In the years 1015–26, the abbot Gauzlin of Fleury mobilized considerable financial and logistical efforts to rebuild the tower porch of his abbey, hiring the services of the master Unbertus for this purpose. The work was equal to the abbot’s ambitions: to ensure the luster of his abbey and to impose a certain model of society through a subtle concertation of image and architecture. The model of society imagined by Gauzlin promoted his order (the clergy) and the new Capetian dynasty, whose authority was in the process of consolidation at the time. It was proposed to the faithful through a double procession route: when they came from the village to reach the church (north–south axis) and when they entered the tower-porch, they reached the entrance of the church (west–east axis). Gauzlin’s artistic program promoted a social order governed in agreement by the temporal and spiritual leaders, and it was the only social order that could claim legitimacy. It ensured the salvation of the faithful and promised the advent of the heavenly Jerusalem, represented and already announced by the tower-porch, in its form and structure.
This study analyzes the architectural and sculptural components of the narthex at the priory of St. Fortunatus at Charlieu in the light of the unfolding narrative of the Easter procession, in particular the one elaborated at Cluny and performed by churches in its network. At Charlieu, the issue of the liturgical drama’s reception by an audience of lay people, made possible by the open architectural forms and carvings of the narthex, was central to its visual characteristics. It was not only a question of presence, but most of all the effect of movement in a specific time, created by the procession of the monks and another by the lay public. These two movements were intertwined and coordinated to give rise to the grandiose climax of the procession: the meeting of the risen Christ with his apostles in Galilee. Together, they allowed the unfolding narrative of the biblical story in the context of the priory of Charlieu. This specific case is particularly interesting because it manifests a shift in the universal ritual in a local context, perceptible thanks to the architectural and sculptural changes that have been made.
The Ise Grand Shrine is one of the most sacred religious sites in Japan. Since its inception in the late 7th century AD, the inner shrine has been a place of power and a key symbol for the origins of Japanese identity. While Ise priests sought to keep the shrine free from polluting Buddhist influences in order to prevent the ire of the sun goddess Amaterasu, Buddhist adherents had other ideas. As they also believed the deity to be a manifestation of the Vairocāna Buddha, they, too, sought physical access to the inner shrine in order to pray and commune with the deity—mostly to no avail. Shut out from the shrine, Buddhists created a mode of imagined pilgrimage by overlaying spiritual imagery (Mandalas) onto the physical space, thereby visualizing sacred moments. But to what end? With an eye on the political changes and spiritual innovation, by tracing who had access to the space in the medieval period—both physical and imagined—this essay examines how the changing physical, yet unchanging spiritual environment of the Ise shrine over time affected the viewer’s reception of and participation in the sacralized space.
Each year from the 12th to the 18th century, on the Friday before Passion Sunday, pilgrims gathered at the abbey of La Trinité in Vendôme to venerate the Holy Tear of Christ. This relic was believed to have been shed by Jesus at the tomb of Lazarus when he raised him from the dead, and then given to Mary Magdalene. A significant portion of the 16th-century furnishings remain in situ, thus allowing an investigation of how the built environment guided the movements of pilgrims through the unfolding of the dramatic narrative that culminated in an encounter with the Holy Tear. This essay traces how pilgrims filed through the north ambulatory to the chapel of Mary Magdalene. There, a glazing program depicts key images from the Lazarus narrative. In each of the chapel’s windows, a form of weeping takes place on the part of Mary Magdalene, Martha, and Jesus, which served as exemplars for pilgrims preparing for their own encounter with the sacred relic. One of the windows depicts Mary Magdalene washing Christ’s feet with her tears and another, Mary and Martha begging Christ to come to their brother’s aid. The missing panel of the east window, lost during an explosion in 1870, likely depicted Christ calling Lazarus from the tomb in the moment in which he produced the Holy Tear. Contiguous to the north ambulatory, the light of this window created the dramatic environment for culmination of the Lazarus narrative as pilgrims were offered a view of the Holy Tear as a gift from Christ.
The visual culmination of sacred space at the Church of St. Margaret at Ardagger Abbey in Lower Austria is a monumental 13th-century window depicting the dramatic passion of the popular early-Christian virgin martyr St. Margaret of Antioch. This window is unique among contemporaneous windows conveying Margaret’s life for its inclusion of Latin verse inscriptions that encircle each scene and draw the beholder into a multilayered narrative. This essay examines how the coordination of text and image in the Ardagger window encourages a particular ductus, moving from text to image and back. As the beholder visually navigates text and image, the narrative unfolds in layers: The imagery emphasizes the corporeality of Margaret’s passion through a focus on her body, while the inscriptions offer interpretations of the imagery, provide narrative content, and reveal Margaret’s inner virtues, adding nuance to the saint’s significance. A close examination of the first four medallions reveals the coordination of text and image, which tailors the saint’s life to the local audience of secular canons able to comprehend the complex narrative and convey the meaning to others.
This chapter investigates the long-lasting process of converting Toledo’s Friday mosque to a cathedral, a process that took place not in a single moment, but rather over several centuries of the Middle Ages. The first step examined is that of consecration, which conceptually reoriented the space from Islamic to Christian while maintaining the same physical structure. In later centuries came the reconstruction of the mosque-cathedral into a Gothic cathedral, aligning the space with more Western European architectural styles. This phase was coupled with the multiplication of cult statues of the Virgin Mary, which helped further stake a Christian claim to the space. The final step was one of historical conversion, with the development of miraculous legends that linked the cathedral’s space and its Marian cult statues to the Visigothic past, effectively inventing a history that negated any Islamic claims to the space at any time. These conceptual, physical, and historical changes shaped how Christian devotees of Toledo viewed the architectural space and altered how devotion and ritual moved through the building. Ultimately Toledo’s acts became a roadmap for later mosque conversions throughout the rest of the peninsula, establishing a pattern of rebuilding and rewriting history in the name of the Virgin Mary.
In the mid-12th century, Henry of Blois, Bishop of Winchester, engaged in a comprehensive reorganization of his cathedral’s most prized holy relics. One driving force behind this ambitious project was the increasing demands of the Anglo-Saxon cult of St. Swithun, Bishop of Winchester (d. 863). Henry paid for a complete redesign of the area behind the high altar to elevate and provide better access to Swithun’s shrine, including a small tunnel—the “Holy Hole”—through which pilgrims could crawl. This was meant to help the Winchester cult compete with other saints’ shrines at Bury St. Edmunds, Durham, St. Albans, and Ely. Henry also reburied the cathedral’s prestigious Anglo-Saxon dead, including Cynegils (first Christian king of Wessex), Egbert (first king of all England), and King Cnut and Queen Emma. In the 1150s, he had their purported remains enclosed in lead coffers and placed around the high altar. It seems clear that his patronage was focused on making Winchester a premier pilgrimage destination. This essay offers a comprehensive analysis of Winchester Cathedral’s reimagined sacred geography as an integrated program that juxtaposed the narratives and sanctity of local saints and nobility with the universal medieval paradigm of Jerusalem. The holy city was ultimately mapped onto the sacred geography of the cathedral by interconnecting architecture, narrative, and performance. The locus was a 10 ft × 20 ft Holy Sepulchre chapel constructed in the early 1170s, featuring a vibrantly painted narrative fresco cycle from the life of Christ.
The center of Svealand’s political, social, economic, and ritual life from the early Vendel period (500–800 CE) through the Viking Age (to c. the mid-1100s) was the great mounds and sprawling plains of Old Uppsala, which remain one of the most famous monuments in all of Scandinavia. With its heroic kings, grand temple, and fabulously bloody rites so vividly described in semi-legendary tales recorded by later medieval authors and early modern antiquarians, it is a place forever encircled by myth as much as history. Thanks to recent excavations, however, details of this iconic area’s topography and the activities carried out within its precincts are becoming increasingly clear. In particular, the discovery of mysterious rows of posts, deposits of enigmatic amulets, and traces of processional routes now provide opportunities to investigate the different ways in which visitors moved through—and experienced and interacted with—the hallowed site’s performative architecture throughout its early medieval heyday. This chapter uses this new information, in conjunction with earlier archaeological finds and literary accounts, to explore one very significant aspect of this experience: namely, how bodies moving through this monumentalized landscape generated and reinforced a sense of mythical history that served to link the past to the present and the living with the dead, and thus legitimized the local sociopolitical order. These issues are central not only to what went on at Old Uppsala, but to the whole world of lively pre-Christian religious practice that took place in this region.
An architectural feature called the Mirror Wall transformed Sigiriya, Sri Lanka in the 7th century. Between the 7th and 13th centuries, visitors inscribed their experiences onto this wall, telling stories of how the landscape had been planned to curate their experiences, although indirectly. This visitor record represents the set of practices for a new literary language made from spoken Sinhala. It required visiting the place, evoking mental images of its features, and representing those images in a highly regulated poetic text. Going to Sigiriya was a rite of passage for many—and an important historical event. It consolidated both an emergent literary community and its designed landscape through textualized response. Studied all together, this architectural location made to look like a mirror, its setting, and the visitor responses can alter our ideas about Sigiriya’s gardens.