Wednesday, July 22


Our Mother the Church

From the Barberini Rxultet roll, Apostolic Library, Vatican

Some of our readers were surprised (pleasantly so, if the comments are any indication) by my depiction below of the Church as a woman, catching the blood of the crucified Christ in a chalice. Reader Sandra Miesel (who has forgotten more than I will ever learn) pointed out it is a common bit of early medieval iconography, and it pops up in other variant forms elsewhere. (For one thing, the Woman Clothed with the Sun in the Apocalypse doubles as the Church as well as the Virgin Mary). One occasional trope actually shows the Church issuing forth from Christ's side on the cross, like Eve did from Adam's rib, an interesting intersection (and in some cases, inversion) of natural birth, rebirth, femininity and masculinity, and the Old and New Covenants.

A few examples follow below:

John Singer Sargent's allegorical image of the Church as part of his (at times controversial) fresco cycle for the Public Library in Boston, one of my favorite painting sequences.

Allegorical figure of the Church, Bamberg Cathedral, Germany. Usually such figures feature a chalice and a cross with a pennon hanging from the shaft or crossbar, presumably missing here.

Note the figure of the Church in the lower right-hand corner
. (Source).

Related to this are various allegorical personifications of the Papacy specifically, or of Faith in general.

Moretto da Brescia, Allegory of Faith, 1540.

Vermeer's own Allegory of Faith, one of his less characteristic works, though perfectly iconographically comprehensible.

Personifications of the Church (or Faith, or the Papacy) and the Holy Roman Empire (or possibly the House of Austria) in an initial letter of one of the July volume of the Acta Sanctorum, 1727.

I also recall a very fine figure of the Church Militant in full mail on the tomb of Leo XIII but can find no photos currently.

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