter, Der Ursprung der abendlandiscken Kirchengebdude, p. 21 ; 
Wieland, op. tit pp. 76-81 and 91. The latter author, like many modern 
investigators, considers that memorial festivals were celebrated in these over- 
ground chapels, but not any regular service. 

11. Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, i. pp. 261-265 ; Kaufmann, 
Jffandbuch, p. 145. 

12. Holtzinger, Die altchristliche ArchiteJctur, pp. 5-6 ; Enlart in Michel, 
Histoire de Fart, I. L p. 97 (on French churches outside the town walls). 

13. Cf. Hennas, Pastor, cap. 16. (On how the heathen descend to baptism 
as [spiritually] dead, but ascend from it alive. Lightfoot, The Apostolic 
fathers, p. 472. ) The octagonal form of the earliest fonts was interpreted 
already by the old Fathers of the Church with symbolical reference to the round 
or octagonal grave monuments (Holtzinger, op. tit. p. 213 ; Otte, Haiidbuch, 
i. p. 17 ; Barfoed, Altar off Prcedikestol, p. 284 ; Dietrichson, Den kirkelige 
Kunstarkaeologi, p. 23). An expression of the same association of ideas may be 
seen in the fact that romanesque fonts were often adorned with reliefs repre- 
senting Christ's death and resurrection (Bergner, Handbuch der kirchlichen 
Kunstalt&rthumer, p. 276). 

As Barfoed points out (op. at. p. 284), the grave-symbolism loses its appli- 
cation to baptism as soon as immersion in the font began to be replaced by a 
sprinkling of the head. 

14. Schultze, ArcMologie, p. 135 ; Lucius, Anfdnge des Heiligenkults, p. 25. 
Walter Pater, in his historical novel Marius the Epicurean, has more beautifully 
and clearly than any one else described the influence of the Christian doctrine of 
immortality upon the cult of the dead. 

15. Kraus, JRoma sotterranea, p. 109 ; Lucius, op. tit. p. 305 ; Kenan, Marc- 
Aurele, pp. 524-525. 

16. Augustinus, Confessiones, vi. cap. 2. 

17. Lucius, op. tit. pp. 71, 283, and 309. 

Probably the oldest mention of these festivals is to be found in the narrative 
of Polycarp's martyrdom (about the middle of the second century) : "And so 
we afterwards took up his bones which are more valuable than precious stones 
and finer than refined gold, and laid them in a suitable place ; where the Lord 
will permit us to gather ourselves together, as we are able, in gladness and 
joy, and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom for the commemoration 
of those that have already fought in the contest and for the training and 
preparation of those that shall do so hereafter." Lightfoot, The Apostolic 
Fathers, pp. 196 (text) and 209 (English translation). 


A description of the Christian cult of the dead, romanticised but based on 
careful study, is to "be found in Walter Pater's novel, Marius the Epicurean, 
ii p. 103. 

For the heathen memorial festivals on the death-days of the deceased, and 
for the meals laid upon the grave, of. the rich collection of facts given by 
Lucius, op. cit. pp. 18-19, 22, 291 seq. ; Schultze, op. tit. p. 135 ; N. Miiller, 
JZoimeterien, in Herzog-Hauck's Realencyklopadie, x. p. 833 ; Kenan, Marc- 
Aurele, p. 33 ("The Emperor always keeps the philosophers' graves adorned 
with flowers, and offers sacrifices on their death-days "). 

18. Lucius, op. cit, pp. 27 and 29, cites utterances of Cyprian, Eusebius, and 
Ambrosius upon the Mass-cult performed at funerals, at which the souls of 
the dead were thought to partake of the blessing of the mystical sacrifice. 
For the Mass at memorial festivals, cf. ibid. pp. 71, 76, 318 ; Wieland, Mensa 
und ConfessiOj pp. 59 and 62, 

19. Schultze, op. cit. p. 139 ; cf., however, Holtzinger, Die altchristliche 
Architektur, p. 237. 

20. Schultze, op. cit. pp. 155 seq., on martyr graves and memorial chapels 
erected over the graves. 

21. Prudentius, Peristephanon, xi. vv. 153 seq. These verses are cited and 
utilised by Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen JZunst, vol. i. p. 41. Kraus 
considers himself justified, by reason of Prudentius's poem, in supposing that 
even during the persecutions grave-masses were celebrated in the Catacombs. 
Schultze, peculiarly enough, has paid no attention to the description of 
Hippolytus's grave-altar. 

An ordinance in Felix I.'s Pope-book, according to which masses should be 
celebrated over the graves of martyrs, has been often quoted. Cf. e.g. Durand, 
national, ii. p. 23 ; Kraus, Mealencyklopadie, i. p. 39 ; Kaufmann, Sfandbuch, 
p. 179. It should be remembered, however, that the earliest edition of the 
Liber pontificalis was written only in the time of Felix IV. Cf. Holtzinger, 
Die altchristliche Architektur, p. 120 ; "Wieland, Mensa und Confessio, p. 148. 

Kock, The Church of our Fathers, iii. pp. 10-12, describes old Anglo-Saxon 
memorial festivals, at which Mass was celebrated at temporary tables erected 
over the actual saint-graves. 

22. Otte, ffandbuch, i. pp. 40-42 ; Holtzinger, op. cit. p. 121 ; Kaufmann, 
op. dt. p. 179. 

23. Cf. Auber, Histoire du symbolisme, ii. pp. 179-180 ; Barfoed, Altar og 
Prcedikestol, p. 331. It may here be left unsettled whether the apocalyptic 
vision was a model for the old Christian cult arrangements, or if the reverse 
was the case. For an interpretation of the passage, see Koestlin, Geschichte des 
christlichen Gott&sdienstes, p. 6. Kenan, Marc-Aurele, p. 517, emphatically 
maintains the influence of the Book of Revelation on Christian Liturgy. 
Wieland (Mensa und Confessio, p. 45) considers that the vision refers to the 
Jewish altar, at the foot of which the blood of the sacrificial animal, which 
corresponds to the souls of the martyrs, was poured out. In his opinion the 
revelation has had no importance for the development of the Christian cult. 

24. For the influence of the heathen " cippa " on the forms and decoration of 
the confess, cf. Holtzinger, Die altchristliche ArchiteMur, pp. 130-131. 

25. Ibid. pp. 122-133. 

26. The legend of Saint Varus offers a typical example of the transference of 
a saint's body from the grave to the altar (Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, 
xii. p. 484 ; Acta Sanctorum, October 19, Ivii. pp. 432-433). 


27. Schultze, op. cit. pp. 119-120. 

28. As early as at the second Council of Mcaea it was ordained that every 
altar should enclose some relics. According to Lucius, HeiligenJcult, p. 278, 
this order did not create any new custom, but only established a usage 
already time-honoured. For historical information as to the age of the 
usage and its introduction into northern communities, see Bock, Hierurgia, 
ii. pp. 17-24 ; Frere, Pontifical Services, i. p. 2, and Religious Ceremonial, 
pp. 84-85 ; Hildebrand, Sveriges Medeltid, iii. pp. 254-255. Scholastic and 
symbolical interpretations of the significance of relics are set forth, among 
others, by Honorius Augustodunensis (Sacramentarium, cap. 102. JPatrologia 
Latina, vol. clxxii. col. 806, and Gemma animae, lib. i. cap. 134. - Patr. Lat. 
clxxii. col. 586). 

29. Daniel, Codex liturgicus, p. 54 (Ordo Romanus and Ordo Ambrosianus. 
The Gallic and Mozarabic liturgies contain in this passage no reference to the 

30. Laib und Schwarz, Studien, pp. 23-25 ; Kohault de Fleury, La Messe, ii. 
pp. 1 seq. ; Holtzinger, op. cit. pp. 133-146 ; Atchley, Ordo JRomanus primus, 
p. 20. For the comparatively rare " ciborium " altars in German churches, see 
Otte, Handbuch, i. pp. 102-105 ; Bergner, Handbuch, p. 269. 

31. Cf. the facts about German "ciborium" buildings adduced by 
Meinander, Medeltida altarskdp, pp. 97-98. 

32. Holtzinger, op. cit. p. 243. 

33. Ibid. pp. 243 seq. 134 ; Schultze, Archaologie, pp. 121 seq. In explain- 
ing the origin of the " ciborium " Schultze refers not only to the grave-buildings, 
but also to the little "aedicula," which in heathen temples was often erected 
above the images of the gods. 

34. Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire de I' architecture, ii. p. 15 ; Binterim, Denk- 
wurdigJceiten, iv. i. pp. 104-107 ; Rock, The Church of our Fathers, i. pp. 194*0.; 
Laib und Schwarz, Studien, pp. 45-46 ; Rohault de Fleury, La Messe, v. pp. 
24-25 ; Atz, Die christliche Kunst, pp. 17-18 ; Hildebrand, Sveriges Medeltid, 
iii. p. 310 ; together with the frequently cited works of Kraus, Bergner, and 


1. The relationship between saint-miracles and relic-miracles should not, 
however, be interpreted as supplying any ratio between the miraculous power 
of the living men and of the remains of the dead. There are many saints 
whose posthumous deeds are far more noteworthy than the miracles they 
performed during their lives. Cf. Lucius, Heiligenkult, p. 174. 

2. Cf. Maury, Croyances et Ugendes du moyen dge, pp. 116 seq. 

3. Lucius, op. cit. pp. 205-245. 

4. Cf. the facts collected by the author in The Origins of Art, pp. 278-286, 
and in Skildringar ur PueblofolJcens Konstlif, pp. 109-110. 

5. Renan, Nouvelles Etudes, p. 115. 

6. Le Braz. La Terre dupasse", p. 171. 

7. Schultze, Archaologie, p. 36 j Lucius, op. cit. pp. 144-145. 

8. Cf. Fustel de Coulanges, La Cite' antique, pp. 191-193. 

9. Schultze, op. cit. p. 136. 

10. Lucius, 02?. cit. pp. 181, 136, 182. 


11. Rohault de Fleury, La Messe, 1 p. 114. 

12. Lucius, op. cit. pp. 273-274. It is an exception from the general rule 
that is recorded in the legend of St. Wolfgang (t 994). When this saint became 
Bishop of Regensburg he offered the inhabitants the choice between having, after 
his death, his body or his miracles. People thought they had done good business 
in asking to have the relics, without which the dead man would not be able 
to perform any miracles. But Wolfgang, who probably saw through the com- 
munity's calculations, cheated all expectations. His bones rest at Regensburg, 
but perform no miracles, while, on the other hand, Wolfgang elsewhere gladly 
helps those who invoke him (Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, xii. p. 732). 

13. Lucius, op. cit. p. 136. 

14. Ibid. pp. 246 seq. 

15. Ephraim Syrus, Oarmina Nisibena, xiii., cited by Burkitt, Early Eastern 
Christianity, pp. 98-99. 

16. Lucius, op. cit. pp. 404-405. Saint Marcianus (t 388) exacted from his 
disciples the promise that they should bury him secretly, because he was 
distressed by seeing how, even during his lifetime, chapels were erected in 
different places to receive his bones (Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, xiii, 
p. 58 (2 Nov.) ; Acta Sanctorum, vol. Ixv. p. 541). Of. the precautions that 
had to be taken to prevent the dying Saint Francis from being stolen by the 
inhabitants of Perugia (Speculum perfectionis. ed. Sabatier, pp. 44 and 236 ; 
JgJrgensen, Den hellige frans, p. 261). For the stealing of saints' bones, see 
Sabatier, S. Francois d'Assise, p. 410. 

17. Lucius, op. cit. p. 191 (citation from Augustine). The outgrowths of the 
relic-cult were condemned in still stronger terms during the twelfth century 
by the for his time particularly enlightened Abbot Guibert de Nogent-sous- 
Coucy in his notable work, De pignoribus sanctorum, Patr. Lat. vol. clvi. (see 
esp, coll. 621, 623-627) j cf. on this author Abel Lefranc's article in Etudes 
cFhistoire du moyen dge dtdi&s a Gabriel Monod. 

18. Lucius, op. cit. pp. 177 seq. 

19. Richter, Der Ur sprung der abendlandischen Kirchengelaude^ p. 41 ; Lucius, 
op. cit. p. 189. 

20. Ibid. pp. 195 and 303. These pieces of cloth could, as substitutes for 
relics, be enclosed in the altar's "sepulchral chamber," Kraus, jReaUncyklopadie, 
i. p. 39. 

21. On the preference of parts of the body over articles of clothing, see the 
utterances of old authors collected by Lucius, op. cit. p. 405. 

22. Lucius, op. cit. p. 303 (citation from Gregory of Tours, Gloria Martyrum, 
28). According to a view 'worked out during the sixth century, and formu- 
lated by Gregory the Great, the pieces of cloth had not absorbed emanations 
from the martyrs, but had been transformed into their bodies. Thus the 
reasoning which is at the base of the transubstantiation doctrine was applied 
to the relic-cult. What is external, the accidents, remain unaltered, while the 
substance undergoes transformation. The truth of this theory was confirmed, 
it was asserted, by miracles similar to those which are related in the literature 
about the Mass. J ust as there were bleeding Hosts, so also bleeding pieces of 
cloth were known (Lucius, op. cit. p. 195). Those who believed in these miracles 
could not, if they were consistent, admit that parts of the body had any pre- 
ference over pieces of clothing ; but neither could they, if they upheld the 
analogy with the eucharistic transubstantiation, have allowed that the pieces 
of cloth underwent any change in weight 


23. Lucius, op. cit. pp. 386-387, 402. 

24. Ibid. pp. 298-299 ; Kock, The Church of our fathers, HI p. 354. 

25. Ibid. op. cit. p. 168 (citation from Sulpicius Severas) ; Dobschiitz, 
Christus-Bilder, p. 98 (citations from Arculf and Beda). 

26. Glover, Life and Letters in the Fourth Century, p. 285 (citation from Paulinus 
de 3STola, Epistola XXXL ). The same passage is introduced by Lucius, op. cit. 
p. 168. Calvin asserts that the fragments of the holy Cross would fill the hold 
of a ship (TraicU des reliques, opera m. col. 420). Baring Gould says, in 
opposition to this " ignorant calumny," that the particles in question are often 
as small as pin's heads and as thin as hairs (Lives of the Saints, v. p. 63 
(May 3)). 

27. Baring Gould, op. cit. iii. p. 95 (March 6). Similar stories are related of 
S, Tyllo (Feb. 9) and S. Abban (Oct 27). The last-named miracle is explained 
by Baring Gould as follows : There were originally two saints with the name 
Abban, who were fused by popular imagination into one person. The legend 
of a doubling would thus have arisen to justify the appearance of two saint- 
bodies, which were each authentic remains of a S. Abban. It need not be 
said that these popular tales were not recognised by learned theologians even 
during the Middle Ages. Where there was any inclination to criticise, the 
multitudinous copies of relics of the same saint awoke a lively dissatisfaction. 
Thus Guibert de Nogent, in terms that recall Calvin's polemic, jokes over the 
fact that John the Baptist's head was preserved at two different places. " Can 
one, indeed," he exclaims, "say anything more absurd about so great a man 
than that he had been provided with two heads " (De pignoribus sanctorum. 
Pair. Lat. vol. clvl col. 624). The curious correspondence between the writings 
of the mediaeval author and Calvin's Traictb des reliques are set forth by 
Lefranc, jfitudes d'histoire du moyen dye, p. 306. 

28. Cf. Lucius, op. cit. p. 164. The same criticism is applied by enlightened 
heathen authors to the ancient idols. Strabo, e.g., mocks at the numerous 
"veritable" palladia which were all said to come from Troy (Dobschiitz, 
Christus-Mlder, p. 20). 

29. Lucius, op. cit. p. 171. 

30. Digby, Mores catholici, i. p. 295, reference to Sardagna's Theologia 
dogmatica. S. Carlo Borromeo had eight copies made of the holy nail at 
Milan. One of these imitations, which was sent to Philip II., is now regarded 
as an original, and is exhibited as such, in the Escorial (Baring Gould, op. cit. 
v. p. 63). 

31. Cf. Him, The Origins of Art, pp. 291-292. In the modern Catholic 
Church it can still often be observed that pictures of saint-images are thought 
to receive an increased power through contact, The monks at Ara Coeli in 
Kome, who distribute to all visitors reproductions of II santo bambino, never 
omit to rub the small pictures against the wall of the glass case in which 
the wonder-working Child rests. 

32. In our summary of the Veronica legend the differences between the 
several variants have, for the sake of brevity, been omitted. For a detailed and 
critical treatment of all the Christian Acheiropoiit legends Agbar's and 
Veronica's Christ -pictures, the miraculous impression of the Saviour's form 
on the pillar at which He was scourged, and on the shroud in which He was 
laid, the Mary -picture at Dikaspolis and the pictures of S. George see 
DobscMte, Christus-Mlder (passim). As Dobschiitz asserts, p. 269, all these 
pictures have originated through contact with, i.e. through the impression 


of the model : " This thought is the natural expression for the Christian 
Acheiropoiit belief." 

The story of Veronica, and kindred legends, is also treated by Hackwood, 
Christ Lore, p. 110 ; and by Renan, Marc-Aurele, p. 460 (rich bibliography). 

It is worth mentioning that Aghar's cure corresponded exactly to the treat- 
ment that is still practised by the medicine-men of the Navajo Indians, when 
they let their patients roll over the great pictures made out in sand-mosaic. 
Cf. Hirn, The Origins of Art, p. 292; Pueblofolkem konsttif, pp. 109-110. 

33. Seuse [=Suso], Deutsche Schriften, i. pp. 87-88. 

34. Lucius, op. cit. p. 197. The numerous legends about animated pictures 
prove that between the saints and their representations there existed a relation- 
ship similar to that existing between them and their relics. Of. the stories of 
S. Catherine of Alexandria and S. Catherine of Siena, of S. Teresa and of 
S. Rosa of Lima, etc. 


1. Lucius, ffeiligenkult, p. 140. 

2. We deliberately leave out of consideration here the assertion of 
educated Catholics that in the relics men really worshipped the saint in the 
same way as God is worshipped in a picture or a symbol (cf. Esser, art. 
" Reliquien '' in Wetzer-Welte, JKirchenlexikon}. It cannot be doubted that 
relic worship for the earlier Christians as for the mass of believers to-day 
was based on utilitarian ideas of the help that might be had from the sacred 

3. Lucius, op. cit. p. 298 (utterances of Balaeus and Hilarius as to how the 
demons howl for fear at the graves of martyrs). 

4. Honorius Augustodunensis, Gemma animae (Patrologia Latina, vol. clxxii. 
col. 567). 

5. Cf. e.g. the description of how the faithful strove to touch Poly carp before 
he was carried to the pyre, Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, p. 207. Lucius, 
op. cit. p. 402, introduces several narratives of how the great ascetics during 
their lives were sought for by fellow-believers, who asked to touch their bodies 
or apparel. 

6. Rock, The Church of our fathers, iii. pp. 312-319 ; Lucius, op. cit. pp. 287 
and 299. 

7. Delehaye, Les Ldgendes hagiographiques, p. 178 (citation from Gregory of 
Tours about the altar in St. Peter's, De gloria martyrum, 27). 

8. Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire de r architecture, ii. p. 16 (art. "L'Autel") ; 
Otte, Ifandbuch, i. p. 98 ; Bergner, ffandbuch, p. 261. 

9. Lucius, op. cit. p. 278. 

10. Otte, op. cit. i. pp. 34, 61, and 139. 

11. For reliquaries in Swedish churches see Hildebrand, Sveriges Mcdeltid. 
iii; pp. 607-646. 

12. Bergaer, op. cit. pp. 350, 356. 

13. These profane objects of adornment were in many cases presented to the 
Church (Otte, op. cit. p. 158). 

14. Cf. note 17 to Chap. II. 

15. Cf. Sybel, Christliche Antike, ii. pp. 50 seq. Clermont Ganneau (Revue 
critique, 1880, No, 47) attempts to derive the form of the Capsa, not fronx the 


Christian sarcophagi, but from the old Jewish bone-chest, the so-called "ossuaria." 
Of. Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, ii. p. 476, note 7. "Woermann, 
again, thinks that these relic-shrines maybe regarded as "new, refined, and 
spiritualised editions of the prehistoric funeral urns in the form of buildings " 
(Geschichte der Kunst, ii. p. 243). 

16. Otte, op. cit. L pp. 149-150 (pictures of reliquaries in the form of towers 
and church-cupolas) ; Bergner, op. cit. p. 353. 

17. Enlart in La Grande Encyclopedic, xxviii. (art. "Reliquaires") ; Otte, 
op. cit. i. pp. 150-153 ; Bergner, op. cit. pp. 353-355 ; Meinander^ AUarskdp, 
p. 100. 

18. Of. Hirn, The Origins of Art, p. 291. 

19. Of. Lucius, op. cit. pp. 298-299. 

20. Otte, op. cit. 1 p. 147 ; Bergner, op. cit. p. 356. 

21. Otte, op. cit. i. p, 157 ; Bergner, op. cit, p, 356. For Swedish 
monstrances, Hildebrand, op. cit. iii, pp. 691-693. 

22. It was imagined that on their feast-days the saints were present in all 
places where their bones were preserved. Lucius, op. cit. p. 310 (extracts from 
Gregory of Hyssa, De S. Theodoro, Patr. Graec. xlvi. col. 745). 

23. A similar function was performed, Hildebrand supposes, by the 
many window openings in the church of S. Lawrence at Visby, op. cit. iii. 
p. 644. 

24. The custom of setting up relics on the altar was legalised by Papal letters 
and the resolution of a Council during the ninth century. Laib und Schwarz, 
Studien, pp. 2, 49, 65-66 j Miinzenberger, Zur Kenntniss und Wurdigung der 
mittelalterlichen Altar e, i. p. 19 ; Otte, op. cit. i. p. 139. 

Durandus, who wrote in the thirteenth century, mentions the custom of 
placing upon the altar small phylacteries (i.e. according to Durandus' 
terminology, small vessels of costly material) which contained saint -relics 
(Rational^ i. p. 54, French transl.). He also says that in some churches saint- 
relics and consecrated wafers were preserved in a tabernacle placed on the altar. 
This, in his opinion, is an imitation of the arrangement on the Old Testament 
Ark of the Covenant (ibid. i. p. 35). Where the altar was crowned by a 
" ciborium " roof, the small reliquaries, like the lamps and wreaths (the so-called 
" regna," which will bo mentioned in Chap. V.), were probably hung by chains 
from the roof. Cf. Sauer, Symtolik des Kirchengelaudes, p. 176 ; Otte, op. cit. 
i. p. 139. 

25. ViolletleDuc, Dictionnairedel'architecture,ii. p. 37 ; Rock, The Church 
of our Fathers, iii. p. 319. 

26. Viollet de Due, Dictionnaire du mooilier, 1 p. 70 ; Laib und Schwarz, 
op, cit. p. 52 ; Gaidoz, Un Vieux Hits vnMical, pp. 35-54 ; Miinzenberger, op. cit. 
i. p. 36. Delehaye (Les Ltyendes hagiographiques, p. 177) makes a reservation to 
Gaidoz's method of comparing the Christian relic-cult with the old magical 
healing-rites. For the cure in question, cf. Hirn, op. cit. pp. 285-286. 

27. Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire de F architecture, ii. p. 25 ; Laib und Schwarz, 
op. cit. pp. 52 and 69 ; Eohault de Fleury, La Messe, ii. p. 43 ; Dietrichson, 
Omrids af den kirkelige Kunstarkaeologi, p. 94. 

28. Rock, Hierurgia, ii. pp. 285-287 ; Otte, op. cit. i. p. 156 ; Bergner, op. cit. 
p. 355. The relic-plates described in what follows should not be confused 
with the diptychs in which the saint-calendar was recorded. 

29. Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. p. 68 ; Bergiier, op. cit. p. 264 ; Enlart in La 
Grande Encyclopedic, xxviii. p. 493. 


30. Of. Otte, op. cit. i. pp. 109, 110, 113 ; Aspelin, Siipialttarit, pp. 17-18, 
57-58, 107 ; Meinander, Medeltida altarskap, p. 99 ; Wallem, De islandslce 
Mr Jeers udstyr i Middelalderen, pp. 51-52, 54. 

31. According to Meinander's ingenious theory the wings of the altar-cabinet 
have developed from the velaria round ancient ciboria. Even in this author's 
opinion, however, both "the architectonic erection and the embellishment with 
figures were borrowed from reliquaries and retabula," op. cit. pp. 97, 103, and 


1. Of. e.g. Leprieur i Michel, Histoire de I'art, i, 1. p, 412. Illustrations and 
descriptions of the most famous of these votive crowns are given also in Par- 
mentier, Album historique, i. pp. 34 and 69. 

2. 1 Cor. xi. 24-25 ; Philipp. iii. 14 ; 2 Tim. iv. 7-8 ; Hebr. xii. 1 ; 1 Peter 
v. 4 ; James i. 12 ; Bev. ii. 10, iii. 11. Pictorial representations of this idea 
are often met with in earlier Christian art, e.g. in the great nave mosaic in San 
Apollinare Nuovo at Ravenna, where the martyrs, men on one side and women 
on the other, Avalk in solemn procession towards the choir, each with his crown 
in his hand. Of. also the fresco in Domitilla's Catacombs, and the mosaics in 
S. Cosma e Damiano, in S. Lorenzo fuori le mura, in S. Prassede e Pudenziana 
(all at Kome), and in S. Giovanni in Fonte at Eavenna. For information about 
other pictures of martyrs, receiving crowns from Christ or offering them to Him, 
see Kaufmann, JZandbuch, pp. 426-427. 

3. Barbier de Montault, Iconographie chre'tienne, i. p. 43. 

4. Eohault de Fleury, La Messe, v. pp. 101-115. 

5. Cf. the utterances about the altar as a place for Christ's body, collected by 
Rock, Hierurgia, ii. pp. 297-298. 

6. Rock, The Church of our Fathers^ i. p. 35. Auber, Histoire du 
symbolisme, iii. p. 263. 

7. Koestlin, Qeschichte des christlichen Gottesdienstes, pp. 75-76. 

8. A picture of this altar (which was originally erected in the church of S. 
Bartholomew, and is now kept in Das Grosse Garten Museum at Dresden) is 
given in Bergner's Handbuch, p. 262. 

9. The comparison between the altar and Christ's grave is often found in 
mediaeval liturgists. Amalarius of Metz, who lived as early as the ninth 
century, returns time after time to this thought. Cf. De ecclesiasticis officiis, 
Pair. Lat. cv. cols. 1144, 1154, 1155 ; JSclogae de officio mi$sae t Patr. Lat. 
cv. cols. 1325-1326 ( "Ecce habes hie tumulum Christi quern conspicis aram "). 
These expressions perhaps refer to the table-surface rather than to the altar- 
chest. But it is impossible strictly to maintain the distinction between these 
two parts of the altar. 

10. On the Eucharist as the absolute ruler of the altar - table cf. 
Barthelemy's notes to Durand's ^Rational, i. p. 325. 

11. Gezo Abbas Dertonensis, Liber de corpore et sanguine Christi (Patr. Lat. 
cxxxvii. col. 402). The same legend is found, quoted from Odo of Cluny, in 
Viollet le Due's Dictionnaire de V architecture, ii. pp. 16-17. 

12. For the consecration of these stone plates and their introduction into 
the surface of the altar, cf. Atz, Die christliche %unst % pp. 17-18. 

13. Hugo de S. Victore [?], Speculum ecclesiae (Patr. Lat. clxxvii col. 340) ; 
Sicardus Cremonensis, Mtirale, L. i. caps. 7 and 9 (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. cols. 


32 and 35) ; Durand, national (French translation), i. p. 117 ; Daniel, Codex 
liturgicus, i. p. 377. 

14. Of. Bion, Le Monde de I'eucTiaristie, p. 9. 

15. La Bouillerie, Symbolisme de la nature, p. 67. 

16. "Ipsum vides, ipsum tangis, ipsum comedis," S. Johannes Chrysos- 
tomus, ffomil. 83 in Matth., quoted by Bion, op. cit. p. 35. 

17. Innocent III., De sacro altarismysterio (Pair. Lot. ccxvii. cols. 833-834) ; 
Sicardus Gremonensis, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. col. 91). In the Roman 
Mass-ritual adopted at the Council of Trent, express reference is made to the 
memorial element in the Mass (Daniel, Codex liturgies, i. p. 76). 

18. Albertus Magnus, quoted by Koestlin, Geschichte des christlichen 
GottesdiensteS) p. 101 ; Martinus von Cochem, Srkl&rung des heiligen Messopfers, 
pp. 5-7, 70-72 ; Broussolle, TMorie de la messe, p. 164. 

19. The Koman Mass differs in this respect from the Greek-Catholic altar 
service, which is so distinctively theatrical in character that some writers have 
even thought that survivals of the Greek heathen ritual-drama could be traced 
in it. Cf. Koestlin, op. cit. p. 62 ; Barfoed, Altar og Prcedikestol, p. 361. 

20. Cf. Sauer, SymboliJc des Kirchengebaudes, p. 39 ; also Barthelemy in the 
introduction to Durand's Rational, i. p. xxviii. 

21. In Isidorus's De officiis ecclesiasticis (Patr. Lat. Ixxxiii. cols. 752 seq.\ none 
of the symbolical interpretations, so universal at a later time, are yet intro- 
duced. On the other hand, the symbolising element appears in an explana- 
tion of the Mass ascribed to Bishop Germanus of Paris (JSxpositio brews liturgiae t 
Patr. Lat. Ixxii. cols. 89-98). This work, however, forms an exception in 
Western literature of that period. Cf. Franz, Die Messe, p. 340. For Ama- 
larius and his Mass-doctrine, see Franz, op. cit. pp. 351 seq. Amalarius's exposi- 
tion was opposed by his enemy, the deacon Florus, and at the Synod of Kierzy 
(838) was declared heretical. 

22. Honorius Augustodunensis, Gemma animae (Patr. Lat. clxxii. col. 570). 
Similar utterances are found in Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. 
ccxiii. cols. 144-148). Some isolated remarks about divine service as a "theatre " 
for the pious are to be met with as early as Tertullian (De spectaculis, xxix, and 
xxx.), also in Johannes Damascenus (Parallel, iii. 47), quoted in Ancona's 
Origini del teatro italiano, i. pp. 12-14. 

23. Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. cols. 144 seq.)* 

24. Honorius Augustodunensis, Gemma animae (Patr. Lat. clxxii. col. 544), 
" Episcopus de sacrario ornatus procedit, et Christus de utero Virginis decore 
indutus tamquam sponsus de thalamo procedit. " The same thought occurs in 
Hugo de S. Victore [?], Speculum ecclesiae (Patr. Lat. clxxvii. col. 357) ; 
Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. col. 92) ; Durand, Rational, 
i. p, 27, ii. p. 42. Cf. also Sauer, Symbolik des Kirchengebaudes, p. 213. 

25. Durand, op. cit. i. p. 215, ii. pp. 21-22, 49-50. 

26. Sicardus, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. cols. 144-148). 

27. Innocent III., De sacro altaris mysterio (Patr. Lat. ccxvii. cols. 815 and 
894) ; Durand, op. cit. ii. pp. 101, 310. 

28. Sicardus, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. cols. 144 sgq.). 

29. For a more exact exposition of the mediaeval liturgists' explanation of all 
these points, see Ancona, Origini del teatro italiano, i. pp. 21-22. Cf. also the 
quotations given by the modern writer Durand (not to be confused with the 
famous author of the Rational), Trteor liturgig/ue des fideles, pp. 27, 33, 44, 
51, 53-54, 59. 


30. Huysmans, En route, p. 257. At the French " military masses" the 
elevation of the Sacrament was still during the last century accompanied by the 
beating of drums and blowing of trumpets (Broussolle, Thforie de la messe, 
p. 144). 

31. Durand, Tr&or liturgique des fiddles, pp. 60 and 65 ; cf. also Robertus 
Paululus, Appendix ad Hugonis de 8. Victore opera (Pair. Lat. clxxvii. col. 435). 

32. Amalarius, De ecclesiastics offidis (Patr. Lat. cv. col. 1144). Edogae 
de officio missae (ibid. col. 1327) ; Honorius Augustodunensis, Gemma animae 
(Patr. Lat. clxxii. col. 558) ; Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale (Patr. Lat. ccxiii. 
col. 134) ; Innocent III., De sacro altaris mysterio (Patr. Lat. ccxvii. col. 895) ; 
Durand, Rational, ii. p. 366. 

33. Cf. besides the authors just quoted, Speculum Missae, in " Svenska kyrko- 
bruk," esp. p. 89 (Sv, Fornskr-Sallsk. Saml.) ; Durand, Tr&or liturgique des 
fiddles, p. 67 ; Huysmans, La Cathddrale, pp. 161-162 ; Barfoed, Altar og 
PrcediJcestol, p. 376 ; Sauer, op. cit. p. 199. 

34. Durand, Rational^ ii. p. 177 ; Rock, ffierurgia, i. pp. 107-108 ; Durand, 
Tre'sor liturgique des fideles, p. 21 ; Renault de Fleury, La Messe, vi. pp. 172-174, 
194 ; Sauer, op. cit. p. 201. 

35. Gueranger, L'Anne'e liturgique, ii. 2, pp. 58 seq. ; Martinus von Cochem, 
ErUarung des heiligen Messopfers, pp. 54-55. 

36. Durand, National, iv. p. 108 ; Sauer, op. cit. pp. 158 seq. 

37. Durand, Rational, ii. pp. 69-70, 90, 102, 402, 406 ; Durand, Trtsor 
liturgique des fiddles, pp. 33, 44, 51, 53. The same thought is expressed by 
the way in which the deacons walk up to their desks on one side, and down on 
the other side. Innocent III., De sacro altaris mysterio (Patr. Lat. ccxvii. 
col. 823). For the symbolical ideas connected with the north and south sides of 
the church, see Gherit van der Goude, Bat jBoexken van der Missen, p. 29 
(Percy Dearmer's explanations). 

38. Cf. Chambers, The Mediaeval Stage t ii, pp. 4 seq. 

39. Cf. the facts cited by Cohen, Histoire de la mise en scene dans le thtdtre 
religieux frangais, pp. 19-23. Detailed information and a rich bibliography of 
the occasional "Easter-graves" are given in Chambers, op. cit. ii. pp. 16-20. 
For completion of these, see Rock, The Church of our Fathers, iii. p. 76, iv. pp. 
277 seq. ; and Dale, The Sacristan's Manual, p. 67. For a Swedish Easter-grave 
erected during the Middle Ages in the Cathedral at TJpsala, see Hildebrand, 
Sveriges Medeltid, iii. p. 563. For other Swedish Easter-graves, ibid. pp. 647, 

40. It is not impossible, however, that the simple forms of a dramatic liturgy 
in many cases survived by the side of the developed dramas (Meyer, Wilhelm, 
Fragmenta Burana, p. 32, in Festschrift d. K. Ges. d, "Wissensch. Gottingen, 
Phil. -hist. Cl. 1901). 

41. Best known is the narrative of Brother John, who fell down as though dead 
after uttering the words of consecration (Fioretti, cap. 53). Petrus Celestinus, 
the unhappy Pope against his own will, had before his elevation felt unworthy 
of celebrating Mass. Cf. Hello, Physionomies de saints, p. 72. S. Filippo 
N"eri, when he stood at the altar, was seized by such devotion that he could 
with difficulty collect his thoughts for the necessary ceremonies. JjzJrgensen, 
Romerske H&lgenHUeder t pp. 174, 194-195. See also the stories of S. Thomas 
de Villanova ; Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, x. p. 343 (Sept. 22). 



1. Of. Witting, Die Anfange christlicher Architektur, pp. 24-25, 29 seq. t 
48-56, 69-89. Witting's argument should be compared with Zestermann's 
theory advanced in 1847 (cf. the summary in Otte's Handbuch, i p. 277, and 
Kaufmann, Handbuch, p. 146). 

2. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, i. p. 9. 

3. The mystery is so terribly great that a man cannot retain his senses even 
when trying to explain it. Thus, Innocent III. says, when, in his commentary 
on the Mass, he begins the chapter on the consecration: "Deficit lingua, 
sermo disparet, superatur ingenium, opprimitur intellectus," De sacro altaris 
mysterio (Patr. Lat. ccxvii. col. 851). This phrase has been transcribed word 
for word by Durand in his national, without giving its source (Rational, 
ii. p. 227). 

Among modern writers there is reason to quote Yianey, the pious "cure 
d'Ars," who absolutely thought that a man could not survive a complete insight 
into the altar-mystery. " If one knew what the Mass is," he used often to say, 
"one would die, yes, one would die of love and gratitude" (cf. Durand, 
Trtsor liturgique desfideles, p. 25). 

4. Caumont, Ab&ddaire, p. 116 ; Otte, Ifandbuch, i. p. 102; Kraus, Gfeschichte 
der christlichen Kunsl, i. p. 155. Although, as Otte and Kraus assert, during 
the first centuries the use of chalices made of wood or of clay was permitted, 
yet it should be stated that even during the primitive period of Christianity 
a special Church industry had arisen. Cf. Renan, S. Paul, p. 266 ; Marc- 
Aurele, p. 546. According to modern research the costly gold glasses found 
in catacombs, and spoken of by earlier authors as liturgical vessels, have 
nothing to do with the Mass (cf. Schultze, Archaologie t p. 310). A short his- 
tory of the ordinances concerning Mass-vessels and Mass-apparel is given by 
Honorius Augustodunensis in Gemma animae (Patr. Lat. clxxii. col. 574). 

5. For pictures and descriptions of altar- vessels, see Renault de Fleury, La 
Messe, iv. pp. 46-47, 75, 102, 125 ; also the often-quoted handbooks of Otte, 
Kraus, and Bergner. Cf. also Tikkanen, Nattvardskalken i org& domkyrka, 
in Ateneum, i. 1902 ; also, with reference to the same gem of the goldsmith's 
art, Aspelin, Suomalaisen taiteen historia, p. 23. For Swedish chalices cf. 
Hildebrand, Swriges Medeltid, iii pp. 649-667. 

6. Laib und Schwarz, SLudien, p. 58 ; Otte, op. at. L pp. 102-103. Otte 
quotes some verses from the younger Titurel : 

Sammet der grune gewebete, geschnitten iiber Ringe, 
Ob jeden Altar schwebte fur den Staub." 

We transcribe the following note from Meinander's Medeltida altarsMp, p, 93 : 
Cf. Bishop Hemming's statutes of the year 1352 : " Tertius quod in Ecclesiis 
testitudinatis pannus unus sou vestis inter altare et testudinem superius exten- 
datur, propter immunditias removendas." Porthan, Opera selecta, i. p. 248. 

7. Atz, Die cbristliche Kwnst, p. 14. 

8. Cf. Dale, The Sacristan's Manual, pp. vi-viii. 

9. Acta /Sanctorum, xliv. p. 42 ; Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, x. p. 182 
(Sept. 12). 


10. Speculum perfections, ed. Sabatier, pp. 102 and 105; Sabatier, Vie de 
S. Francois, p. 376. 

11. Ibid. pp. 118 seq. ; J0rgensen, Den 7iellige Frans, pp. 220-221. 

12. Fornici, Institutions liturgiques, p. 41 ; Amalarius, Megula canonicorum 
collecta (Pair. Lat. cv. col. 881 ; references to Sixtus's Pontifical Book 
and the Council of Laodicea). For further references, and for ethnological 
parallels to the exclusion of women from holy places, see Westermarck, The 
Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, i. pp. 664-66. 

13. Durand, Rational, ii. p. 178. 

14. Sabatier, Fie de S. Francois d'Assise, p. 180 (reference to Acta Sanctorum) ; 
Jjtfrgensen, Den hellige Frans, p. 106. 

15. Of. Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire de I 1 architecture, ii. p. 21. As regards the 
form of the altar, people were guilty of great offences against the strict prin- 
ciples of style, especially during the rococo period. 

16. Concerning flowers on the altar-table, of. Binterim, Denkwurdigkeiten, iv. 
pp. 1 seq. ; Laib und Schwarz, Studien, pp. 45 and 77 ; Essays on Ceremonial by 
Various Authors, pp. 67, 103 seq. (Legg, On some Ancient Liturgical Customs). 

17. It is significant that, according to the modern Church usage, the relics are 
removed from the altar at the times when the Sacrament is exposed (Esser, 
"Keliquien" in Wetzer-Welte's Kirchenlexikon, xi. p. 1040). 

18. Durand, Rational, ii. p. 177 ; Sauer, SymbolikdesKirchengebdudes, p. 168. 

19. For the embellishment of the gospel-books, cf. the rich information col- 
lected by Sauer, op. cit. p. 178. 

20. The Catholic doctrine of symbols, according to which the different stones 
represented definite Christian virtues or holy persons, probably had its influence 
on the use of crystals and diamonds in the Church's art. Cf. Birgitta, 
Uppenbarelser, ii. pp. 220-222 ; La Bouillerie, Synibolisme de la nature, i. pp. 
185-218 ; Otte, op. cit. ii. p. 869 ; Huysmans, La-las, p. 422 (citation from 
Giambattista Porta). 

21. The candle -sticks were probably stationed, until the fourteenth cen- 
tury, on the floor in front of the altar. Only from the beginning of this 
century did they get a place on the Mass-table itself. Cf. Laib und Schwarz, 
Studien, p. 62 ; Hildebrand, Sveriges Med&ltid, iii. p. 555. On the symbolism of 
the candelabra, see Innocent III., De sacro altaris tnysterio (Patr. Lat. ccxvii. 
col. 811) ; Durand, Rational, i. p. 54 ; Augusti, Denkwiirdigkeiten, i. p. 117 ; 
Sauer, Sijmbolik des l&rchengebaudes, p. 177. According to Bergner (Handbuch, 
p. 338), the candles were placed on the altar to commemorate the fact that it 
was night when the holy meal was instituted. Such an interpretation, which 
would harmonise well with the old painters' way of indicating the time of the 
holy mystery at Bethlehem by means of a lighted candle, does not find much, 
support in the writings of the earlier authors. From the extracts from Patristic 
literature given in Barthelemy's notes to Durand (Rational, ii. pp. 442- 
446), the lighted candles seem usually to have been interpreted as signs of joy 
at the divine light. It is said that there was a precedent for the custom in 
Jewish ritual. Finally, it should be mentioned that the light itself, in Catholic 
symbolism, represents Christ (Durand, op. cit. i. p. 28, iv. pp. 418-430 ; cf. 
the explanations of the ritual at Baptism, Candlemas, and Easter, given in Dom 
Gue"ranger's L'Ann&e liturgique, and in Sauer, op. cit. pp. 181-191). 

22. Rupertus Tuitiensis, Dedivinis officiis (Patr. Lat. clxx. col. 171). Cf. for 
the purity of the wax Ivo'Carnotensis (Yves de Chartres), Sermones (Patr. Lat. 
clxii. col. 576). Other examples are mentioned by Sauer, op. cit. p. 1.87. 


23. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, L p. 157. 

24. Ibid. i. pp. 143-151, 159-171, 219 ; ii. p. 118 ; in. pp. 13, 257 ; Honorius 
Augustodunensis, JBlucidarium (Pair. Lat. clxxii. col. 1130). 

25. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, ii. pp. 112, 118-19 ; Honorius Augustodunensis, 
Mucidarium, col. 1130, "unde a pessimis non pejoratur, et ab opttmis non 
melioratur ; sicut solis radius a coeno cloacae non sordidatur, nee a sanctuario 
splendificatur." This passage is transcribed word for word, without citing 
the source, by Durand (Rational, ii. p. 266). The same idea is expressed 
in " Freidanks Bescheidenheit " : 

" Was der Priester mag begehen, 
Der Messe Eeinheit bleibt bestehen ; 
Man kann in keinen Sachen 
Sie schwachen oder besser machen ; 
Die Messe und der Sonne Schein 
Bleiben immer licht und rein." 

Quoted according to FRAXZ, Die Messe, p. 295. 

26. Rock, The Church of' our Fathers, ii. pp. 101-104 ; Rohault de Fleury, 
La Messe, viii. pp. 167-173 ; Otte, Eandbuch, i. pp. 252-253 ; Kraus, GescMchte 
der christlichen E/wnst, i. p. 522 ; ii. p. 502 ; Hildebrand, Sveriges Medeltid, 
p. 667. The liturgic combs seem to have survived on Iceland to the later 
Middle Age (of. Wallem, De islandske kirkers udstyr, p. 87). 

27. Rock, op. cit. iv. pp. 229-234 ; Rohault de Fleury, op. tit. vi. p. 125 ; 
Kraus, Realencyklopadie, i. pp. 529-531 ; Durand, according to his wont, tries 
to read a deeper meaning into the waving of the fan. This custom, he says, 
symbolises the priest's devotion, at which the " flabellum " of the spirit drives 
away all unclean thoughts that, like flies, can pollute his pious mind (Rational, 
ii. p. 224). For representations of flabella see Sommerard, Les Arts au moyen 
dye ; Atlas, ch. xiv. pi. iv., and Album, 9 e serie, p. xvii. 

That there was real occasion to protect the Sacrament from the proximity of 
insects appears from that chapter in Bishop Anno's biography which relates how 
a fly, to the horror of the holy man, snapped up a portion of the Host, which, 
however, at Anno's earnest prayers, the creature brought back again (Baring 
Gould, Lives of the Saints, xv. p. 46). 

According to the selections from ancient patristic literature made by Raible, 
Der Tabernakel, p. 26, even during the first centuries care was taken to shield 
the Sacrament carefully from the proximity of insects. 

28. Braun, Die liturgische Gewandung, pp. 514 seq. ; Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. 
pp. 35-47 ; Kraus, Realencyklopttdie, ii. pp. 194-196. For symbolical interpretations 
of the purpose of maniples see Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale (Pair. Lat. 
ccxiii. col. 78) ; Innocentius III., De sacro altaris mysterio (Pair. Lat. ccxvii. 
col. 796) ; Durand, Rational, i. pp. 235-238, 268, 434-435. 

29. According to Durand, op. cit. i. p. 238, the maniples also could be used to 
cover the Jiands, '* out of respect for the holy objects." For the hand veils cf. 
Kraus, Realencyklopadie^ ii. p. 105; Atchley, Ordo Romanus primus, p. 30 ; and 
the art. " English Ceremonial " in JSssays on Ceremonial, p. 9 ; Matthews, The Mass 
and its Folklore, p, 86 (citation from Pellicia as to how the faithful during the 
first centuries brought their gifts of Mass-bread to the altar in white linen cloths). 

30. Bergner, Handbuch, p. 471 ; Rydbeck, Medeltidakalkmalningar i Sk&nes 
kyrkor, p. 23 (triumphal arch in Vinslof church). 

31. Cf. the mosaics in S. Cosma e Damiano, S. Praxede, and S. Maria in 


Domnica all at Rome. Representations, e.g. in Michel, Histoire de I' art) L 1. 
pp. 71, 81, 83. 

32. Of. e.g. the mediaeval and early Renaissance pictures reproduced in Venturi, 
La Madone, pp. 274-276, 279, 286 ; Reinach, Repertoire depeintures, i. pp. 368, 
369, 371, 372 ; Broussolle, Le Christ de la Legende dorde, pp. 27 and 51 ; 
Bergner, op. cit. p. 482. 

33. GaiTUcci, Storia della arte crist'tana, v. tav. 346-349. Quotation in 
Kaufmann, Handbuch, p. 505. 

34. Kaufmann, op. cit. p. 342. Veiled hands are met with also in some repre- 
sentations of the worship of the Magi, and of the angels who receive Mary's 
soul (Venturi, op. cit. pp. 254, 388, and 402). In a picture of the Flight into 
Egypt in Basilius's Menologium, we see a woman who hastens forward, with her 
hands wrapped in a covering, to meet Mary and the Child (illustration in 
Detzel, Christlicke Ikonographie, i.'p. 223). 

35. For illustration and description of this composition cf. e.g. Schultze, 
Archaologie, p. 367. It does not appear probable, however, that the hand veil 
was at any time obligatory for all communicants. Thus, in the above-mentioned 
picture in the Codex Rossanensis a disciple appears, stretching out his bare 
hands to a bowl for bread. The Host is similarly received by an Apostle in the 
Communion picture in the S. Gallen Antiphonar (illustration in Bergner, 
Handbuch, p. 495). These representations correspond closely to an ordinance in 
Cyril's catechism, dating from the fourth century (see Raible, Der Tabemakel, 
p. 27). For practical reasons it was more advantageous to use the hand veils in 
touching the holy vessels than in receiving the Host. That laymen were 
earlier allowed to touch the eucharistic God appears from a resolution of the 
Council of Auxerre in the middle of the fifth century, according to which the 
women, but. the women only, were forbidden to receive the Sacrament with bare 
hands (cf. Westermarck, The Origin and Development of the Moral Ideas, i. 
p. 666). The later liturgical development has made all such statutes superfluous. 
At the modern Catholic communion, as is well known, the wafer is placed by 
the priest in the communicant's mouth. 

36. Anrich, Das antike Mysterienwesen in seinem Mnfiuss auf das Christen- 
tum, pp. 222 seq. 

37. Palladius, Historia Lausiaca, ca^. 143 (Patr. Graeca, xxxiv. col. 1246), 
quoted by Lucius, HeiligenJcult, p. 359. 

38. Schultze, Archdologie, p. 126, resolutions of several Councils set 
forth. For the more liberal ordinances of later periods see Dale, The Sacris- 
tan's Manual, p. vi ; cf. also Ivo Carnotensis (Yves de Chartres), Sermones 
(Patr. Lat. clxii. col. 515). 

39. Barbier de Montault, Le Costume et Us usages eccttsiastiques, i. pp. 151-156. 

40. For the washing of hands before Mass cf. Daniel, Codex liturgicus, i. p. 
114 ; Fornici, Institutions liturgiques, p. 83 ; Rock, jffi&rurgia, i. p. 114, It 
should not be concealed that the washing was interpreted by the mediaeval 
ritualists as a symbolic act, referring to the purification of the soul. Cf. Amalarius, 
De ecclesiastics officiis (Patr. Lat. cv. col. 1143) ; Honorius Augustodunensis, 
Gemma animae (Patr. Lat. clxxii. col. 558 and 587) and Sacramentarium 
(Patr. Lat. clxxii. col. 794) ; Duraud, National, i. p. 27 ; ii. p. 174 j cf. also 
Koestlin, Geschichte des christlichen Gottesdienstcs, p. 55, on the formulae of 
the apostolic constitutions for vpo<r<f>op<L (A server brings the priest water, with 
which he rinses his hands to symbolise the purity of the souls dedicated to 


41. Reproductions of these implements in Hildebrand, Sveriges MedeUid, iii. 
pp. 537-539. 

42. Durand, Rational, ii. pp. 298-299 ; Martene, De antiques ecdesiae ritibus, 
i. pp. 653-673. It is asserted, however, by ecclesiastical writers that the 
eucharistic God could not suffer any detriment from being thus wasted. Of. Gui- 
bertus de Novigento (Guibert de Nogent), De pignoribus Sanctorum (Pair. Lett. 
clvi. cols. 635-643) ; Durand, op. tit. ii. p. 279. Just as the Mass was not 
profaned if celebrated by an unworthy priest, so the body of the Highest was 
not exposed to any danger from an unworthy handling. It was, we imagine, 
primarily for their own sates that men were expected to observe an outer 
reverence and respect with regard to the Holy of holies. 

43. Rock, The Church of our Fathers, i. pp. 128-132; Kraus, Geschichte der 
kirchlichen Kunst, ii. 1, p. 474 ; Bergner, Handbuch, pp. 320-321. When the 
communicants drank out of a chalice, they were often offered, after the com- 
munion, water " ad puriticationem oris. " 

Fear of wasting the wine seems also to have influenced the directions as to 
the material of chalices. Thus we read in Sieardus Cremonensis, Mitrale 
(Patr. Lat. ccxiii. col. 55), " Debet esse calix . . . nonde vitro, quia cum sit 
frangibile, effusionis periculum immineret ; non de ligno, quoniam cum sit 
porosum corpus, et spongiosum, sanguinem absorberet." Cf. note 4 in the fore- 
going. The same idea is expressed by Durand, Rational, i. pp. 62-63. 

44. Durand, op. cit. ii. pp. 519-520 (Barthelemy's notes) ; Stanley, Christian 
Institutions, p. 94. 

45. It is significant that the priests on board vessels celebrate a ' ' missa sicca," 
i.e. an altar-service without the consecration and communion, for it is feared 
that the sea will cause the wine to be spilled out of the chalice (Durand, 
Rational^ ii. p. 13 ; Benedictus XIV., Commentarii, p. 177). 

46. Durand, op. tit. ii. p. 400. 

47. Frere, Religious Ceremonial, p. iii (quotation from " Use of Sarum ") ; 
Benedictus XIV., Commentarii, p. 108. Even into this simple gesture Durand 
seeks to read a symbolic meaning (Rational, ii. p. 311). 

The danger of the crumbling of the Host was naturally all the greater at the 
time when soft bread was generally used at Mass. It is probable that the stiff 
wafers were introduced because they could more easily be broken without any 
part of the Host being wasted. 

48. Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, iv. p. 19 (April 7). 

49. Over this basin were also burned pieces of cloth that had been stained by 
the sacred blood. Hildebrand, Sveriges MedeUid, iii. p. 535, gives some notable 
extracts on this point from Archbishop Nils Ragnvaldsson's collection of Church 
ordinances. These ordinances closely correspond with the prescriptions in 
Durand's book (of. Rational, ii, p. 296). 

60. Didron, quoted by Rohault de Fleury, La Messe, iii. p. 143. For the 
double washing-stands cf. Caumont, Abectdaire, pp. 303 and 619 ; Enlart, 
Manuel d'archfologie, i. p. 750. For the pipes from the washing-basin see 
Hildebrand, Sveriges MedeUid, iii. pp. 311-312. It is worth mentioning that in 
Catholic churches other pipes were sometimes introduced to carry the baptismal 
water from the font to the consecrated ground underneath the church. In the 
Greek Church the baptismal water was regularly poured out in the churchyard 
(Barfoed, Altar og Prcedikestol, pp. 276 and 384). 

51. Daniel, Codex liturgicus, i. p. 106 (Ordo Rornanus XXVIII. "abluit 
digitos, extergit et sumit ablutionem") ; Schneider, Manuale sacerdotum, p. 355. 


According to Barthelemy's notes to Durand, Rational, ii. p. 403, the drinking 
of the washing water was ordained as early as 1212 by Innocentius III., i.e. 
fifteen or sixteen years after Innocentius wrote the earlier mentioned treatise on 
the Mass-ritual. The custom had then already existed in some monastic 
orders. This custom naturally caused the double washing-basins to be regarded 
as superfluous (cf. also Sauer, Symbolik des Kirchengebdudes, p. 138). 

52. Rohault de Fleury, La Messe, iii. p. 143. 

53. Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire de I' architecture, vii. p. 198. 

54. A brilliant and apt, if too subtle a commentary on this work of sculpture 
is given by Vernon'Lee in her essay, "Art and Usefulness," Contemporary 
Review, 1901, pp. 368-370. 


1. Of. Thomas Aquinas's sequence : 

Caro cibus, sanguis potus ; 

Manet tamen Christus totus 

Sub utraque specie. 

2. The older Lutherans were, as appeared in the famous dispute in Sweden 
in the sixteenth century, as rigorous in this respect as the Catholics. See 
Schuck, Svensk literaturhistoria, i. pp. 253-254. 

3. During early Christian times the communicants brought the Communion 
bread with them to the churches. For the care with which this bread was 
prepared in their homes, see Daniel, Codex liturgicus, iv. p. 385. For the 
strict demands made during the Middle Ages with regard to the quality of 
the bread, see Durand, Rational, ii. p. 293. 

4. Daniel, op. cit. iv. p. 385. Summary of the same text, Durand, op. cit. 
ii. p. 488 (Barthelemy's notes) ; Rohault de Fleury, La Messe, iv. pp. 38-39 ; 
Barfoed, Altar og Prcedikestol, p. 378 ; and Huysmans, La Cathddrale, pp. 287- 
288. For further information about the preparation of wafers see Martene, 
De antiquis ecclesiae ritibus, i. pp. 315-320 ; Durand, op. cit. ii. p. 22 ; and 
Rock, The Church of our Fathers, i. p. 124 (Anglo-Saxon and the early English 
ordinances concerning the sacred baking). 

5. Otte, Eandbuch, i. p. 177. 

6. Speculum perfectionis, ed. Sabatier, p. 120. In a note Sabatier has 
collected a number of examples of that worship of the Host which in the case of 
S. Francis was the expression is by no means too strong "Tame de sa 

For a description and reproduction of one of S. Francis's wafer-moulds, 
preserved at Greccio, see J0rgensen, Pilgrimsbogen, pp. 78 sg, Cf. also 
J^rgensen, Den hellige Frans, p. 23. 

7. Laib und Schwarz, Studien, p. 26, quotation from Johannes Chrysostomus ; 
Raible, Der Tabernakel, p. 39 ; Durand, Rational, ii. p. 245. For a discussion of 
the ancient statements that the altar was hidden during the consecration, see 
Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. pp. 25-26 j Otte, op, cit. i. p. 259 ; Rohault de Fleury, 
op. cit. i. p. 54 ; Frere, Principles of Religious Ceremonial, pp. 69, 88-89, 285 ; 
Sauer, Symbolik de$ JZirchengebaudes, p. 172. 

One may suppose that the concealing of the act of consecration had its basis 
to some extent in the same fear that led the priest to utter the words of con- 


secration in a low tone. For it was thought that laymen also, by imitating the 
ritual, could perform the eucharistic miracle, and thus transform ordinary bread 
into God's body. Those who ventured on so heathen an imitation of the holy 
action were severely punished for their audacity. Cf. the anecdotes recorded in 
Barthelemy's notes to Durand, Rational, ii. pp. 499-501, and in Stanley's 
Christian Institutions, pp. 65 seq. (quotation from Moschus's Pratum spirituale). 
For chronological information as to the development of the custom of reading 
parts of the canon with inaudible voice, see Frere, op. cit. p. 287. 

Whatever may have been the motive for the introduction of the altar-curtains, 
this arrangement must have powerfully emphasised the miraculousness and 
mysteriousness of the transformation. 

8. Laib und Schwarz, Studien, p. 23. 

9. Binterim, DenJcwilrdigkeiten, ii. 2, pp. 148 and 172 ; Caumont, Ab6c6daire, 
pp. 573-574 ; Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire du mobilier, i. p. 251 ; Laib und 
Schwarz, op. cit. pp. 27 seq. ; Otte, op. cit. pp. 179 seq. ; Rohault de Fleury, op. 
cit. v. p. 78 ; Kraus, Oesch. d. christl. Kunst, ii. pp. 465-466 ; Sommerard, Les 
Arts au moyen Age ; Atlas, ch. xiv. pi. iii 

10. Barfoed, Oldkirkens liturgier, p. 33. 

11. Viollet le Due, Dictionnaire du mobilier, i. p. 253. 

12. Rock, The Church, of our Fathers, iv. p. 304. 

13. Huysmaus, La Cathtdrale, p. 266 (description of the monastic church at 
Solesmes). In the Cathedral of Amiens, in accordance with a tradition five 
hundred years old, the Sacrament is still exhibited in a dove that hangs above 
the altar. Raible, Der Tabernakel, pp. 148 seq. 

14. Hope, English Altars from Illuminated Manuscripts, pis. x.-xi. 

15. Gherit van der Goude, Dot Boexken van der Missen, ed. Dearmer, p. 60 
(reference to the resolution of the Council of Soissons in 1404 as to the erection 
of screens around the altar, that the priest may not be disturbed by the 
onlookers) ; Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. p. 57. 

16. The circumstance that it was only by hearing, i.e. by perceiving the 
priest's words, that it was known that God had concealed Himself in the wafer, 
gave rise to a curious symbolisation among the mediaeval interpreters of the 
Mass. A reference to the altar-miracle was found in the Mosaic narrative of 
Isaac, who blessed Jacob instead of Esau. The old man, it is said, was deceived 
by his eyes, for he did not recognise the disguised impostor, and he was deceived 
by his sense of smell, which told Mm the scent of Esau's clothes. Even his 
touch failed him, when he thought he was touching Esau's rough hands ; but 
his hearing did not lead him astray when he said, " The voice is the voice of 
Jacob." In the same way the pious ought to rely only on their ears, and when 
they hear the priest's words, think with all their might that the bread is God's 
body. Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, p. 931 ("Legendae a quibusdam 
aliis superadditae ") ; Broussolle, Th&riede la messe, p. 48. 

17. Thomas Aquinas, Lauda Sion and Pange lingua. 

18. In some mediaeval churches the eucharistic dove was connected by a chain 
with a bell on the outer wall of the church, which rang every time the Host- 
shrine ascended or descended above the altar. Eock, The Church of our Fathers, 
iv. ppi 240-241. As earlier mentioned, the elevation of the Sacrament was in 
some places accompanied by a ringing in the bell- towers (cf. Chap. V.). During 
the days of sorrow before Easter the Mass-bells are replaced by wooden rattles 
or by hammers that are struck upon a board. For symbolical interpretations 
of these signals cf. Sauer, Symbolik des JZirchengebaudes, pp. 151-152. 


19. Schneider, Manuale sacerdotum, p. 346. 

20. Exodus xxviii. 33-35. Of. Dietrichson, KirJcelig Kunstarkaeologi, p. 125. 
As corresponding to these sacred sound-signals, we might quote the handbells 
of the Egyptian priests of Osiris, the Roman "tintinnabula," and the small 
bells with which the Brahmans at their services invoke the god's attention. 

21. For the development of the elevation ceremony see Benedictus XIV., 
De sacrificio missae, p. 103 ; Root, Hierurgm, i. pp. 132-133 ; Frere, Religious 
Ceremonial, pp. 94-95, 135 ; Legg, Ewlesiological Essays, p. 43. 

22. Martin von Cochem, Erklarung des heiligen Messoyfers, p. 190. 

23. For the influence of the elevation-ceremony upon the mind of the faithful 
cf. e.g. Jjzfrgensen, Den Jiellige Frans, p. 45, and Gueranger, L'Annte liturgique, 
iii. p. 40. A noteworthy description of the exhibition of the Host is to be 
found in Wackenroder's Herzensergiessungen eines fcunstliebenden Klosterbruders, 
pp. 187-189. The author of this description, a fictitious German painter of the 
time of Albrecht Diirer, receives so powerful an impression from the holy rite 
that he instantaneously becomes a Catholic. 

Franz, Die Messe, pp. 22-23, mentions some characteristic ordinances, dating 
from the end of the fourteenth century, as to the devotion with which the 
elevated Host ought to be regarded. Special prayers were recommended or 
rather short pious invocations to be said at the moment (The Lay Folks 
Mass Book, pp. 40 seq., 285 seq. } 367 seq.). In Hope's English\ Altars from 
Illuminated Manuscripts, pi. v., an interesting manuscript illustration is 
given, representing Edward the Confessor and his suite doing homage with 
reverential gestures to the uplifted Host. 

24. Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, ix. p. 303. 

25. We have not succeeded in finding this miracle in any of the old biographies 
of the Jesuit General. The legend is probably derived from the imagination of 
modern devotional writers. 

26. Bion, Le Monde de I'eucharistie, p. 101. 

27. Cf. the narratives in regard to Germaine Cousin (Baring Gould, Lives 
of the Saints, vi. p. 216) and S. Maria Francesca (Shapcote, Legends of the 
Sacrament, p. 146). 

28. Bion, op. cit. p. 102. 

29. Ibid. p. 101. A similar miracle is told of Maurice de Sully, who was 
Bishop of Paris during the twelfth century (Durand, Rational, ii. p. 269). 

30. Shapcote, op. cit. pp. 105-106 ; Huysmans, Mn route, p. 328. 

81. Cf. the stories as to the increased power of the senses in the saints, given 
by Ribet, Mystique divine, ii. pp. 560-570. It is said of Anna Katharina 
Emmerich that she was able to distinguish consecrated and unconsecrated 
objects, that she felt herself "magnetically attracted" to relics, and that she 
could decide from which saints various fragments of bone had come (Clemens 
Brentano in his introduction to A. K. Emmerich's Das bittere Leiden unseres 
Herrn, p. 5). Similar stories are told of Sibyllina of Pavia, Ida of Louvain, 
and Louise Lateau (Huysmans, En route, p. 209). 

32. Cf. Sabatier, S. Francois d'Assise, p. Ixxxvii (reference to an anecdote 
in Bonaventura's Vita, which is not related in the earlier biographies of S. 
Francis. ) 

33. Cf. the miracles related in Mussafia, Marienlegenden, i. pp. 17-18, 20 ; ii. 
p. 59, pp. 20 and 43. 

34. Broussolle, Le Christ de la ttgende dorfa, p. 223 (reference to a fresco in 
S. Giovanni-in-Argentella). In Jacobus de Voragine's story of the meeting of 


Bernard and the Duke of Aquitaine no mention is made of the latter's horse 
(cf. Legenda aurea, p. 536). Similarly this miracle is unknown to Ernaldus 
Bonevallensis, who in his life of Bernard gives a detailed description of his 
strife with Duke William (Bernardi Vita in Pair. Lat. clxxxv. col. 290 ; see 
also Ett fornsvenskt legendarium, pp. 785-786). 

35. Liber miraculorum S. Antonii de Padua in Ada sanctorum, xxiii. p. 217 ; 
Broussolle, op. cit. p. 223. 

The most notable representations of this legend are Donatello's relief in 
II Santo at Padua, a painting by Campagnola in the same church, a minia- 
ture in the Codex Grimani at Venice, and an altar-piece by Van Dyck at Malines. 

36. Bion, op. cit. p. 72. 

37. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, iii. p. 203. 

38. Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, iii. p. 299. 

39. To this group of legends may be referred the story of the converted Jew, 
who saw how the Saviour bled in the priest's hands when the latter broke the 
bread at the altar (Gezo, De corpore Christi in Patr. Lat. vol. cxxxvii. coll. 

40. Broussolle, Le Christ de la Ugende dorde, p. 222. 

41. Johannes Magnus, Swea och Gotha Oronika, p. 498. This description is 
quoted by Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, ii. pp. 10-11. 

42. Acta Sanctorum, vol. viii. pp. 133-134 ; Gezo, De corpore Christi, in Patr. 
Lat. vol. cxxxvii. col. 395 ; Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, pp. 197-198 ; 
Ett fornsvenskt legendarium, p. 717. 

43. Weigel und Zestermann, Die Anfdnge der Druckerkunst, i. p. 155 ; 
Detzel, Christliche Ikonographie, ii. p. 457. In Weigel's work a large number 
of old wood-engravings representing the Gregorian Mass are described and re- 
produced. The motive seems often to have been used in letters of indulgence. 

44. For the iconography of the Mass of Gregory cf. Bergner, Sandbuch, 
pp. 546 - 547. For reproductions of northern altar-pieces see Hildebrand, 
Sveriges Medeltid, p. 284, and Den kyrkliga konsten, p. 96 ; Altertavler i Dan- 
mark, pis. vL, xiv., and Ixii., text pp. 32, 159-160, According to an hypothesis 
advanced by Mile, L'Art religieux de la Jin du moyen dge, p. 92, the legend that 
Christ Himself appeared -to Gregory had its origin as an interpretation of a 
Byzantine devotional picture, preserved in the Church of the Holy Cross at 

45. As further examples of anthropomorphic visions in the Host might be 
quoted the stories told of S. Teresa (Graham, Santa Teresa, p. 173) ; of S. Hugh 
of Lincoln and of S. Waltheof (Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, xiv. p. 400, 
and ix. p. 30) ; and of B. Maria Colet (Martin Cochem, Messerklarung, p. 72). 
Various similar anecdotes are cited by Franz, Die Messe, pp. 5-6 ; Shapcote, 
Legends of the Sacrament, p. 79 ; Ribet, Mystique divine, pp. 42 - 43 ; and 
Mussafia, Marienlegenden, i. p. 17. 

46. Klosterld&ning, pp. 338-339. A shorter summary of the same legend in 
Svenska kyrkobruk, p. 44. Cf. also Sabatier, Vie de S. Francois, p. 189, and 
Jjrfrgensen, Den hellige Frans, p. 110. 

47. Svenska kyrkolruk, p. 44. 

48. Bion, Le Monde de Veucharistie, p. 42. 

49. Acta Sanctorum, xii. pp. 941-942 (Raymundus Capuensis, Vita S. 
Oatharinae Senensis). 

50. Broussolle, Le Christ de la Ugende dorte, p. 226. We have not succeeded 
in ascertaining from what source Broussolle derives his assertion that the 


Host flew of itself into Hieronymus's mouth. As this subject is mentioned 
in connection with Domenichino's painting in the Vatican, " The Communion 
of S. Hieronymus," it is possible that we have to do here with one of the 
many legends that have arisen from interpretations of works of art In the 
picture in question, as in Agostino Caracci's picture at Bologna, the Host 
actually stands upright upon the paten, as though ready to float through the 
air. In Eusebius's [?] De morte Sieronymi (Patr. Lot. xxii.), which seems 
to have been the basis for the compositions of the Italian painters, nothing 
is said of any movement of the Host (of. especially col. 274 on the Saint's 

51. Biori, op. cit. p. 91. 

52. Stanley (Christian Institutions, p. 89) advances the hypothesis that the 
legends about bleeding Hosts have their origin in a natural phenomenon. It has 
been observed, he says, that bread is coloured red by a kind of small insects, 
the traces of which are like drops of blood. 

53. Of. Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, iii. p. 463. 

54. Cf. Baring Gould, op. cit. v. p. 229, and xii. p. 596 ; Bion, Le Monde de 
I'tucharistie, p. 72. The most famous of all stories of Hosts which bled under 
the knives of the Jews is that of the miracle in the Rue des Billettes in Paris 
in 1290. In the Church of S. Jean S. Fra^ois a service is still celebrated for 
the atonement of the injury the Sacrament was here exposed to (Huysmans, 
Trois eglises et trois primitifs, pp. 118-119). In the Cluny Museum at Paris is 
preserved a processional insigne in chased copper, representing the miracle that 
took place when a Host which two Jews sought to destroy in boiling water rose 
out of the kettle in the form of the Saviour (reproduction of this object in Par- 
mentier, Album historique, ii. p. 152). In this connection it is worth mention- 
ing the legend of the Jewish boy who, after having taken the sacrament at 
Mass, was cast by his father into a burning oven, but was saved by the power 
of the Host and the help of the Madonna. This miracle is illustrated in a 
thirteenth-century fresco in the cathedral at Orvieto. Gregorius Turonensis, 
De gloria martyrum (Patr. Lat. Ixxi. cos., 714-715) ; Broussolle, Le Christ de 
la Ugende dwree> p. 221. 

55. The miracle of Bolsena was by no means unique of its kind. For other 
stories of bleeding Hosts see Broussolle, Thtorie de la messe, pp. 174476. 

56. According to popular belief in the Middle Ages, the priests could heal the 
sick by touching them with their fingers after handling the Host at Mass. 
Kauffmann (Caesarius von Heisterbach, pp. 164-196) gives various examples of 
this kind of miracles. Not only the Host, but also the corporale, was thought 
to possess a healing power (Franz, Die Messe, pp. 88 and 94). It seems, how- 
ever, as if a certain shyness was felt of using the Host for these utilitarian 
purposes, for which recourse was preferably had to relics. On the other hand, 
the Holy of holies, as is well known, was a powerful means in black magic. 

57. At a fire at the Louvre the advance of the flames is said to have been 
checked after Bossuet had brought out the Host-shrine. This miracle is said to 
have had an influence on Turenne's becoming a Catholic (Shapcote, Legends of 
the Sacrament, pp. 115-116). 

For the use of the corporale as a fire-sail see Franz, op. cit. p. 88 ; Raible; 
Der Tabernafal, p. 178. 



1. Bradbury, The Life of S. Juliana of Oornillon ; Baring Gould, Lives of 
the Saints, iv. pp. 76-87 ; Acta Sanctorum, x. pp. 435-475. 

2. For more detailed information as to the development of the festival and 
the time at which, the procession was introduced, see e.g. Augusti, Denkwur- 
digkeiten, iii. pp. 304-311. 

3. Binterim, JDenkwurdigkeiten, vi. p. 347 ; Otte, Handbuch, i. p. 256 ; 
Bergner, Eandbuch, p. 358. Baldachins are used, when possible, even when 
the Sacrament is taken to the sick (cf. e.g, Daniel, Codex liturgicu$ t i. p. 169). 

4. Atz, Die christliche Kunst, pp. 227-228. 

5. Flaubert, " Un coeur simple " in Trois Contes. 

6. Shapcote, Legends of the Sacrament, p. 143 (quotation from S. Alfonso 
de Liguori). 

7. Cf. Matthews, The Mass and its Folklore, pp. 13, 15, 18, 20, 27, 93, 100 ; 
The Lay Folks Mass Book, p. 130. 

8. Cf. Gihr, "Aussetzung des AUerheiligsten, " in "Wetzer-Welte's birchen- 
lexicon, i. pp. 1713-1716. 

9. For the forms of the monstrances cf. Otte, JSandbuch, i. pp. 181-183, ii. 
p. 798 ; Bergner, Handbuch, p. 329 ; Kraus, Gfeschichte der christlichen Kunst, 
ii, pp. 472-473. One must distinguish from the monstrances the custodia, the 
exhibition- tabernacles used in the Spanish Corpus Christi processions (cf. Justi, 
"Die Goldschmiedfamilie Arphe" in Zeitschrift fur christliche Kunst, vii. pp. 
290-298, and 333-335). 

10. For Melchisedek's sacrifice as a prototype of the Mass sacrifice cf. Psalm 
ex. 4 (Versio vulgata, cix. 4) ; and Hebrews v. 7 and vii. 

11. Ps. xix. 5 (Versio vulgata, xviii. 6) ; Barbier de Montault, Xconographie 
chr&ienne, i p. 110. 

12. In his treatise Raffaels Disputa, Groner has, by an extensive but, in our 
opinion, by no means convincing argument, sought to prove that the Host does 
not occupy the centre of the composition. It is not necessary here to dispute 
this interpretation. To an unprejudiced observer the Disputa fresco must 
appear as it was shortly but aptly characterised by Velasquez in one of his 
letters from Rome, namely, as '* the great painting in which theology is har- 
monised with philosophy, and 'in the midst of which the Supreme Good stands 
upon the altar " (cf. Justi, Velasquez, i. p. 288). 

13. For the name of the composition and the interpretations to which this gave 
rise see Passavant, Rafael, i. p. 140, and Miintz, Raphael, p. 334. 


1. For references to the patristic literature see Binterim, Denkwurdigkeiten, 
ii. 2, pp. 134 seq. ; Durand, Rational, i. pp. 334 seq. (Barthelemy's notes) ; Laib 
und Schwarz, Studien, pp. 27 seq. ; Otte, Handbuch, i. p. 178 ; Hertkens, Sakra- 
mentshauschen, p. 3. 

2. Kock, Hierurgia, i. p. 260 ; Binterim, op. cit. ii. 2, p. 99 ; Wiseman, 
Fabiola, p. 301 (reference to Ambrosius, De excessu Satyri}. 

3. See Acta Sanctorum, xxxvii. p. 201 ; Baring Gould, Lives of the Saints, ix. 


p. 143. Falguiere's statue in the Luxembourg has made the legend of Tharsicius 
widely known. 

4. Bion, Le Monde de I 'eucharistie, p. 229. 

5. Baring Gould, op. cit. i. p. 453. 

6. Cf. Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. p. 27. 

7. Thiers, Trait4 del' exposition duS. Sacramentdel'autel, passim; Binteritn, 
op. cit. ii. 2, p. 134 ; Rohault de Fleury, La Messe, v. p, 59 ; Otte, op. cit. i. 
pp. 177-178. 

8. Cf. Schultze's criticism of the information given in earlier literature as to 
eucharistic vessels of the first centuries (Archaologic der altchristlichen Kunst> 
pp. 275 and 310). See also Raible, Der Tabernakel, p. 67. 

9. Rock, The Church of our Fathers, iv. p. 240. 

10. This etymology is advanced by Otte, op. cit. i. p. 180, and adopted by 
Bergner, Handbuch, p. 329. According to another interpretation the name 
"ciborium" refers to the Host-vessel's function of enclosing the heavenly food, 
tibus (cf. A. Mu'ller, art. Hostie in Ersch und Griiber, Encyklopadie, ii. Sec. Th. xi. 
p. 186). Hildebrand (Sveriges medeltid, iii. p. 568) considers that the Sacrament- 
preservers were the first "ciboria," and that the term was transferred from them 
to the erection above the altar. The general view is that " ciborium " is derived 
from the Greek name of a cup-shaped fruit, the form of which recalled the 
vaulted roof above the altar (cf. e.g. Raible, op. cit. p. 163). 

11. For more exact chronological information as to the origin of the new 
custom see Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. p. 73. It is supposed that the first man 
to begin the preserving of the Sacrament in the altar-piece was Guibertus of 
Verona (Bishop 1524-1543 ; cf. Raible, op. cit. pp. 238 seq.}. 

12. The idea that all Church art involves a homage to the eucharistic God is 
of fundamental importance to the ritual system of the Benedictines (cf. Dom 
Besse, Le Moine ISne'dictin, esp. p. 181). 

13. For exceptions from this rule, and for information as to the time when the 
sacramental lamp was introduced, see Legg, JEcclesio logical J3s$ays t pp. 29-30. 

14. Rio, JEssais liturgiques sur I 'ornamentation, des fylises, p. 102. For the 
conopies see Raible, op. cit. pp. 207 and 269. 

15. Rio, qy. cit. p. 99. 

16. Sense, Deutsche Schriften, pp. 166 and 462. Devotion towards the taber- 
nacle is one of the most remarkable traits in the life of the modern French 
Church. Some notable examples of the ecstasy experienced by the faithful 
before the dwelling-place of the Host are to be found in the diary of the French 
nun Marianne Herv6 Bazin (Mine. S. S., Une Religieuse rdparatrice, pp. 91-92, 
198, 347). 

17. For the influence of the Ark of the Covenant on the architecture of the 
tabernacle see Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. ii. p. 65. 

18. Binterim, op. cit. iv. L pp. 118-119 ; Rock, The Church of our Father.i, 
iv. pp. 235-236, 239, 264 ; Jakob, Die Kunst im Dienste der Kirche, pp. 74-77 ; 
Dale, The Sacristan's Manual, p. 23. 

19. For chronological and topographical information as to the origin of the 
freestanding and attached tabernacles see Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. pp. 59-60, 
72 seq. ; Otte, op. cit. i. pp. 183 seq. Hertkens, Salcramentshauschen, p. 6 ; 
Raible, op. cit. pp. 69, 171, 173 seq. 

20. For a reproduction of this gorgeous tabernacle see Schmidt, Sevilla, 
p. 75. Another famous example of this type is the tabernacle sculptured in 
stone by Corneille Floris de Yriendt. 


21. Cf. e.g. the little wooden tower at Senanque (Yaucluse), reproduced in 
Enlart's Manuel d' archdologie, i. p. 746. 

22. This type is represented iu Finland by a slender little tabernacle in the 
church at NadendaL An aquarelle by Albert Edelfelt is preserved in the 
Historical Museum at Helsingfors. For historical information as to the .tower 
tabernacle during the early Middle Ages see Laib und Schwarz, op. cit, pp. 29 seq. 
The eucharistic dove seems in some cases to have been represented on the top 
of a tower (cf. Binterim, op. cit. ii. 2. p. 172). 

23. Cf. Weerth, E. aus'm, JKunstdenkmiler in den Rheirilanden (passim}. 

24. Not only was there a fear of the Jews, who, according to popular Catholic 
belief, never omitted any opportunity of getting possession of the Host. 
Magicians and witches were eager to acquire the Sacrament ; and still more was 
the Holy of holies threatened by the Satanists, whose black masses haunted 
the minds of the faithful for centuries. Cf. the information as to the theft 
of wafers given in Huysmans's preface to Jules Bois's Le Satanisme et la maffie, 
and in Rock, The Church of our Fathers, iv. p. 241. Further information 
as to the black cults is to be found in Gorres, Ohristliche Mystify pp. 286 seq. 

25. For the fortifications around the doves and the other Host-shrines see 
Caumont, Abdctdaire, pp. 573-574, and Eohault de Fleury, op. cit. v. pp. 70 and 
79. The fortress motive is often met with in the embellishment of other 
ecclesiastical implements besides "eiboria" (Hildebrand, Sveriges medeltid, iii. 
pp. 327, 331, 351). The significance of the tower as a symbol of power is also 
set forth by Hildebrand (ibid. p. 569). 

26. Cf. e.g. Perate in Michel, Histoire de Fart, i. p. 32. 

27. The best-known examples are the graves represented in the famous ivory 
reliefs at Munich, at Florence, and in the British Museum. 

28. It seems probable that these grave-pictures, in a number of cases, imitate 
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which has also been the model for many 
reliquaries (Rohault de Fleury, La Messe t v. p. 69). 

29. Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. v. p. 62 ; Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen 
Kunst t ii. p. 466. 

30. Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. v. p. 67. 

31. Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. ii. p. 65. For the connection between the grave 
and the Host-preserver cf. also Honorius Augustodunensis, Gfemma animae^ 
(Patr. Lat. clxzii. col. 163). 

32. Cf. the reproductions in Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. v. pp. 65 and 67. 

33. Cf. e.g. Lorenzo Vecchietta's sacrament-house in the Cathedral of Siena, 
crowned by a statue of the Risen Saviour ; Benedetto da Majano's tabernacle in S. 
Damiano at Siena, also crowned by the Risen Saviour ; Donatello's tabernacle 
in the sacristry of S. Peter's at Rome, with a relief of the entombment in the 
top compartment; Andrea Sanso vino's sacrament-altar in S. Spirito at Florence, 
with the entombment in. relief and the Risen Saviour on the door of the Host- 
shrine ; Desiderio da Settignano's tabernacle from S. Lorenzo at Florence and 
Andrea della Robbia's sacrament-altar in S. Maria delle Grazie at Arezzo, both 
with the entombment ; and Luca della Robbia's tabernacle at Peretola, with the 
entombment in the lunette and the Risen Saviour on the door. 

34. Durand, Rational, i. p. 53. 

35. Hildebrand (Sveriges medeltid, iii. p. 570, KyrUiga Konsten, p. 129) says 
that, according to the Protestant view, these embellishments are not very suit- 
able. To pious Catholics, however it was quite natural to recall the Madonna 
in the decoration of the Host-shrine. 


36. Laib und Schwarz, op. cit. p. 30. 

37. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser t ii. p. 105. 

38. Thomas Aquinas, Sacrament, of the Altar, pp. 182-183. 

39. 2)e imitations Ckristi. p. 343 (lib. iv. cap. xi.). These expressions corre- 
spond generally with some phrases of Johannes Chrysostoruus, Hepl lepuxrtivr)* 
(De sacerdotio] (Pair. Graec. xlviii. col. 681). 

40. S. Bernardus, Instruct sacerdotis (Pair. Lot. clxxxiv. col. 786). 

41. It should not he overlooked that Birgitta saw in the high calling of 
the priests a reason for severely condemning all those who celebrate the Mass 
with unworthy thoughts (Uppenbarelser, i. pp. 143-151, 157, 159, 171 ; ii. pp. 
118 seq. Hi. pp. 13 and 257). Of., however, cap. vi. note 25 as to how, even 
in Birgitta's opinion, the Sacrament lost none of its effectiveness if celebrated 
by an unworthy priest. 

42. Jjzfrgensen, Den kellige Frans, pp. 29, 144-145, 176-178 ; Speculum per- 
fectionis, p. 94. 

43. Of. e.g. the contributions to the psychology of communicants to be found 
in Huysmans's En route, pp. 180, 278, 377-379, and iu Rodenbach, Mus6e de 
Bfyuines, pp. 190 and 129. 

44. De imitatione Christi, p. 359 (lib. iv. cap. xvii.)- 

45. Durand, op. cit. i. p. 53. 


1. C Renan, Vie de Jtsus, pp. 44-45. 

2. Of. Rohault de Fleury, La F~ierge, I p. 225 ("L'JiJvangile ne dit rien 
d'inutile "). 

3. Cook, Holy Bille with Commentary, N.T. 1 p. 320. 

4. Renan, Les J$vangiles, p. 542 (Appendice : Les freres et les cousins de 

5. Of. e.g. Meyer, ffandtuch, N.T. i. p. 67 (bibliographical information 
as to early interpretations of this passage). 

6. See Herzog, La Sainte Vierge, pp. 26-27, on Hieronymus's explanations. 

7. In Cook's Anglican Bible Commentary, op. cit. p. 7, this passage is, 
strangely enough, left quite unexplained. 

8. Herzog, op. cit. p. 3 ; Strauss, Pas Leben Jesu, p. 333. 

9. Cf. Renan, Les jfivangiles, pp. 49-50, 105 ; Strauss, op. cit. p. 344. 

10. Herzog, op. cit. pp. 6 seq. 

11. Ibid. p. 9 (cf. Brandes, Jesaja, pp. 18-19). 

12. Renan, L'figlise chr&ienne, p. 266 (story of Mary and the soldier 

13. Renan, op. cit, p. 121. 

14. Burkitt, Early Eastern Christianity, pp. 88-90 ; Renan, op. cit. p. 358 ; 
Augusti, JDentcwurdiykeiten, iii. p. 53. 

15. Lehner, Die Marienverehrung, pp. 185-186. 

16. Ibid. p. 128. 

17. Lucius, Die Anfdnge des Keiligenkults, pp. 420-421 ; Herzog, op. cit. pp. 
41 seq. 

18. Herzog, op. cit. pp. 2 $egt. ; Lehner, op. cit, pp. 132 $eg. 

19. Lucius, op. cit. p. 437. 


20. Lehner, op. cit. pp. 79 seq. ; August!, op. tit. iii. pp. 32 seq. ; Baring 
Gould, Lives of the Saints, i. pp. 422-423. 

21. Eerzog, op. cit. p. 78 ; Stanley, Christian Institutions, p. 321. 

22. Livius, The Blessed Virgin, p. 343 ; Kenan, U 'Antichrist, p. 347. 

23. Jameson, Legends of the Madonna, pp. xxii and 25. 

24. Kaufmanii, Handbuch, pp. 411, 460-461. 


1. The summary here given is based on A. Meyer's translation in Hennecke's 
Neutestamentliche Apofcryphen, pp. 54-63. 

2. Meyer in Hennecke's Handbuch zu den neutestamentlichen ApoTcryphen, 
p. 109. 

3. Hid. p. 109. 

4. Ibid. p. 109. Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nach den ApoJcryphen, p. 11. 

5. The commentators have not succeeded in finding out what feast-day is 
referred to in the story. For a detailed discussion of this question see Meyer, 
op. cit. p. 109 ; Hofmann, op. cit. pp. 10 and 25. 

6. For an explanation of this sign see Meyer, op. cit. p. 113. Hofmann, 
op. cit, p. 30. 

7. Cf. Luke i. 46. 

8. Meyer, op. cit. p. 113. 

9. The idea that Joseph was an old widower is found also in the Apocryphal 
Gospel of Peter (Meyer, op. cit. p. 118) ; but it is probably through the narrative 
of James that it has been disseminated in the Church. 

10. Cf. Meyer, op. cit. p. 122. 

11. Lucius, Anf tinge des HeiligenJcults, p. 424. 

12. Meyer, op. cit. p. 123, leaves it undecided whether the words " His 
praises " refer to the choirs of angels or to" the music of the temple singers. 

13.- Ibid, p, 125 ; Hofmann, op. cit. pp. 101-102. 

14. Meyer, op. cit. p. 127. 

15. Meyer in Neutestamentliche ApoTcryphen, p. 53 (Introduction to the 
translation of the Gospel of James). 

16. Ibid. p. 52. 

17. Ibid. p. 52. Cf., however, Broussolle, De la Conception a I'Annonciation, 
pp. 210-211, 264-265. 

18. Ibid. p. 51. 

19. Ibid. p. 48. 

20. Ibid. pp. 48 and 51. 

21. Hofmann, op. cit. p. 75. 

22. Lehner, Die Marienverehrung, pp. 237 seq. ; Tischendorf, JEvangelia 
apocrypha, pp. xxii seq. See also Backstrom, Svenska folkbocker, ii. pp. 159- 


1. The earliest Fathers already zealously defend Mary against the suspicions 
of sinful doubt which might be wakened by her answer to Gabriel (cf. e.g. the 
extracts from the writings of Ambrosius and Augustine given by Livius, The 
Blessed Virgin, pp. 130, 134, and 218). 


2. Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nach den Apokryphen, p. 6. Of. also Jacobus 
de Voragine, Legenda aurea, p. 587 ; Ett fornsvenskt legendarium, p. 3 (Jungfru 
Mariasagan) ; Backstrom, Svenska folkbb'cker, ii. p. 163 (Jesu barndomsbok). 

3. The mothers of Mary and Samuel both bore the name Anna, and were 
both religious poetesses. Every time Samuel's father, Elkanah, offered a sacri- 
fice, he gave a part to his wife Pennina and to the children he had by her, but 
to Anna who was barren he gave a double part. Anna was mocked by his other 
wife, just as her namesake in the Apocryphal gospel was mocked by her servant. 
She prayed with tears to the Highest that she might be freed from her dis- 
honour, and she promised to give her child to Him for its lifetime. When 
her son was born she thanked God in a song of praise, and triumphed over 
those who had despised her. In a sequence in Anna's honour (printed in 
Analecta hymnica, viii. p. 102) Joachim's wife is compared with the mother 
of Tobias- 
Pater mittens Annae natum 

Cum chirographo ad cognatum 
Raphaelem reperit. 

This Anna also had borne a pious son, who was her only child ; her husband 
Tobit was charitable like Joachim, and he too divided his sacrifice into three 
parts. Lastly, in the scene where Anna awaits her husband, a certain analogy 
to the story of Tobias's return home can be traced. The author of the sequence 
is guilty of an error, however, when in the following strophe he sings 

Anna Eachuelis nata 
Sept em viris viduata 
Tobiae conjungitur. 

JFor Rachuel's daughter and Tobias's wife, who married seven times but each 
time became a widow immediately after the wedding, was not called Anna 
but Sarah. The analogies pointed out, however, make it intelligible why the 
Gospel of James led people's thoughts to the popular romance of Tobias. It 
has also been thought possible to find correspondences to the Old Testament 
narrative in hagiographical literature. Nicolaus of Myra was the son of an 
Anna, who had given up the hope of having any children ; and the saintly 
Pierre Fourier, who was consecrated to the service of God from childhood, was 
borne by a woman who bore the same name as the mothers of Samuel and Mary. 
In these coincidences Ernest Hello sees a proof that the name Anna was 
deliberately selected to signify the types of the pious mother (of. JPhysionomies 
de Saints, pp. 243-245). 

4. Another expression of the same popular thought is to be found in the idea 
that the mightiest magicians are men born from forbidden unions, i.e. produced 
by a transgression of binding and universally recognised moral law (cf. Him, 
Forstudier till en konstfilosofi, p. 118). 

5. An utterance of Bede on the birth of John the Baptist may here be cited 
(Homilia in vigilia, S. Joannis JBaptistae, Patr. Lat. xciv. col. 205) ; ' ' Sic 
Jacob et Joseph patriarchae, sic Samson fortissimus ducum, et prophetarum 
eximius Samuel steriles diu corpore, sed fecundas semper virtutibus habuere 
genitrices, ut miraculo nativitatis natorum dignitas nosceretur, et probarentur 
sublimes in vita futuri, qui in ipso vitae exortu conditionis humanae jura traxx- 
scenderent." Quoted incompletely by Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nach den 
ApoJcryphen, p. 23. 


6. Of. A. Meyer in Handbucli zu den neutestamentlichen Apolcryphen, p. 110. 

7. For a detailed summary of the discussions of the age of this saint's day 
see Augusti, Denkwiirdigkeiten, iii pp. 102-104. Cf. also Lucius, Die Anfdnge 
des Heiligenkults, p. 486 ; Herzog, La Sainte Vierge 3 pp. 79-80. 

In a poem ascribed to Wace is related a legend of the origin of the Birth- 
day festival. On a certain September night, during many successive years, 
a pious man had heard the angels in heaven sending up a clear and loud 
song. When he observed that the concert was always repeated on the same 
date, he prayed "with prayers and fasting and mortification" that God would 
let him know why the people of Heaven celebrated this particular night with 
such solemn music. Finally, he was favoured by a vision in which it was 
explained to him that it was Mary's birth that was celebrated in Heaven. He 
immediately betook himself to Rome to communicate his vision to the Pope, 
and after the latter was convinced of the man's sincerity a great Council was 
summoned at which the keeping of Mary's birthday was commanded through- 
out Christendom. 

The poem is printed in extenso in Reinsch, Die Pseudo-Evangelien wn Jesu 
und Marias JZindheit in der romanischen und germanischen LiUratur> 
pp, 21-25. 

The same legend is related briefly by Johannes Beleth (Rationale divinorum 
qfficiorum, cap. 149, Patr. Lat. ccii. col. 152), by Durand (National, v. p. 85), 
and by Jacobus de Voragine (Legenda aurea, p. 590). 

8. The miraculous element in John's conception is cited by Augustine as one 
of the reasons why the Church celebrated his birth. Another reason was the 
testimony to John's greatness which the Saviour Himself had given (Matt. xi. 
11). On the other hand, Augustine does not mention the sanctification in the 
womb. See Augustine's speech at a feast of S. John, translated by Augusti, 
Denkwurdigkaiten, iii. pp. 162-167. 

9. The mediaeval writers in their sermons give a detailed account of the 
reasons for the celebration of the saint's JSirth-d&'y. S. Bernard cites the words 
of the angel to Zacharias : " Many shall rejoice at his birth " (Luke i. 14). He 
further mentions the miracle which took place when, at the Visitation, John the 
Baptist " the burning and shining light " (John v. 35) was lit with a heavenly 
fire even before his birth : " New was this fire, which a little before descended 
from Heaven, and through Gabriel's mouth entered the Virgin's ear, thence 
from the Virgin's mouth through the mother's ear to reach the child. From 
that moment the Holy Ghost filled its chosen vessel, and made it a lamp 
for God" S. Bernard, In nativitate S. Joannis JSaptistae s&rmo (Patr. Lat. 
clxxxiii. cols, 397-401). Cf. also Bernard's JEpistola ad canonicos Lugdunenses 
(Patr. Lat. clxxxii. cols. 333-334). The same line of thought is pursued, with 
new rhetorical embroiderings, by the Abbot Guerricus in various sermons. In 
these is also treated the miraculous element in John's birth, and the angel's 
words as to the joy his birth would arouse Guerricus Abbas, In nativitate 
S. Joannis Baptistae sermones (Patr. Lat. clxxxv. 1, cols. 163-171). More im- 
portant, however, is an anonymous sermon on John's ten privileges. Accord- 
ing to Migne, this sermon seems to have been written at a time when Mary's 
birthday was not yet recognised as a Church festival. The first of John's 
privileges, we are told, is that his birth was announced by an angel, the second 
that he was sanctified in Ms mother's womb, the third that even before his 
birth he rejoiced in God, and the fourth that there was joy over his birth. 
" Blush, Devil," exclaims the preacher, " blush thy because efforts have been 


thwarted. . . . Through thy endeavours was it brought about that all men are 
conceived in sin. and born in sorrow. But lo ! this one is sanctified even in his 
mother's womb, conies forth with joy, and spreads joy over the world at his 
birth" (Appendix ad S. JBernarduin ; Sermo in nativitate S. Joannis JBaptistae 
De decem privilegiis ej-w-s, Pair. Lat. clxxxiv. cols. 991 seq.}. 

10. S. Bernardus, In assumptione sermo, ii. (Patr. Lot. clxxxiii. cols. 420- 
421) (quoted by Herzog, La Saints, Vierge, p. 84) ; JSpistola ad canonicos 
Lugdunenses (Pair. Lat. clxxxii. col. 834). Of, also Durand, National, v. 
p. 85. 

11 f Of. Herzog, op. cit. pp. 53 seq. 

12. August!, DenkwurdigJceiten, iii. p. 95. 

13. Ibid. p. 102 j Heizog, op. cit. p. 107, 

14. Ibid. p. 105 (extract from a sermon by Andreas Gretensis on Mary's 
birthday, in which the writer praises St. Anna). 

15. The festival is mentioned under this name as late as the tenth century in 
Basilius Porphyrogenitus, Menologiurn (Patr. Graeca, cxvii. col. 195).- Herzog 
(op. cit. p. 105) has collected from the G-reek Patrology a great deal of informa- 
tion as to the festival of the Conception. 

16. Herzog, op. cit. p. 105. 

17. Augusti, op. cit. iii. p. 96 ; Waterton, Pietas Mariana JBritannica, p. 128 ; 
Bishop, The Origins of the Feast of the Conception, p. 8 ; Herzog, op. dt. p. 
106. The earlier writers make many incorrect statements which have been 
corrected by later investigation. For a general bibliography of the subject see 
Herzog's work. 

18. Ad opera S. Anselmi appendix Spuria ; Sermo de conceptione Mariae 
(Patr. Lat. clix. cols. 319 seq.). Elsi's vision is related in many mediaeval 
collections of legends, e.g. in Wace's La Conception Nostre Dame and in 
Gautier de Coincy's Miracles de la Vierge. See Nielsen, IZvangeUesagn, pp. 

In some variations Mary's envoy is S. Nicolas, who was a patron of all sea- 
farers (cf. Waterton, op. cit. p. 128). 

19. The clerk's offence was that, in spite of his worship of the Virgin Mary, 
he had entered into an earthly marriage. The monk had betaken himself upon 
a nocturnal adventure, and was drowned on his sinful way. His soul, how- 
ever, was reunited to his body after he, or rather the soul, had promised to 
make an effective propaganda of the Conception festival. Both those legends 
are related in the sermon of Pseudo-Anselmus (Patr. Zat. clix.), which has 
already been referred to, and are found in most collections of Mary-miracles. 
The condition of the Conception festival, however, seems to have been added 
by the anonymous preacher. 

20. S. Bernardus, Epistola ad canonicos Lugdwn,ense$ (Patr. Lat. clxxxii.). 

21. Eadmer, Osbert, Petrus Comestor, Nicolaus de S. Alban, Oger, and 
others attempted to refute S. Bernard's assertions in dogmatic tracts (cf. 
Herzog, op. cit. pp. 119-120). They wished to show that God was perfectly 
well able to free His own mother from the guilt which weighed upon the rest of 
the human race. Petrus Comestor, or the unknown author of a sermon which 
bears his name, even maintained, in opposition to S. Bernard, that Mary was 
sanctified before her conception, i.e. before she existed at all. This assertion is 
not, however, quite so absurd as one is tempted to think. For it has been 
argued that the talk as to the Yirgin's purity before her conception probably 
refers to a popular belief prevalent in the Middle Ages, according to which 


Mary's organism was formed from a piece separated by God from Adam's 
body "before the first man stained himself by sin (cf. Scheeben, " Empfa'ngniss, 
Unbefleckte " in Wetzer-Welte, Kirchenlexicon, iv. p. 470). 

22. Ad opera S. Anselmi appendix ; Sermo de conceptione B. Mariae (Pair. 
Lat. clix. cols. 319-324). This text is summarised and criticised in detail by 
Herzog, op. cit. pp. 120-121. The authorship of the remarkable sermon has 
often been ascribed to Anselm's nephew (cf. Rigg, S. Anselm of Canterbury, 
pp. 206 seq.). 

23. Cf. Herzog, op. cit. pp. 139 seq. 

24. To remove the effects of S. Bernard's criticisms of the Gonception dogma, 
a legend was spread that the great abbot had revealed himself to a lay brother 
at Clairvaux, clad in a snow-white garment, but with a large brown stain on 
his breast. This stain he carried, S. Bernard said, because he had written what 
he ought not to have written concerning the Madonna's conception. The lay 
brother related his vision to the monks, and one of them carefully noted down 
his narrative. But when the matter was later debated at a general council the 
writing was burned, " for the abbots valued Bernard's good name more than the 
Virgin's honour." The legend is told in a letter from Nicolas '.of S. Albans to 
Peter of Celles (Pair. Lat. ccii. col. 623). The letter is quoted in Bridgett, 
Our Lady's Dowry, p. 29. 

For the rest, the force of Bernard's letter to the canons of Lyons was 
minimised by the addition of a phrase at the end, in which the writer previously 
submitted to the Pope's opinion in the matter of Mary's conception (Pair. 
Lat. clxxxii. col. 336). 

25. Seville and Naples, for example, are headquarters of the cult of Anna, 
as well as of the worship of "Maria Concetta." 

26. Tischendorf, JSvangelia apocrypha, p. 58. Peculiarly enough the compiler 
of this gospel has omitted to exclude the line in the Gospel of James, according 
to which the angel expressly says to Joachim, "She shall conceive of thy seed." 
(Cf. Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu, pp. 24-25. ) That during the tenth century in the 
Eastern Church a belief existed in some places of a virginal conception of Anna, 
appears from an expression in Basilius Porphyrogenitus's Menologium, in 
which this heresy is controverted (Patr. @raeca t cxvii. col. 195). According 
to Hofmann, op. cit. p. 24, it was in the twelfth century that Anna began to 
be regarded in Europe as a virgin. 

27. As Trithemms's (or Tritenheim's) important writings have not been acces- 
sible to the author, it has been impossible to express a more definite opinion 
about his doctrine. Some noteworthy extracts are given by Schaumkell, 
DerKultus der heiligenAnna, pp. 36 seq., and by Male, I? Art religieux de la Jin 
du moyen dge, pp. 229-230. These extracts will be touched upon in greater 
detail in the following, viz. note 53 in this chapter. 

28. Benedictus XIV., De Jesu Ghristi wwtrisque ejusfestis, p. 304. 

29. The legend of Anna and Fanuel has been interpolated in Wace's poem 
Conception Nostre Dame, and in Herman de Valencienne's Bible. Detailed 
bibliographical information is to be found in Chabaneau's introduction, Le 
JRomanz de Saint Fanuel. For a summary of the legend see Nielsen, JBvan- 
geliesagn, pp. 13 seg_. 

30. The poem does not expressly say that the fruits in question are derived 
from the above-mentioned tree (cf. Chabaneau, op. tit. p. 109). It is, however, 
a justifiable supposition that the poet was here thinking of the same miraculous 
tree described in detail at the beginning of the legend. 


31. Chabaneau, op. cit. p. 20 : 

Cele nuit jurent il ensemble, 
Si egendrerent, ce me semble, 
Nostre dame sainte Marie. 

32. Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu, p. 17. 

33. Ibid, p. 19. 

34. Grimouard de S. Laurent, Guide de Tart chr&tien, iv. p. 84 ; Male, L'Art 
religieux du XIII e siecle, p. 282 ; Moatault, Iconographie chr&ienne, ii. p. 204 ; 
Chabaneau, Le Romans de S. Fanuel, p. 110. 

35. Montault, op. cit. ii. p. 203. 

36. Cf. Huysmans, Trois fylises et trois primitifs, pp. 24-25, 168. A con- 
firmation of this view is found in almost every chapter of Male's epoch-making 
work, by which the dependence of the artists on the directions of patrons has 
been demonstrated more irrefutably than ever before. 

37. For further information as to the iconography of the Gospel of James see 
Schultz, Die Legends vom Leben der Jungfrau Maria, pp. 35 seq. ; Venturi, La 
Madone, pp. 79 seq. ; Montault, Iconographie, ii. p. 202 ; Gabelentz, Die Jcirch- 
liche Kunst im italienischen Mittelalter, pp. ] 87 seq. ; Broussolle, De la conception 
immacuUe a I'annonciation ange'ligue, pp. 130 seq., 159 seq. 

38. From the thirteenth century to the end of the sixteenth, the meeting at 
the Golden Gate serves as an illustration of the Conception dogma (Grimouard 
de S. Laurent, op. cit. iv. p. 82 ; Detzel, Qhristlichc Ikonographie, ii. p. 73). 

39. Grimouard de S. Laurent, op. cit. p. 84. 

40. The picture has earlier, though unconvincingly, been ascribed to Pesello. 
According to Morelli it is the work of Filippo Lippi. 

41. Montault, op. cit. ii. p. 204. 

42. Grimouard de S. Laurent, op. cit. iv, p. 84 (quotation from Molanus 
and Kobert de Licio). Cf. also Justi, Velasquez, i. p. 143. 

For the new type of the "conceptio immaculata " see Broussolle, pp. cit. 
pp. 133 seq. ; Mufkoz, Iconograjia delict, Madonna, pp. 102 seq. ; Male, IS Art 
religieux de la fin du moyen dge, pp. 226 seq. 

43. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, i. p. 22. 

44. Trombelli, Sanctae Mariae vita in Bourass6, JSumma aurea, i. p. 28. 

45. Emmerich, Leoen der Jilg. Jungfrau Maria, aufgeschrieben von Clemens 
Brentano, p. 51. 

46. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, Hi. p. 127. 

47. Schaumkell, DerJCultusderhly. Anna, pp. 42 seq. j Baring Gould, Lives 
of the Saints, viii. p. 567 ; JEtt fornsvenskt legendarium, Hi. p. 585 seq. 

48. Acta sanctorum, Martii, torn. i. p. 556 (edition 1668), quoted by Schultz, 
op. cit. p. 39. 

49. For information as to the treatment of the motive in art, see Schultz, op. 
cit. pp. 38-44 ; Montault, op. cit. pp. 208-210 ; Broussolle, op. cit, p. 206. 

50. The analysis given in the text of the typical family portraits has its 
closest correspondence in a French-Flemish picture dating from about 1500, 
which is preserved in the Wallraf-JRichartz Museum at Cologne (No. 426 in 
the catalogue of this museum). Artistically, the most important of all 
" Sippenbilder " is the centre picture in Quentin Massy's triptych at Brussels. 

51. Trombelli, !. Mariae vita, in Bourass4, Summa aurea, i. pp. 225 seq. 
In the new edition of Ada Sanctorum the gtory of S. Colette's vision has 
been excluded from her biography ; of. vol. vii. p. 558 (March 6). This story 


is summarised and controverted, on the other hand, in the chapter on S. Anna, 
vol. xxxiii. p. 242 (July 26). 

52. Of. e.g. Liguori, Glories of Mary, pp. 261, 270-271. 

53. Jungfru Marie ortagr&rd, p. 151. Latin text to this Swedish transla- 
tion, ibid. p. 245. 

Trithemius, who at the close of the fifteenth century worked more zealously 
than any one else for the cult of Anna, employs a no less exalted but more 
naturalistic expression than the anonymous author of Jungfru Marie 
ortagdrd. He turns with his praises to that womb in which the Ark of God 
was built, and in which 'the Queen of Heaven dwelt: "0 numquam sine 
honore nominandus uterus, in quo archa dei sine macula meruit fabricari. . . . 
Beatus venter, qui celi dominant portavit, felicia ubera, quae lactare matrem 
dei meruerunt" (Tractatus de laudibus sanctissime Anne, quoted by Schaum- 
kell, Der Kultus der hlg. Anna, p. 40). These pious interjections are cited also 
by Male (IS Art religieux de la Jin du moyen dge, p. 229), who considers that 
Trithemius with his writings gave a new character to the worship of the 
Virgin's mother. The expressions used in the Swedish Prayer-Book prove, 
however, that the German humanist was by no means the first to" praise Anne in 
her character of a treasure-chamber for Mary. To find the earliest instance of 
this rhetorical motive, we must go even further back than the Marie orta- 
gard. For as early as in Johannes Damascenus we find a song of praise cele- 
brating Anna's womb: "0 praeclarum Annae uterum, in quo tacitis incre- 
mentis ex ea auctus est, et formatus fuit foetus sanctissimus ! uterum, in 
quo animatum coelum, coelorum latitudine latius conceptum fuit " (Homilia 
I. in nativitate B. V. Mariae ; Patr. Graeca, xcvi. col. 663), quoted in Trombelli, 
S. Mariae vita in Bourasse, Summa aurea, i. p. 21. 

It is very probable that in the works of Trithemius, which are only known 
to us by extracts (cf. note 27, above), many borrowings from earlier authors could 
be discovered. Thus Schaumkell cites (op. cit. p. 37) a phrase as to Anna's 
sanctity, which is derived from that of Mary in the same way that the worth 
of a tree is determined by its fruits : " Sicut arbor ex suo fructu cognoscitur, 
ita qualis sit mater in filia declaratur. In dei geni trice sanctissima accipimus, 
quid de sanctitate matris sentire debeamus. ..." This reminds one 
of the chapter of JStt fornsvenskt kgendarium ) iii. p. 13, which is headed 
" S. Anna jamfdres med ett tra " (S. Anna compared to a tree ; manuscript 
from the middle of the fifteenth century). This argument also can be traced 
back to Johannes Damascenus (op. cit. col. 667), even if the simile of the 
tree is not employed by him, " beatum par Joachim et Anna, immacula- 
tissimum prorsus ! Ex fructu ventris vestri cognoscimini, velut alicubi Dominus 
ait : Ex fructibus eorum cognoscetis eos." 

54. Male, I? Art religieux de lafindu moyen Age, pp. 230-231 (reproduction 
of a gravure in Les Seures de Simon Vostre a I' usage d' Angers, 1510 ; descrip- 
tion of glass-paintings from the close of the sixteenth century in French churches). 
Munoz, Iconografia della Madonna, p. 102 ; Montault, Iconographie, ii. p. 206 
(description of an enamel from Limoges, dated 1545, in the Cluny Museum). 

55. Montault, op. cit. p. 206. 

56. Male, I! Art religieux du XIII* stecle, pp. 334-335 ; Montault, op. cit. ii. 
pp. 210-211. Montault points oat that the corporation of joiners at Paris, 
when it made its medal in 1748, represented on it a picture of Anna instructing 
Mary, with the device "Sic fingit tabernaculum Deo." Thus they preferred 
to compare their work with the spiritual " building " of Mary's soul. To judge 


by the poetical metaphors, however, it was easier for mediaeval piety to worship 
Mary as a bodily tabernacle. 

57. The method of placing the two mothers side by side seems to have been 
peculiar to German, French, and Flemish painters. Lucas Cranach and many 
unknown artists employed this arrangement, which was probably in a number 
of cases borrowed from the great "Sippenbilder." The Italian masters usually 
represent Anna behind Mary (Masaccio, Perugino, Antoniazzo Romano, etc.). 

58. Jameson, Legends of the Madonna, p. 184. 

59. Of. e.g. Ett fornsvensH legendarium, iii. p. 14 (continuation of the earlier 
cited extract about Anna as a good tree). Schaumkell, Der Kultus der hlg. 
Anna, pp. 66 $eq.> gives instances of prayers in which Anna is invoked for a 
direct intercession to the Saviour. These prayers date from the beginning of 
the sixteenth century. 

60. Of. Serao, Matilde, La, Madonna e i santi t p. 309, as to the cult of Anna 
at Naples. 


1. Innocentius III., De contemptu mundi, in Pair. Lai,, ccxvii. cols. 701-746. 

2. The following summary of the narrative poems on the life of Mary is 
mainly based on the writings mentioned below : Vita Beate Virginis Marie et 
Sahatoris Nostri rhythmica (first half of the thirteenth century) ; Walther von 
Rheinau, Marienleben (fourteenth -century German poetical translation of the 
Vita rhythmica) ; Wernher von Tegernsee, Driu Liet wn der Maget (written 
about 1172) ; Philipp der Karthauser, Marienleben (fourteenth century) ; Cursor 
mundi (anonymous Northumbrian poem of the fourteenth century, containing 
a description of Mary's life based in essentials on Wace's Conception N". 
Dame] ; Escobar y Mendoza (1589-1669), Historia de la Virgen Madre de Dios. 
A detailed account of the handling of the Madonna's life by the German poets 
is given by P. Kiichenthal, Die Mutter Gottes in der altdeutschen schonen 

3. Augusti, Denkwwrdig"keiten> iii. p. 102 ; Lucius, Anfdnge des Heiligen- 
Jcults, pp. 486-487. The festival is supposed to have arisen in the East as early 
as the sixth century, and must have spread to Europe during the following 

4. Venturi, La Madone, p. 83. 

5. For iconographical information as to the representations of Mary's birth 
see Schultz, Die Legende vom Zeben der Jungfrau Maria, pp. 46-47. A rich 
selection of reproductions is given by Venturi, La Madone. 

6. Yenturi, op. cit. p. 82. 

7. Grirnouard de S. Laurent, Guide de Vart chr&ien, iv. p. 89. 

8. Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, ii. p. 200. 

9. Vita B. V. Marie rhythmica, p. 24. 

10. Walther v. Rheinau, Marienleben, i. p. 18, The German paraphrase is in 
this chapter even more explicit than its Latin original. 

11. Philipp der Karthauser, Marienleben, p. 11. An indirect reproach to the 
mothers who shirked the duty of nursing their children is to be found as early 
as in the Vita rhythmica. It is said of Anne on p. 24 : 

Non ut solent homines extraneam quaesivit 
Nutricem mater puero ; sed ipsamet nutrivit 
Propriis uberilms prolera et lactavit. 


12. Philipp der Karthauser, op. cit. p. 110 : 

ziichteclich siner muoter brust 
ane girlichen gelust 
ze tien pllac daz kindelin, 
ma'ezic was diu spise sin. 

13. Vita B. V. Marie rhythmica, p. 33. 

14. Ibid. p. 32. 

15. Ibid. p. 34 ; Wernher, Driu Liet, pp. 36-37. 

16. Vita rhythmica , p. 36 : 

Fuit enim condolens atque compassiva, 
Mlsericors, compatiens, et caritativa. 
Gaudebat cum gaudentibus, cum letis letabatur, 
Flebatque cum fientibus, cum mestis tristabatur. 

17. Nielsen, JSvangetiesag^ p. 34 (quotation from Gautier de Coincy, La 
nativite Notre Seigneur). 

18. Ett fornsvensJct legendarium, iii. p. 4. 

19. The following pages are a summary and translations from Ambrosius, 
De virginibus ad Marcellam, iii. ; in Pair. Lot. xvi. cols. 220-221. 

20. It was probably Ambrosius's description that was the foundation for a 
hymn of the fifteenth century : 

Noctu quando dormitasti, 
Corde siinul vigilasti 
Nuniquain vacans otio. 

(Analccta hymnica, ix. p. 49. ) 

21. Vita rhythmica, pp. 30-32 ; Walther v. Kheinau, Harienlelen^ i. pp. 
23-26 ; cf. also the precious description of Mary's bodily beauty in Johannis 
Franconis Carmen magistrate de beata Maria V. (fifteenth century), Analecta 
hymnica, xxix. pp. 185-202. 

22. Vita rhythmica t p. 32 : 

Erecta sursum procedens semper ambulabat, 

Et decenter caput ejus parum inclinabat; 

Ut pudicas virgines decet ambulare 

Que non solent nimium cervicem elevare ; 

Nam omnis motus virginis, incessus atque status 

Decens erat et pudicus, ac disciplinatus. 

It is of interest to compare these verses with the way in which the bearing 
of Jesus is described in the same poem, p. 112 : 

Collum Jesu pulchrum erat, planuin atque rectum. 

Semper ipse gessit hoc decenter et erectuin. 

Karo suum tenuit collum incurvatum, 

Quia semper habuit caput elevatum. 

Nam sepe celum oculis hie respiciebat, 

Et ad patrem semper ejus intentum cor habebat. 

It seems that not even the most eminent of all women was accorded the 
right " erectos ad sidera tollere vultus." 


23. Of. S. Bernardus, De laudibus virginis matris (Pair. Lat. clxxxiii. col. 
59) ; Birgitta, Uppenbarelser, iv. p, 73 ; Juliana of Norwich, Revelations, pp. 
9 and 15. 

24. Medeltidsdikter, p. 227 (Sv. Fornskr. Sallsk. Saml.). 

25. Augusti, DenJcw&rdigkeiten t iii. pp. 107-108 ; Broussolle, De la Conception 
immacuUe & l : ' Annonciation antique, pp. 210-215. 

26. Broussolle, op. cit. p. 215. 

27. Of. e.g. the offices printed in Analecta hymnica, v. pp. 59-70, xxiv. pp. 
81 seq. 

28. Philipp der Karthauser, Marierileben, p. 13. 

29. Vita, rhythmica, p. 24 ; "Walther v. Rheinau, Marienleben, i. p. 18. 

30. Venturi, La Madone, p. 106. 

31. Of the compositions mentioned in the text the frescoes of Gaddi and 
Giovanni da Milano are in S. Croce and that of Ghirlandajo in S. Maria Novella 
at Florence ; Carpaccio's picture is preserved in the Brera gallery at Milan, Cima 
da Conegliano's in the Dresden gallery, Tintoretto's in S. Maria dell' Orto, and 
Titian's in the Accademia at Venice. In Giotto's fresco in the Arena Chapel at 
Padua, Anna, contrary to the legend, supports her daughter as she ascends the 
stairs. For fuller information as to the iconography of the subject see the 
earlier - cited works of Detzel, Schultz, and Reinach. Cf. also Grant Allen, 
Evolution in Italian Art. 

32. Cf. e.g. Roger van der Weyden's picture in the Royal Museum at Brussels 
and the carved altar-cabinet at Vbra, in Finland (reproduced and described in 
Meinander, Medeltida altarsMp, pp. 237 seq.). 

33. Grimouard de S. Laurent, Guide de I' art chr&ien, iv. pp. 95-96. 

34. Broussolle, op. eit. p. 212, 

35. Vita rhythmica, p. 28. 

36. Cf. Fra Gil de Zamora's poem De beata Maria (fourteenth century), in- 
cluded in Analecta hywmica, xvi. p. 62 : 

Huic spiritus angelici 

Devote assistebant, 
Manna saporis coelici 

De sursum. afferebant, 
Quo viscera sacrifera 
Cibario, sacrario 

Mire reficiebat. 

37. Wernher von Tegernsee, Driu Liet, pp. 33 seq. 

38. Philipp der Karthauser, Marienleben, p. 39. 

39. Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, p. 217 (De annuntiatione), 

40. Sicardus Cremonensis, Mitrale (Pair. Lat. ccxiii. col. 421). The same 
thought is expressed by Durand, Rational, iii. p. 224. 


1. Cf. Lucius, Die Anfdnge des ffeiligenkults, p. 492. 

2. Important specimens of poetical paraphrases of the narrative of the 
Annunciation are met with, especially among The Psalters of Mary. These 
song-cycles are HO called because Mary's virtues are celebrated in them in as 


many strophes or in as many separate poems as there are Psalms in the Psalter. 
In many cases each of the 150 songs begins with a repetition of Gabriel's Ave. 
In other poems the whole of Gabriel's greeting can be deciphered from the first 
words of the strophes or from the first letters of the verses. Much ingenuity has 
been expended also in so-called " Glossenlieder " about the Annunciation. For 
examples of this kind of poems see Mone, Lateinische Hymnen, vol. ii., and 
Analecta hymnica, especially vols. xxx. and xxxv.-xxxviii. 

3. For these paintings cf. Garrucci, Arte Cristiana, ii. p. 81, and plate Ixxv. ; 
Rohault de Fleury, L'^vangile, i. p. 11 ; Lehner, Die Marienverehrung, pp. 290 
and 300 ; Kaufmann, Handbuch, pp. 362-367 ; Schultze, Archdologie, pp. 328-329 ; 
Detzel, Christliche Ikonographie, i. pp. 151-152 ; Broussolle, De la Conception 
immacuUe a, I'Annonciation, pp. 316, 391-392. 

4. Cf. Gabelentz, Die IdrcJiliche Kunst, p. 98. 

5. Cf. Detzel, op, tit. i. p. 156. 

6. Montault, IconograpMe, ii. p. 214 ; Detzel, op. cit. pp. 153-154 ; Broussolle, 
op. cit. pp. 400 seq. 

7. Rohault de Fleury, L'J&vangile, i. pp. 17-18. 

8. Andrea del Sarto in the Palazzo Pitti, Francia in the Brera at Milan, 
Titian in the cathedral at Treviso, Crivelli in the National Gallery in London. 
These pictures, which are all reproduced in Venturi's La Madone, are mentioned 
as a few examples out of many. Every visitor to the great galleries can here, 
as in all the following chapters, add new names to those quoted in the text. 
It has been thought unsuitable to give complete iconographic lists, as such can. be 
without difficulty compiled by the reader from the easily accessible works of 
Schultz (Die Legende vom Leben der Jungfrau), Munoz (Iconografia della 
Madonna), Keinach (Repertoire de peintures], and Grant Allen (Evolution in 
Italian Art}. 

9. Francesco Rizzo, called Santa Croce, Annunciation (in the museum at 

10. Catholic piety has, as is well known, imagined that it could identify the 
actual house in which the Annunciation took place. For a comparison of the 
legends as to this building, which was moved by .angels over the sea to Loretto, 
see Durand, Rational, v. pp. 238-246 ; Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nacli den 
Apokryphen, pp. 74-75 ; Broussolle, op. cit. pp. 397-398 ; M&le, HArt religieux 
de la pi du moyen dge, pp. 211-212. 

11. Cf. Trombelli, Sanctae Mariae vita in Bourasse's Summa aurea, i. col. 
603 ; Rohault de Fleury, La Sainte Vierge, i. p. 67. 

12. Genthe, Die Jungfrau Maria, ,pp. 17-18. 

13. For the history of the Angelus prayers see Barfoed, Altar og PrcediJcestol, 
p. 387 ; Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen Kunst, ii. p. 432 ; Jjzlrgensen, Den 
hellige Frans t pp. 221-222 ; Wetzer-Welte, Kirckenlexicon, i. pp. 846 seq. 

14. Cf. Montault, op. cit. ii. p. 215. 

15. Cf. De natimtate Mariae, cap. ix., " Denique ingressus ad earn cubiculum 
quidem ubi manebat ingenti lumine perfudit " ; Tischendorf, Evangelia 
apocrypha, p. 119. 

16. Genthe, Die Jungfrau Maria, pp. 17-18. Cf. also Emmerich, Leben der 
heiligen Jungfrau Maria, pp. 167 seq. 

17. Detzel, op. cit. i. p. 156 ; Trombelli, op. cit. cols. 472-74 ; Montault, op. 
cit. ii. pp. 214 seq, 

18. Broussolle, op. cit. p. 365. 

19. Cf. Jameson, Legends of the Madonna, p. 298. 


20. Bergner, Handbuch, p. 446 ; Detzel, op. cit. p. 168. 

21. Male, L'Art religieux du XIII* siecle, p. 286; Kello Tarchiani, QU 
JEvangeli apocrifi e I' arte in Mazzoni's Esercitazioni, p. 69. 

22. Jacobus de Voragine, Legenda aurea, p. 23 7 ; S. Bernardus, De adventu 
Domini Sermo IL ; Super-Missus est Somilia /. ; In Annuntiatione Sermo III. 
(Pair. Lat. clxxxiii. cols. 42, 58, and 396). 

A poetic revision of S. Bernard's language of flowers is to be found in a 
rhymed office of the fifteenth century (Analecta hymnica, v. p. 65) : 

Flos in floris tempore 

Ad locum floris mittitur, 
Sic de floris corpore 

Gloriose concipitur. 

Jesu flos, virga Maria, 

Verque tempus floris, 
Floris Nazareth patria 

Plena sunt decoris. 

Candens flos multiplicat 

Virgulae decorem, 
Conceptus glorificat 

Mariae pudorem. 

23. For the symbolism of the lily cf. Saintyves, Les Vierges m&res, pp. 73 and 

24. Kock, The Church of our Fathers, iii. pp. 200 seq. (quotation from The 
Festyvall, printed at Rouen, by Martin Morin, 1499). 

25. Ibid. pp. 202-203 (quotation from Magni speculi exemplorum). The same 
legend is told by J0rgensen in JRejsebogen, p. 95. 

26. Montault, op. cit, ii. 216. 

27. Kraus, Geschichte der christlichen J&unst, ii. pp. 284-285 ; Bergner, op. cit. 
p. 479. Gabriel is described as a letter-carrier in two of Ephraim Syrus's hymns 
(Translation in Idvius, The Blessed Virgin, pp. 425 and 438). 

28. Bergner, op. cit. pp. 542-543 ; cf. Tikkanen, Sctgan om enko'rning&n, (Finsfc 
TidsJcrift, 1898-1899). 

29. Cf. the extracts from the writings of the early fathers given, by Livius, 
op. cit. pp. 120, 124, and 141. 

30. Ambrosius, Expositio in Lucam (Patr. Lot. xv. col. 1636). 

31. Hieronymus, Spistola XXII. ad ISustochium, Paulae Jiliam (Patr. Lat. 
xxii. col. 422). 

32. Gregorius Thaumaturgos, Homilia de Annuntiatione, quoted by Livius, 
op. cit. p. 124. 

33. Original text and Latin translation, Ephraim Syrus, Hymni, ed. Lamy, 
ii, col. 594. 

34. Cf. e.g. S. Bernard, Hbmiliae super Missus est (Patr. Lat. clxxxiii. col. 57). 

35. Mone, Lateinische Hymnen, ii. pp. 31-32. 

36. Cf. note 1 to Chap. XII. 

37. The comparison between Mary and Eve is one of the most frequently 
occurring loci communes in Patristic literature. See the extracts given by 
Lehner, op. cit. passim, and Livius, op. cit. passim. 

38. For the symbolism concealed in Java's name and Gabriel's Aw see Burand, 
Rational, iii. pp. 24-25. It is impossible to quote more than a small selection of 


the innumerable poems in which this symbolism has been expressed. The best- 
known example occurs in the famous Aw maris Stella : 

Strophe 2. Sumens illud Ave 

Gabrielis ore 
Funda nos in pace 
Mutans Evae nomen. 

That the woe removes men from vae is expressed still more clearly in a gloss 
to this hymn ( Anal. hymn. xix. p. 22) : 

Sumens illud ave 
Nos emundans a vae 
Confer onus leve 
Bona cuncta posce. 

And in the following polite playing with words : 
Vae mutasti, nam fugasti 

Evae matrimonium, 

Dum portasti et lactasti 

Summi patris filium. 

(Anal. hymn, xxxii. p. 29.) 

Nostrum vae per ave tollis, 
Nomen Evae dum revolvis 
Gabriele nuntio. 

(Anal. hymn. xxxi. p. 139.) 

In a thirteenth-century sequence (printed by Mone, op. cit. ii. p. 200) it is 
said that Mary changed the cry of the mourners : 

Tibi dicant omnes Ave 
Quia mundum tollis a vae, 
Mutasti vocem flentium. 

The same lines form the first stanza of a fifteenth-century sequence (Anal, 
hymn, xxxiv. p. 126). 

To understand this assertion, one should know that according to mediaeval 
ideas all children of men begin their lives by lamenting the sin of their fore- 
fathers. The boys immediately after birth shriek a-a in memory of ^dam, 
while the girls with e-e grieve over the sufferings brought upon them by the first 
woman. (Innocentius III., De contemptu mundi ; Pair. Lat. ccxvii. col. 705.) 
After the promise of salvation had been given to Mary, however, men could 
cry out in their despair the hopeful Ave instead of the lamenting capitals 
e and a, and thus the vox flentium has undergone an alteration both in its 
outer and inner meaning. 

In some poems Ave is actually used as a name for Mary : 

Per te nunc Evae taedia 
Sint nobis oblata, 
Tu Eva trans versata 
Mutans luctum in gaudium, 
Ex hoc Ave vocata. 

(Anal. hymn. xxx. p. 233.) 

The contrast between Eva and Ave was developed in detail by Gautier de 
Coincy in his Les Miracles de la Sainte Vierge, pp. 737 seg. 


39. Reproductions in Rohault de Fleury, Z'tfvangiU, L pis. iv. and viii. 

40. Of. the manuscript illustrations from the ninth and tenth centuries, 
reproduced in Rohault de Fleury, op. dt. i. pis. vi. and vii. 

41. Of. the reliefs from the cathedral at Barga and the church of S. Bartolomeo 
at Pistoja, reproduced by Venturi, op. dt. pp. 144-145. This warding off 
is expressed most dramatically when Mary, with a powerful movement, 
stretches out her left hand on a level with her head. Cf. the relief on the font 
in S. Giovanni in Fonte at Verona (beginning of twelfth century) reproduced 
in Venturi, op. dt. p. 142. 

42. Capitals on the fa$ade at Poitiers, Rohault de Fleury, op. cit. pi. vii. 
Giovanni Pisano's pulpit in S. Andrea at Pistoja. 

43. Cf. e.g. Fra Angelico's Annunciation pictures in S. Marco at Florence, 
Piero dei Franceschi's picture in the Pinacoteca at Perugia, Filippo Lippi's 
picture in the National Gallery, and Perugino's fresco in Montefalco. 

44. Simone di Martino in the Uffizi, Donatello in S. Croce, and Ghirlandajo 
in S. Maria Novella all at Florence. 

45. Botticelli, in the Uffizi. 

46. Tintoretto, Scuola di S. Rocco at Venice. 

47. Lotto, S. Maria sopra Mercanti at Recanati (reproduced in Reinach, 
Repertoire, ii. p. 50). 

48. Paolo Veronese, in the Uffizi. 

49. Titian, in the cathedral at Treviso. 

50. Cf. e.g. the extracts from Guillaume de Deguileville's Ptterinage de 
Jesuscrist, reproduced in Hultman's Guillaume de DeguiUville> pp. 169-170. 

51. For the erotic conception held by the mediaeval poets of the relationship 
between God and Mary cf. Ktichenthal, Die Mutter Gottes, p. 44. Even in so 
ecclesiastical a work as Bonaventura's (?) Psalter, it is expressly said that it 
was Mary's beauty which drew God down from Heaven : 

Specieni tuam et decorem tuum 
Altissimi filius concupiscit. 

BONA.VENTITBE, Psautier, p. 105 (Psaume xlix.). 

This conception has received its most poetical expression in the idea that 
Mary's beauty, like the perfume of a flower, went up to Heaven to draw the 
Son down to a marriage with human flesh. Thus it is sung in a sequence 
from an old French missal : 

Tu rosa, tu lilium 
Cujus Dei filium 
Carnis ad connubium 
Traxit odor. 

GUEKANGEB, L'Anndc Utwgique, iv. p. 354. 

52. The comparison between Mary and the Shunammite Abisag is met with 
in numerous pious songs. For curious instances see Analccta hymnica, v. p. 60 ; 
xxxii. pp. 11 and 160 ; xxxvi. p. 12. 

In a Swedish song-cycle on the joys of Mary, Medeltidsdikter, pp. 172 seq. 
(Sv. Fornskr. Sallsk. Saml.), we read : 

Thu iist the sama konung davitis 

the vanaste Abisag Sunamitis 

thz war een utwald skon iomfru 

niz henne wilde konungen hafwa sin roo. 


53. Of. e.g. Konrad von Wiirzburg, Die goldene Sckmiede, and the passages 
from mediaeval German poetry quoted by Wilhelm Grimm in his introduction 
to that poem, pp. xxix-xxx. We find the Phoenix recognised even in early 
Christian literature as a symbol of the Resurrection and the renewal of life, but 
the analogy between Mary and the pyre probably dates from the Middle Ages. 
Of. Ebert, Literatur des MittelaUers, i. pp. 94 seq.j iii. pp. 77 seq. 

54. The most naive expression of this idea occurs in the 21st of Theodoricus 
Petri's Cantiones pine et antiquae, p. 31 (reproduced in Klemming, Piae 
cantiones, ii. p. 40 ; and in Woodward, Piae cantiones, p. 167) : 

Paranymphus adiens 

Virgtnem laetanter 
Verbum summi nuntians 

Nymphale gratanter. 

The old Finnish translation dots the i by frankly letting Gabriel convey a 
love-greeting to Mary : 

Puhemies tuli taevahast, 
Tygho nuoren neidzyisen ; 
Herrald ilmoitt ihanast 
Cosiosanan suloisen. 
(Wanhain Suomen maan Piispain laulud, p. 2.) 

As is well known, it has been proved that many of the Piae cantiones, 
which were all supposed to have been written in Finland, recur in early 
mediaeval MSS. from Germany, France, and Bohemia. Cf. Lagerborg, " Var 
aldsta konstdiktning " in Forhandlingar och Uppsatser 20 (Svenska Litteratur- 
sallskapet i Finland}. Also the poem quoted here is found it was Chevalier's 
Repertorium hymnologicum which first directed our attention to it in a foreign 
collection. It is reproduced in Dreves's Cantiones Bohemicae (Anal. hymn. i. 
p. 83 ; cf. also Woodward, op. cit. p. 260). The text given there, however, 
differs in one important respect from the edition of the Piae cantiones : 

Paranymphus adiit 

Virginem laetanter, 
Verbum surnmi nuntians 

Nymphulae gratanter. 

If Dreves's reading is the correct one, it is due to a change of a for u 
(nymphale for nymphwlae) that the idea of a love-message has been introduced 
into religious poetry. 

In the later mediaeval pictures Gabriel is often a handsome young man, who 
smiles at the Virgin with an almost arch confidence. Such a graceful-erotic 
interpretation, however, conflicts openly with the religious point of view. The 
conception of the Annunciation could, without the subject losing its lofty 
import, borrow features from the ideas of the mystery of human existence, but 
there is nothing religious in those works of art in which the angel's visit to 
Mary has been the subject of merely gay and graceful compositions. 


1. Hennecke, Neutestamentliche Apokryphen, p. 336. 

2. Hofmann, Das Leben Jesu nacfi den Apokryplu'ii, pp. 77 scy. 


3. Lehner, Die Marienverehrung, pp, 34 seq. ; Lucius, Heiligenkult^ p. 427 ; 
Livius, The Blessed Virgin, passim. 

4. Ephrairn Syrus, ECymni, ed. Lamy, ii. p. 570 ; Livius, op. cit. p. 428. 

5. Gaudentius, translated in Livius, op. cit. p. 216. 

6. Coelius Sedulius, in the famous hymn, A solis ortus cardine. In some 
editions, as Pair. Lat. xix. col. 764, and Clement, Carmina e poetis Ghristianis 
excerpta, the last verse runs : Virgo creavit filinm. 

7. Ennodius, Hymnus sanctae Mariae (Anal. hymn. 1. p. 67). 

8. Venantius Fortunatus, Opera (Pair. Lat. Ixxxviii. col. 265). 

9. In Chevalier's JZepertorium hymnologicum no less than seven separate songs 
are given which begin with these lines. In the supplement to Chevalier's work 
the list is increased by five more. 

10. Gautier, in a note to Adam de S. Victor, (JHuvres, ii. p. 215. 

11 Cf. a poem of Guido de Basoches, printed in Mone, Lateinische Hymnen, 
ii. p. 35 ; also an anonymous song, ibid. p. 39. 

In Paulus Diaconus's assumption-hymn, "Quis possit amplo famine prae- 
potens, " we read : 
Strophe 5 

Verbo tumescit latior aethere 
Alvus replentem saecula continens. 

Anal. hymn. 1. p, 123, and xiv.A p. 108. 

A sequence to Mary, discovered in a fourteenth -century manuscript, ex- 
presses itself still more unreservedly : 

Virgo dulcis Maria 
E coelo salutatur 
Et verbo fecundatur 

Quis praesentit ilia. 

Anal. hymn. ix, p. 75. 

12. Pfannenschmid, Die Geiszler de$ Jahres 13j$, in Eunge, Die Lieder und 
Melodien d&r Geiszler, p. 164. 

13. S. Bernardus, 8ermo II. infesto Pentecostes (Pair. Lat. clxxxiii. col. 327. 
Abridged quotation in Hofmann, op. cit. p. 77). 

14. Cf. the quotations from the sermons of Zeno and Ephraim given by 
Livius, op. cit. pp. 206 and 99, and Lehner, op. cit. p. 34. 

15. Ambrosius, Jffymnus IV. (" Veni, redemptor gentium"), str. 2 : 

Won ex virili semine, 
Sed mystico spiramine, 
Verbum Dei factum caro, 
Fructusque ventris floruit. 

Patr. Lat. xvi. col. 1473. 

Cf. also Anal. hymn, xxxil p. 141, "Ave, fiatu concepisti" ; and v. p. 58 : 

Aura sancti spiritus 
Crescit venter coelitus 
Itfulli viro cognitus. 

16. Schneegans, Die italienishen Geiszlerlieder, in Runge, op. cit. p. 84. 

17. Ibid. p. 85. 


18. Birgitta, Vppenbarelser, iv. p. 72. 

19. Cf. Saintyves, Les Vierges meres, ch. iv. (Fecondations m