CHAPTER FIVE: EQUALLY IN
IMAGE: WOMEN IN THE CLOISTER
he early women saints achieved their status by their courageous defiance of pagan structures of power, Saint Cecilia refusing to perform the requisite bloody sacrifices to idols upon phallic pillars the Roman Empire required. By so doing, she had threatened that entire theatre of power and even her execution by it, crumbled it.\1 Many other women saints similarly refused - functioning in Rome as did Gandhi's Satyagraha movement - which was intensely feminist in its techniques - in India.\2 The Church incorporated that theme of disobedience. Benedict, spoken of as a new Moses, gave his monks his Rule, which forbade them to stay overnight with women, to eat when on a day's journey away from their abbey, and many other restrictions. His sister, Scholastica, then got him to disobey his Rule, in answer to a higher authority than his, God. She has one-upped him. The story of that disobedience is still sung each year by Benedictine monks and nuns on the Feast of Saint Scholastica. Similarly, the abbeys and convents acted out the liturgical dramas of Mary Magdalene and Christ, where she meets him, singing the most glorious Latin Gregorian chant, dressed in the scarlet of a prostitute. In this instance the severity of the Rule is overruled by the charity of the Gospels. These liturgical dramas and antiphons, of Magdalene and Christ, of Scholastica and Benedict, included and honoured fallen and disobedient women within sacred, celibate structures.
Early Renaissance versions of the story belong to the world rather than to the cloister - taking their halcyon form just as the debate about Mary Magdalene came to have her be virtually excluded from either the Protestant or Catholic canon. In them we see the stress upon the Magdalene as defying Paul's dictate against women preaching by showing her as preaching in both Lucas van Leyden's engraving of 1519 (Figure 4) and in a Brussels altarpiece (Plate VIII). It is also interesting that the exterior of the triptych has the portraits of the female donors of this painting, a mother and daughter, cluster about the figure of the Magdalene of the Noli mi tangere scene, along with St Margaret, patron saint of childbirth, while the other triptych panel gives Christ - and also St Louis, whose wife was Queen Margaret, with the one male member of the donor family.\3 One can almost imagine the conversations between the painter and the three members of this family - where women outnumbered men - in Brussels about the subject and execution of this painting in which all clearly participated. The donors appear to have desired a retention of the medieval over the Renaissance themes concerning the Magdalene - and the two women largely because of the equality her role model gave them.
The first essay in this section is on a learned transvestite Romanesque woman monk, Saint Eugenia,\4 the second on the sinner/saint, Mary Magdalene, the paradoxically prototypical monk and nun, the third, on the loving disobedience of cloistered sister to brother, of Saint Scholastica to Saint Benedict. That we end this book with the textuality - and sexuality - of the convent or the wilderness is not so much consonant with today's modern values as it is with the alterity of the Middle Ages,\5 where women and men believed that equality was attained by absenting each other from sexual exploitation in reality, though tolerating its presence in legends to read, in frescoes to view, in liturgical dramas to act. The cloister could theorize sexuality vicariously but not have to perform it in praxis. It was no longer in earnest but simply in game, divorced from all danger. Thus we have the medieval solution to sexual equality being the paradox of an absent presence, of a separate independence, of a severe freedom, and of a rebellious obedience.
Heloise had belonged to all the categories in which women were placed. She had been a student to Abelard, and given by him two kinds of learning, textual and sexual. She then became first a mother, then a wife. Finally, she was professed as a nun, becoming an abbess. With her, Abelard likewise became a father, a husband, a monk and an abbot. She had told him she preferred to be his whore than Empress of the world. That they named their child, "Astralabe," indicates their awareness of the new Arabic learning, the astrolabe being the scientific, computing instrument par excellence of their day. That Arabic machinery of power would exclude women from universities, though still allow them the convent. Convent cloisters, with their square gardens, their circular fountains, represented the paradigm of Paradise.\6 Within their arcades, nuns such as Hrotswitha, Hildegard and Heloise could and did write sacred dramas for their fellow nuns to act out and sacred hymns to sing, in which women courageously defy abuses of power. Hildegard in her abbey and Christine in her study could represent themselves - as women - in the iconography of both Gospeler and God, writing the Book of Creation (Plate V). That act affirmed their equality with God's image. Such a volume created by women and men, both in the university and in the cloister, about the body and the book, you now hold.
Geertz, 'The Balinese Cock Fight', in Myth, Symbol and Culture,
ed. Clifford Geertz (New York: Norton, 1971), pp. 1-37; Stephen Orgel,
Illusion of Power: Political Theater in the English Renaissance
University of California Press, 1975); Rites of Power, Symbolism,
and Politics since the Middle Ages, ed. Sean Wilentz
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985).
2 See Julia Bolton Holloway, 'Feminist Gandhi', in Gandhi in the 'Postmodern Age: Issues in War and Peace, ed. Sanford Krolick and Betty Canon (Golden: Colorado School of Mines Press, 1984), pp- 61-64.
3 In Joinville's Chronicle we can read how when Queen Margaret gave birth to a child on the disastrous crusade she named the baby 'Tristran', as one born in sorrow, alluding to the pilgrimage romance of Tristan and Isolde: Joinville and Villehardouin, Chronicles of the Crusades, trans. M.R.B. Shaw (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1963), pp. 262-3.
4The Letters of Abelard and Heloise mention her, after discussing Paula and Eustochium in relation to Jerome's books written at their request, Ambrose, then 'St Eugenia was encouraged by her bishop, St Helenus, to put on male attire so that she could be admitted into a monastery of monks,' Letter 6, Abelard to Heloise, trans. Betty Radice (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974), p. 182.
5 Hans Robert Jauss, 'The Alterity and Modernity of Medieval Literature', New Literary History, 10 (1979), 181-227 and passim.
6 George Williams, Wilderness and Paradise in Christian Thought: The Biblical Experience of the Desert in the History of Christianity and the Paradise Theme in the Theological Idea of the University (New York, 1962), argues for this paradigm also for the exclusionary university.
Temptation and Redemption: A Monastic Life in Stone
For images of this capital see http://vrcoll.fa.pitt.edu/medart/menufrance/vezelay/capitals/vezcap59.html
Literature on monastic life from Saint Benedict to Saint Bernard is filled with references to monks' fear and hatred of women.\1 Hildebert of Tours (1057-1133) puts women in first place when he remarks on the three principal dangers to a monk: "hurtful to holy men are women, avarice and ambition."\2 And yet the written word is not the only source we can tap to try to understand medieval monastic views of women. Indeed it might, by itself, be a misleading one. Depictions of monastic life can be found in the Romanesque sculpture of France as in the sculptures of the life of Saint Benedict and of hermit saints at Vézelay. The many images of women found there, for example, the repeated images of Eve and Luxuria, suggest a particular fascination on the part of a twelfth-century audience with women.\3
The unusual depiction of a scene from the life of Saint Eugenia on a capital at Vézelay provides a junction of these two interests: the central figure of the saint at once exposes her breasts and wears a tonsure and habit (figure 1).\4 She is paradoxically both woman and monk. An exploration of contemporary monastic concerns as expressed in texts provides an interesting forum for a discussion of the capital's meaning while suggesting the direction for an interpretatin that concerns itself with monastic life and with attitudes toward women. I hope to show, hoever, that the Eugenia capital visually conveyed to its monastic audience a complex set of ideas that did not find full or explicit expression in the written word. On one level, the Eugenia capital used the image of a female to portray a woman in a positive light, something that monastic literature itself appears not to have addressed.
The story of St. Eugenia, though not especially popular in the Middle Ages, was probably known to the monks at Vézelay.\5 Her life was brief, but eventful. Eugenia, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy prefect of Alexandria, instructed herself in the Christian faith. Knowing that her pagan father would not accept her new religion, she escaped from the familial home in the guise of a man with her male servants. Believing that a convent could not hide her from her father, Eugenia, still dressed as a man, sought out the monastery of a particular holy man whose writings she admired but who did not usually admit women to his presence. Although he had been forewarned in a dream that this "monk" was a woman, he did not reveal her identity and allowed Eugenia to enter the community because of her great piety. There she lived an exemplary life as a monk, and upon the death of her mentor she was made abbot. In her new capacity, she cured the illness of a wealthy woman named Melanthia, who, believing Eugenia to be a comely youth, made loving advances to her. When Eugenia rejected these, Melanthia accused the "abbot" of forcing "his" affections on her. The "abbot" and all the monks of the abbey were imprisoned for this crime, and were finally brought to trial on the charge of adultery in the court of the defendant's father, Philip, the prefect of Alexandria. Try as she might, Eugenia could not convince the judge of her innocence except by rending her habit; her women's breasts not only proved her innocence but also freed her "brothers" from prison.\6
A close look at several other female saints' lives reveals that the events which make up the story of Eugenia are not unique to her legend. In fact, the legens of Saints Pelagia, Marina, Apollinaria, Euphrosynia, Reparata, Theodora and Hilaria, to name a few, follow the same pattern of flight, disguise and seclusion, and then final discovery and recognition.\7 Most of these women/monk saints were said to have lived in the fifth century, and most of the action of their lives takes place in or near Alexandria, Egypt. This repetition of a theme and location suggests that the legends were not records of historical events but works of fiction based on a literary topos.\8 Further, several scholars have concluded that this group of legends was composed, that is to say fabricated, by the monks at Scetis, a community in the Egyptian desert that had become a center of the monastic movement during the fifth century.\9
St. Eugenia's story is unique, however, in that she reveals her true identity before her death. It is, therefore, appropriate that this scene of revelation is depicted on the Vézelay capital since it is the only scene that definitely identifies the protagonist as Eugenia. The image shown is, perhaps, not only the moment of revelation in the courtroom, but a conflation of Melanthia's accusation--note the accusing finger of the well-dressed woman at the left who points at the monk/woman - with the suprise of Eugenia's father at the right when his daughter's identity is finally revealed. The issues emphasized by representation on the capital are central to its ultimate meaning. The lack of description of the Eugenia capital's background in comparison to the nave capital which depicts the banquet of Dives set in a palatial room suggests a reading that is not completely narrative.\10 By taking the story out of its particular context a more universal meaning can be deduced.
Temptation and sexuality as well as their denial were central themes in the women/monk legends and they must be looked at in light of the probable production of these legends by and for monks. By definitions, monastic communities were supposed to be celibate, although there is much evidence to the contrary. Indeed, the Gregorian Reform, which dates from the middle of the eleventh century to the first decade of the twelfth century, had as one of its goals the restoration of celibacy to its original purity: sexual practices in monasteries, specifically clerical marriage and clerical concubinage, were to be eliminated.\11 These reforming ideals were again brought to the attention of clerics at the first two Lateran Councils held in 1123 and 1139; canons promulgated at both Councils took up the matters of cohabitation of monks with women, clerical concubinage and clerical marriage.\12 Against this background, the monks' choice of St. Eugenia for one of the capitals sculpted at Vézelay in the second quarter of the twelfth century takes on particular resonance. The choice is even more noteworthy since the image of St. Eugenia at Vézelay may be the first of its kind; no narrative images from her life survive from earlier periods.\13 Further, the number of capitals devoted to saints' lives at Vézelay is rather large in comparison to those at nearby Autun. A local interest in hagiography, and particularly the life of St. Eugenia, suggests that the edifying morals of the lives of saints were considered a particularly good vehicle for instruction of the monks at Vézelay.
Though perhaps best known as a pilgrimage site, it cannot be denied that La Madeleine at Vézelay was also a flourishing Benedictine monastery. The monastic theme of the St. Eugenia capital as well as its location toward the east end of the church argue for its particular relevance to that audience (see plan).\14 It is interesting further to note that the original foundation at Vézelay in the ninth century served as a house for religious women. However, soon after its founding the monastery was destroyed by barbarians, and when the foundation was reconstituted by Gérard de Rousillon in A.D. 878 it became a house for men; it remained so throughout its history.\15
Renewed awareness of Vézelay as a monastery suggests that the image of Eugenia dealt with themes that concerned monastic life. St. Eugenia is, indeed, not the only hermit monk sculpted in stone at Vézelay. Several other sculptures focus on the life of the hermit, including capitals depicting the funeral of Paul Hermit, the vision of St. Anthony, the temptation of St. Anthony, and Saints Anthony and Paul Hermit breaking bread (figure 2).\16 In addition to these scenes from the lives of Egyptian hermit saints, an episode from the legend of St. Benedict which recalls a moment when he was a hermit, can be included in this group even though his hermitage was not in Egypt.\17
Eremetism was a monastic movement in vogue in the twelfth century. The demand for a new spirituality led many men to experiment with different kinds of eremitic living which was based on the lives of the Desert Fathers who had "invented" the idea.\18 In fact, a hermitage to which monks could retire for solitude is said to have existed in the environs of Vézelay.\19 Certainly the monks at Vézelay participated in this current of monastic life and thought.
The other images of hermits are related to the St. Eugenia capital not only because they illustrate episodes from saints' lives or because they focus on Egyptian eremitic monasticism, but because of their physical location. The St. Eugenia capital is located on the second pier to the west of the crossing and faces into the north aisle of the church. Most of the above-mentioned capitals cluster around the pier that carries the Eugenia image.\20 This group of capitals may also have a connection with a small door in the north wall of the church directly across the north aisle from the St. Eugenia capital. It could have been used by the monks to gain access to conventual buildings without having to encounter large groups of pilgrims.\21 The monastic character of the images as well as the location of this group toward the eastern or monastic end of the church is further evidence for a reading of the image in connection with the lives of the monks.
A part of this life was concerned, if indirectly, with women. Although the life of a hermit had several spiritual advantages, it was the path to be taken to preserve celibacy and to avoid sexual stimulation. Indeed, the capital depicting a scene from the life of St. Benedict shows the father of western monasticism tempted by a woman whose connection with the devil is made explicit by an inscription above her head - diabolus. Here the devilish connection of woman and her sexuality are made explicit. The scene sculpted on the side of the capital (figure 3) reveals what St. Benedict did to escape from this temptation; he threw his naked body into a bed of thorns.
The issues of eremitic monasticism and female sexuality come together again, but in a different way, in the St. Eugenia capital. Here Eugenia, with her exposed breasts, and the temptress Melanthia who attempted seduction of a monk, focus attention on the woman as central rather than marginal and invite detailed consideration of the idea of female sexuality in monastic life.
The program of church capitals at Vézelay includes many images of women in compromising situations. Two sculptures of Eve as temptress, with voluptuous breasts and belly emphasizing her sexuality, can be found at Vézelay.\22 Joseph and Potiphar's wife, a story of a false accusation of adultery, and thus something of a "prototype" for the Eugenia legend, is depicted twice at Vézelay, once in the nave\23 and once in the narthex (fig. 4). And the sexual role of women is made explicit in the nave capitals at Vézelay that depict Lust and Despair\24 and Profane Music and Lust (figure 5). This issue of temptation is also made visible in the St. Eugenia capital.
The representation of the wealthy and beautiful Melanthia who stands to the right of Eugenia and points an accusing finger at her has two attributes which tell us what kind of woman she is: the robe and the style of hair. Her gown, though not greatly ornamented, is tight fitting and has rather wide sleeves. The gown of Potiphar's wife (figure 4), is also tight fitting and has even more pronounced sleeves. Though this may have been the style of the day, writing of the time suggests that it was not necessarily regarded in a positive light. In his memoirs, Guibert de Nogent comments on women's lack of modesty, noting that "the enlargements of their sleeves, the tightness of their dresses."\25 Another contemporary remark suggests a negative view of "ladies with wide sleeves of crimped linen."\26 Melanthia, at the very least, as depicted, is not a modest woman. Not only is her hair unbound, but she also holds a lock of it in her hand. Unbound tresses appear in negative images of women at Vézelay. Luxuria (figure 5) has wild and flowing hair, and Potiphar's wife, like Melanthia, holds a lock in her hand (figures l & 4). the depiction of the death of Lazarus shows two such women whom Salet calls "deux femmes de mauvaise vie aux chevaux dénouées."\27 Although flowing hair has been connected with virgins and penitents, at Vézelay the visual tradition seems to see it more as an attribute of woman as sexual object.\28 Hair could have served, in addition to dress, as a visual clue to Melanthia's role as temptress.
However, the issue of temptation gets turned around in the figure of Eugenia who, in the guise of a monk, resists the temptation to which she is exposed. Though put in the position of the "fallen" monk, she cannot be guilty. It is in her resistance to temptation, her guilelessness, as well as her penance for the sin she did not commit that Eugenia's positive role at Vézelay can be defined.
First, there is her transvestism which accomplishes two things. It denies Eugenia's womanhood by covering up these attributes that made her a woman: her hair and her figure. And it, at least metaphorically, turns her into a man. Although sexuality has been suggested as central to the story, cross-dressing is the ultimate renunciation of a sexual role. Indeed, the life of St. Eugenia could have been intended, as Anson says, "to inculcate an ideal of immaculate chastity . . . . The attitude toward sex expressed by Eugenia's disguise is clearly a deep-seated hatred of the flesh and a longing for purity not to be found in this world."\29
Eugenia's disguise denied the attractions of her sex. Other women/monk stories include references to self-mutilation to aid in further denying the physical beauty of the protagonist and, therefore, the role of "temptress" usually ascribed to the female.\30 Even though Eugenia did not go this far, there is a definite difference in the depiction of her exposed breasts when they are compared with those of the tempting female figures, especially Eve, already discussed. Here they are less well defined and certainly not prominent. Indeed, a life of asceticism in a desert hermitage, with its dietary restrictions, would not have been conducive to sexual voluptuousness and her legend did not focus on the exposure of her breasts as erotic.
The representation of Eugenia's transvestisim is interesting in light of the biblical proscription of it in Deuteronomy 22.5 which reads, "A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman's garment; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God." In contrast to this text, the transvestism of St. Eugenia and the other women/monks was countenanced, even extolled by Christianity. In the eyes of the post-Pauline church, women who tried to be more like men were believed to have progressed to a greater state of perfection. St Ambrose wrote that "she who does not believe is woman . . . she who believes progresses to complete manhood,"\31 and St. Jerome wrote that "if she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman and will be called man."32 This step to manhood and to greater spirituality was more easily taken if a pure virginity were maintained. Indeed, the renunciation of one's own sexuality seen in the act of cross-dressing was a major step in the attempt to lead a virginal existence. Therefore, the transvestite female saints gained in the Church's eyes both because of their virginity and their more "masculine" spirituality.
Eugenia, when she speaks at her trial, acknowledges her progression to "manhood."\33 She says
For so great is the power of his name, that even women who stand in fear of it achieve the dignity of men . . . . Out of the faith I have in Christ, not wishing to be a woman but to preserve an immaculate virginity, I have steadfastly acted as a man. For I have not simply put on a meaningless appearance of honor, such that while seeming a man I might play the part of a woman, but rather, although a woman, I have acted the part of a man behaving with manliness, by boldly embracing the chastity which is alone in Christ.\34Eugenia's emphasis on her faith and the chastity that has allowed her to be more "virile"in her faith could have been understood as an example by the monks of Vézelay, and the capital may have been sculpted for that purpose.
The monks who wrote the legend of Eugenia and those of the other transvestite women/monks were explicitly including a female in an all male monastic milieu. Women, as a rule, were not allowed in male monastic enclosures; the Rule at Cluny strictly forbade any women to enter the grounds.\35 Certainly fear of the lures of the female were behind these strictures. However, inclusdion in the monastic miliey of an attractive, tempting female such as Eugenia suggests a fascination with the neutralization of the threat.\36 Eugenia's chastity, at least as far as her monastic brothers were concerned, could not be in doubt since her true sex had not been discovered. Certainly this indicated that there were no sexual wrong doings at her monastery and this would have reflected well on the "fellow" monks. She had remained safe from them and conseqeuntly they had been saved from her even while being exposed to her. This was as true for the monks at Vézelay as for the authors of the legend.
Yet Eugenia is accused of a sexual crime and must prove her innocence and do penance for a sin she never committed. In the trial scene in her legend she is quoted as saying "we could prove that this Melancia's [Melanthia's] testimony is false, but 'twere better that we suffer, than that she be convicted and punished, and we lose the fruit of our submission."\37 She admits her suffering. It is good to suffer for that is what penance is. The great prototype was Christ who suffered to cleanse the sins of mankind, and all good penitents must follow this example.\38 But Eugenia could take it no longer and she finally divulges her true identity.
The gesture of ripping off her clothing, which is the method she uses to make her true identity known, can be seen as a gesture of anguish and despair, and is closely tied with her suffering and penance. The rending of clothing had been a sign of grief from Roman times. John Crysostom, a fourth-century Church Father, condemned wild mourning gestures, which included the rending of garments.\39 A miniature in a Syriac manuscript of the seventh century depicts one of Job's friends parting or rending his robe in a "geste de douleur" as he gazes at Job on the dungheap.\40 In the San Paolo Bible from the ninth century David rends his clothing as he mourns the death of Saul.\41 The rending of clothing as a sign of grief seems to have become a traditon in Christian thought and commentary. Therefore, Eugenia's gesture on the Vézelay capital can be read as grief. This pain, along with the humiliation of exposing her nudity in public, is the penance for her "sin."\42
It is important to note that this was not done simply to save herself. In the legend she gives the reason for her public disclosure saying, "I reveal this secret this day, that the name of my Lord and my God Jesus Christ maybe glorified, and that these my brethren may be saved from this punishment."\43 By freeing herself of guilt she also frees her brothers from prison. By casting a woman, who is usually responsible for the tempting, in the role of the one who is tempted and does penance, the monastic writer has turned Eugenia into a surrogate who absolves her "brothers" from a similar sin. She can be incorporated into the monastic milieu as a woman stripped of her fearfulness; she becomes a vehicle for salvation.
The concepts of women, temptation and repentance have a particular significance at Vézelay. After all, the church was dedicated to Mary Magdalene, the archetypal wanton-turned-penitent. Her legend as it was known in the twelfth century, very possibly a fabrication by the monks of Vézelay, also casts the Magdalene as a hermit penitent in the south of France.\44 Again, as with St. Eugenia, both temptation and its renunciation are major themes. Another Magdalene image in twelfth-century Burgundy makes the theme of penitence clear. For example, the Magdalene's actions in the washing of Christ's feet in the house of Simon at Neuilly-en-Donjon are specifically those of a penitent.\45
It is, perhaps, a little odd that there is no image of the Magdalene herself at Vézelay.\46 It may have been lost over the years, but it is possible that no need for such an image was perceived. St. Eugenia's life, prominently displayed, would have provided a parallel and would have fulfilled the needed role of an image of a woman whose penitence benefitted the monks at Vézelay.
The rather unusual piece of sculpture, the historiated capital of St. Eugenia, has been shown to express interests and concerns of monastic life in the second quarter of the twelfth century. By acknowledging the fact that an image can be as good a record of its time as the texts to which we so often turn, a rich appreciation of the object, and a richer appreciation of the subject, has been gained. Visual clues in the sculpture along with the choice of images at Vézelay, seen against a background of Burgundian sculpture, have helped in formulating an interpretation of the capital. Indeed, the image can be seen to express a complex set of issues, even some that, perhaps, could not be expressed in writing. It has provoked an interesting view of one woman who, transformed from temptress to vehicle for salvation, is understood in a complex though positive light by the monks at Vézelay, who raised her image in their midst.
University of Chicago
Figure 1. St. Eugenia. Nave
Figure 2. SS Anthony and Paul Hermit Breaking Bread. Nave capital 75
Figure 3. St. Benedict, Narthex capital 11
Figure 4. Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. Narthex capital 6
Figure 5. Profane Music and Lust. Nave capital 6
All photo credits to James Austin
Plan of capitals at Vézelay after Porée and Salet. Narthex 6, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. Narthex 11, Temptation of St. Benedict. Nave 6, Profane Music and Lust. Nave 15, Luxury and Despair. Nave 21, Death of Lazarus. Nave 31, Legend of St. Benedict. Nave 58, Funeral of St. Paul Hermit. Nave 59, St. Eugenia. Nave 62, Vision of St. Anthony. Nave 63, Temptation of St. Anthony. nave 65, Adam and Eve. Nave 72, Banquet of Dives. Nave 75, SS Anthony and Paul Hermit Breaking Bread. Nave 85, Joseph and Potiphar's Wife. Nave 93, Adam and Eve.
This paper is based on
from a Master's thesis submitted to the Department of Art, University
Chicago, March, 1984. I thank Dr. Linda Seidel for her suggestions
eased the preparation of both the thesis and this article.
1 Shulamith Shahar, The Fourth Estate: A History of Woman in the Middle Ages, trans. Chaya Galai (New York: Methuen, 1983), p. 24, quotes Peter Damian's De sancta simplicitate of the late eleventh century, saying "it is not surprising that there still quivers in the descendants of Eve that same spear which the ancient enemy flung at Eve." Carolyn Walker Bynum, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1982), p. 145, quotes St. Bernard who statess that "to be always with a woman and not to have sexual relations with her is more difficult that to raise the dead." Even women who had taken Orders were not exempt from suspicion. In 1137 the Premonstratensian Order outlawed double monasteries: the Marcthal declaration abolishing its female half says "since nothing in this world resembles the evil of women and since the venom of the viper or the dragon is less harmful to men than their proximity . . . we will avoid them as we do mad dogs," Shahar, p. 36.
2 Cited, Eleanor Como McLaughlin, "Equality of Souls, Inequality of Sexes: Women in Medieval Theology," in Religion and Sexism: Images of Woman in the Jewish and Christian Traditions, ed. Rosemary R. Reuther (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974), p. 252.
3 Although the Vézelay sculptures will be discussed further in the body of this essay, it should be noted that images of women proliferate in the Romanesque sculpture of Burgundy. For example, the Eve lintel at Autun is discussed by Otto K. Werckmeister, "The Lintel Fragment Representing Eve from Saint-Lazare, Autun," Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 35 (1972), 1-30. An Eve figure at Anzy-le-Duc and one at Neuilly-en-Donjon, reproduced by A. Kingsley Porter, Romanesque Sculpture of the Pilgrimage Roads (Boston: Marshall Jones, 1923), II, illus. 93-95, are further examples.
4 The capital at Vézelay is identified as a scene from the life of St. Eugenia by Charles Porée, L'Abbaye de Vézelay (Paris: Henri Laurens, n.d.), pp. 60-61; by Emile Male, L'art religieux du XIIe siècle en France (Paris: Colin, 1924), pp. 242-43; by Despinney, Guide-Album de Vézelay (Vézelay: Magazin du "Pèlerin de Vézelay," 1930), p. 126; and by Francis Salet, La Madeleine de Vézelay (Melun: Librairie d'Argences, 1948), pp. 121, 188. Though many capitals at Vézelay have been "cleaned up" or completely replaced by restorers over the years, the Eugenia capital seems to be substantially from the twelfth century, and even retains some traces of polychromy, as noted by Salet, p. 145.
5 Manuscript copies of St. Eugenia's life are listed in twelfth-century inventories of both Cluny and Clairvaux. While no inventory from Vézelay esists it would not be unusual for its library to have included books similar to thos of the two other major Burgundian Benedictine houses. Books may even have been borrowed by the monks at Vézelay. Local knowledge of St. Eugenia's life was also likely because of a church in nearby Varzy dedicated to St. Eugenia of Alexandria and reputed to have relics of the saint, Dictionnaire des églises de France (n.p.: Laffont, 1966), II, A168.
6 Sources for the legend are Butler's Lives; Edgar J. Goodspeed, "The Story of Eugenia and Philip," Historical and Linguistic Studies in Literature Related to the New Testament, 1st ser, part III (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1931); Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend, ed. Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York: Arno Press, 1969); J.P. Migne, Patrologia Latina, LXXIII, 605-623, as quoted in John Anson, "The Female Transvestite in Early Monasticism: The Origin and Development of a Motif," Viator, 5 (1974), 1-32. No one can be sure exactly which version of the legend was known at Vézelay. Quoting from several different versions may come near the "popular" versions suggested by Butler and, in any case, may be no further from what was available to a twelfth-century audience than what Migne alone has recorded.
7 Anson pulls together these legends and describes their similarities in this way, pp. 11-32.
8 Hippolyte Delehaye notes that the tomb of a St. Eugenia, discovered on the Via Latina in Rome, may indicate that she, at least, was an historical figure, Etude sur le légendier romain (Brussels: Société des Etudes Bollandistes, 1936), p. 171.
9 Anson, p. 12.
10 The banquet of Dives is nave capital 72. All capitals can be located on the plan. All the Vézelay capitals mentioned in the essay are reproduced in Salet's monograph and may be found using his numbering.
11 Gregory VII's ideas on concubinage are expressed in a letter to Berthold of Carinthia, January 11, 1075, quoted in The Correspondence of Pope Gregory VII, trans. Ephraim Emerton (New York: Columbia University Press, 1932), pp. 62-64.
12 On the First Lateran Council, see Horace Mann, The Lives of the Popes in the Middle Ages (London: Paul, Trench, Trubner, 1925), VIII. 177-178. On Second Lateran Council, IX, 61.
13 Although Eugenia had been depicted prior to the twelfth century as a nimbed standing saint (Ravenna, circa 600; Hosios Lukas, sixth century; Parenzo, sixth century), the only other extand narrative scenes from her life are on an altar frontal dated to the fourteenth century which is now in Paris.
14 Léon Pressouyre, although he wrote about cloisters in particular, does suggest that the imagery of a given program relates to its audience's interests and the use of space in which it is sculpted, "St. Bernard to St. Francis: Monastic Ideals and Iconographic Programs in the Cloister," Gesta, 12-13 (1973-1974), 71-92. Note the location of St. Eugenia, nave capital 59, on the plan.
15 See Salet, pp. 19-21, for further details on the founding of Vézelay. See also Hugues de Poitiers, "Histoire du monastère de Vézelai," in Collections des mémoires relatifs à l'histoire de France, ed. F.P.G. Guizot (Paris: Brière, 1825), VII. 95-337.
16 The Funeral of St. Paul Hermit is nave capital 58, the Vision of St. Anthony, nave capital 62, the Temptation of St. Anthony, nave capital 63, and Saints Anthony and Paul Hermit Breaking Bread, nave capital 75. See plan.
17 Nave capital 31.
18 Bruno of Cologne (1030-1101, Bernard of Tiron (circa 1046-1117), Stephen of Muret (circa 1052-1113), and Odo of Tournai (circa 1050-1113) all experimented with different styles of eremitic living, Lester K. Little, "Intellectual Training and Attitudes toward Reform, 1075-1150," In Pierre Abélard, Pierre le Vénerable (Paris: Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975), pp. 240-241.
19 Salet, p. 131.
20 This becomes clear on the plan, showing the other capitals' location vis-à-vis capital 59.
21 The door is visible in the plan. It should also be noted that the St. Eugenia capital is not too far above eye level, certainly not as high as the upper range of capitals in the nave, and can be easily seen.
22 The two Adam and Eve sculptures are nave capitals 65 and 93.
23 Nave capital 85
24 Nave capital 15.
25 Guibert de Nogent, Self and Society in Medieval France, the Memoirs of Guibert de Nogent, ed. John F. Benton, trans. C.C. Swinton Bland (New York: Harper, 1970; rprt, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984, MART 15), p. 65
26 Joan Evans, Art in Medieval France, 987-1498 (London: Oxford University Press, 1948), p. 22.
27 Salet, p. 184. The Death of Lazarus from the parable of Lazaurs and Dives is nave capital 21. [The tale became conflated in the Middle Ages, this Lazarus being viewed as the similarly-named leprous beggar brother of Mary Magdalene and Martha, who may be represented by these two mourning women with disheveled hair and of whom one is of loose morals. JBH]
28 George Ferguson discusses flowing hair as an attribute of virgins and penitents, Signs and Symbols in Christian Art (London: Oxford University Press, 1981), p. 47. In contrast, Chiara Frugoni gives evidence that it is an attribute of temptresses in "L'iconographie de la femme au cours des Xe-XIIe siècles," Cahiers de Civilization Médiévale, 20 (1977), 179-182.
29 Anson, p. 27.
30 Marie Delcourt, "Female Saints in Masculine Clothing," in Hermaphrodite: Myths and Rites of the Bisexual Figure in Classical Antiquity, trans. Jennifer Nicholson (London: Studio Books, 1961), p. 92.
31 Quoted, Vern Bullough, "Transvestites in the Middle Ages, in Sex, Society and History (New York: Science History Publications, 1976), pp. 61-62.
32 Bullough, p. 23.
33 For information on medieval views of how women could truly become males, see Vern Bullough, "Medieval Medical and Scientific Views of Women," Viator, 4 (1973), 487-501.
34 Anson, p. 23.
35 Male, L'art religieux, p. 372.
36 John Anson suggests Eugenia's role as that of neutralizing the threat of women and the inclusion of the female as a "wish fulfillment" of the monks.
37 Jacobus de Voragine, p. 538.
38 Werckmeister makes reference to the Eve at Autun in this penitential context.
39 Moshe Barasch, Gestures of Despair in Medieval and Renaissance Art (New York: University Press, 1976), p. 35.
40 Fernand Cabrol and Henri Leclercq, Dictionnaire d'archéologie chrétienne et de liturgie (Paris: Letouzey, 1927), VII, 2566.
41 David illumination, folio 93, reproduced, Joachim Gaehde, The Painters of the Carolingian Bible Manuscript of San Paolo Fuori le Mura in Rome (New York University, Dissertation, 1963: Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 1967).
42 Cyrille Vogel translates a passage from the anonymous "Lettre à une religieuse sur la vraie et la fausse pénitence," dated, late tenth or early eleventh century, which says, "la honte est par elle-meme une grande punition, celui qui a honte pour plaire au Christ devient digne du pardon," Le pécheur et la pénitence au Moyen Age (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1969), p. 169.
43 Goodspeed, p. 20.
44 L. Duchesne discusses the Burgundian fabrication of the Magdalene's legend, "La légende de Sainte Marie-Madeleine," Annales du Midi, 5-6 (1893), 7-8. See also Victor Saxer, "L'origine des reliques de Sainte Marie Madeleine à Vézelay," Revue des Sciences religieuses, 29 (195), 1-17. This fabrication again highlights issues of interest to the monks at Vézelay that the Eugenia image makes clear.
45 Reproduced, A. Kingsley Porter, illus. 93. Another sculpture from Burgundy at Autun may be an image of the Magdalene. It was identified as the "ravissment de la Madeleine" by Emile Male, Les saints compagnons du Christ (Paris: Hartmann, 1958), p. 78, and by Louis Réau, Iconographie de l'art chrétien (Paris: Presses Universitaire de France, 1958), III, 856-57, which emphasizes the Magdalene's role as both penitent and hermit in her cave at Sainte Baume. However, an alternate reading of the capital as the Ascension of the Virgin is given by Denis Grivot and George Zarnecki, Gislebertus, Sculptor of Autun (London: Trianon, 1961), p. 158.\
46 It is not clear that the subject of narthex capital 21 is the apparition of the Magdalene to the princess of Provence as suggested by Salet, p. 198. Porée, p. 36, and Despinney, p. 93, consider it a scene from the story of David and Bathsheba. The lintel of the central narthex tympanum may have included a scene of the Magdalene in the house of Simon, but certainty about the original composition is questionable since it has been so heavily restored; in any case the sculpture is likely from a later campaign than the set of nave capitals; see Salter, p. 194, Porée, p. 22; Despinney, pp. 69-72. A Gothic statue of the Magdalene is currently at Vézelay, but of course postdating the St. Eugenia capital.
For clearer images of this capital and others at Vezelay see http://vrcoll.fa.pitt.edu/medart/menufrance/vezelay/capitals/vezcap59.html
Is She Dancing? A New Reading of Lucas van Leyden's Dance of the Magdalene of 1519.
It is my contention in this essay that in his engraving known as The Dance of the Magdalene (1519, B.121, Figure 4), Lucas van Leyden created a new visual synthesis of the complex images surrounding the Mary Magdalene. In his depiction of three events in her hagiography he redeeds to her a unified sanctity and a complete feminine presence. He thereby effects a stunning counter-gesture to the attack on her power in the popular imagination carried on by contemporary Reformation scholars who pursued the systematic deconstruction of her image.
The medieval Mary Magdalen was revered as the paradox of the meretrix, the whore loved by Christ and as the first apostle who brought the eyewitness news of Christ's resurrection to his other apostles. She developed anachronistically into a composite of several biblical women. She was the unnamed woman with the precious ointment who anointed Christ in the house of Simon; she was also Mary of Bethany, the sister of the homely Martha and of Lazarus whom Christ raised from the dead; and she was, finally the Mary of Magdala from whom Christ had driven out seven demons and who also came with precious ointment to anoint the dead Christ, only to find him risen on Easter morning\1
The identity of the Mary Magdalene was further affected by legend, by stories such as those told of the ascetics in the Thebaid, and others which had been fused into her Vita in the Legenda aurea, a thirteenth-century compilation of the Lives of Saints by Jacobus de Voragine. The Golden Legend tells of her pilgrimage to Provence with her brother, Lazarus, who became bishop of Marseilles, while she - following many years of missionary activites of her own - became a hermit in the wilderness, sustained by angelic fare.\2
In the Middle Ages the Virgin Mary and the sinner, Mary Magdalen, were two cental figures, giving Christians paradoxical icons of sanctity of the two extremes of womanhood. The paradigm shift of the Protestant Reformation removed both from the central canon. In the early sixteenth century a heated debate sprang up all over Europe among theologians and humanists of all persuasions having as its cause the treatise, De Maria Magdalena, by Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, published first in 1517, then again in 1518.\3 In it Lefèvre denied the unity of the Magdalen which he found untenable and the consequence of exaggerated medieval exegesis. He proposed separating the composite image of the saint into the three women she had, according to Scripture, originally been and, in the Eastern tradition, had remained: the nameless sinner who anointed Christ's feet;\4 Mary of Magdala, the possessed from whom Christ drove out the seven devils, interpreted as the seven deadly sins,\5 and Mary of Bethany, who chose the contemplative life, the "Mary hath the better part" whom Christ preferred to Martha, her sister and proponent of the active life.\6 The debate, which called into question the entire medieval tradition of scriptural and visual exegesis, was to introduce a shift in emphasis in the Magdalene's iconography and even to diminish her presence in the canon of saints.
Lucas van Leyden's engraving, The Dance of the Magdalene of 1519 (Figure 4) is clearly in response to that debate. It both resists and responds to the paradigm shift. In its rephrasing of the Magdalene's conventional iconography we may study vestiges of the medieval tradition at the same time as we are drawn to follow Lucas exploring new paths under the impact of Reformation ideology and Renaissance notions of historicity. I would like to suggest that a new reading of the iconographic argument captured in the problematic presence of the 'dancing Magdalene' will help crystallize Lucas' position in the controversy.
Whereas the Magdalene in medieval art was almost exclusively rendered in connection with scenes from, or immediately preceding and following, the Passion of Christ, there evolved in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the independent image of the lavishly attired Magdalene as myrophore, with flowing hair, usually rendered in a three quarter pose before an idyllic landscape setting with no obvious biblical ties except for her ointment jar.\7 Following contemporary trends, Lucas seems to have further emancipated the Magdalene from her earlier religious settings and introduced her dancing, tall and dominating, into a seemingly peaceful foreground scene where other couples rest and embrace, her hand held by her 'beau'. Two background scenes, however, enrich and amplify the foreground theme: they show the Magdalene as participant in a stag hunt in the middle-ground, and as the penitent sinner of the Provençal legend in the far background, identified by the minute vignette of her elevation by four angels.
Within these three spatially fully integrated grounds Lucas unites the three themes of the dance, the hunt and the elevation of the Magdalene into a complex and coherent composition which both earlier and more recent scholarship have interpreted as implying a juxtaposition of the Magdalene's life of 'sinful' pleasures and her later penitence in the wilderness of Provence.\8 In the context of the multiple emphases on erthly pleasures - the dance, the music, the couples embracing, drinking and singing along within the traditional love-garden setting which is seemingly further amplified by the joys of the stag hunt in the middle ground - the enormous halo of the dancing Magdalene represents an alternating device, the worldly sinner and future saint. It is in this complex view of the Magdalene that we may look for Lucas' particular response to the contemporary situation in which Passion plaus aided in crystallizing the debauchedness of the biblical Mary Magdalene by transforming her from sinning saint to dancing courtesan, and in which learned theses, such as the one by Jacques Lefèvre d'Etaples, aimed at the simultaneous deconstruction of the persona of the saint.
In an article published in 1981, Myra Orth referred to the ironic coincidence which had caused the Mary Magdalene debate at Lucas' time.\9 According to her it was Francis du Moulin, a writer at the court of Francis I of France, who had been commissioned by the Queen Mother, Louise de Savoy, to write a Life of the Mary Magdalene. Unfamiliar with her story, du Moulin asked his friend, Lefèvre, for background information. This Life was to be written in commemoration of the actual pilgrimage which the French court had undertaken in 1516 to Sainte.Baume, the alleged historical site of the Magdalene's penitence, and to St. Maximin's, where the relics of the saint were preserved. Du Moulin's completed manuscript, Vie de la Magdalène, was embellished with 72 grisaille miniatures executed by Godefroy le Batave, now preserved in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris (ms. fr. 24.955).\10 They may yet represent one of the largest cycles ever created in documentation of the saint's life. They are of interest to the discussion here because they too include many references to the saint's worldly life (including an embrace offered in a bedroom setting).\11 Godefroy's miniatures in roundels betray by their format the influence of the Italian Renaissance upon this medieval material.\12 Their special merit for the history of Magdalene iconography is that they represent the first instance of the portrayal of an actual topographic site: that of Sainte-Baume in the south of France which is the traditional locus of the Magdalene's penitence according to Provençal legend, the apocryphal account given in the Legenda aurea. Here, the triune aspects of the saint udnerwent a further conflation with the elevation narrative of the Maria Aegyptiaca, St. Mary of Egypt.
It is this aspect of the Magdalene iconography which Lucas introduced in the far background of his engraving. The Golden Legend stresses the Magdalene's missionary activities, both before and after her miraculous translation with Martha and Lazarus to the pagan court at Marseilles. Jacobus de Vorgaine relates how the Magdalene accomplished the conversion and baptism of Marseilled through the eloquence of her words and the performance of miracles; he narrates her retirement into penitence and her elevation by angels. Lucas' Dance of the Magdalene derives to a large extent from this Provençal legend and, as will be shown later, in more ways than the elevation arrative alone.
Lucas' portrayal of it is permeated by a sense of considerable calm and order both of which strangely belie the furor over the saint's identity which was coming to a head in Europe at just about the time of the engraving's conception. While this calm may reflect Lucas' customary impartiality in the treatment of "touchy" subject matter,13 the fact that he chooses the Provençal legend as the basis for his theme proves, at least indirectly, that he for his part intends to uphold the saint's biblical and legendary identity while showing his awareness of the contemporary debate. His particular accomplishment is his ability to abstract the essential characteristics of Lefèvre's length narrative and to render them intelligible for the enlightened reader within the confines of one unified space and in a composition which is uniquely his own.\14
The extent to which the Dance participates in the spirit of the Renaissance in its orderly, well organized spatial development, may be appreciated by a comparison with the contemporary production of the Master of the Mary Magdalene Legend's altarpiece and its portrayal of the Magdalen's life in many scenes. In 1927, Jeanne Tombu attempted to reconstruct the original composition of this altarpiece whose individual panels are nor distributed over various European and American collections.\15 Basic to the re-construction of the original design was Tombu's idea that its initial make-up represented a direct reflection of the contemporary debate while its compositional structure and the rendering of figural scenes in vertically stacked zones were still conceived in the spirit of fifteenth century Flemish painting. She successfully argued that its program was designed to be read across the wings and the center panel (in two scenes) where each major scene is amplified by secondary scenes placed above the former rather as inserts or pockets within grounds rendered parallel to the foreground planes.
Unlike the documentary
of the Godefroy miniatures (Paris BN ms fr. 24.955), the relatively
nature of the altarpiece's narrative scenes are of particular interest
to us since they may be understood as more explicit flois for
the concise, even iconic rendering of Lucas' Dance. On the
wings we have, on the left, the hunt of the Magdalene with hawk, a
both to her life of pleasure and her royal descent according to the Legenda
It is important to note that its background scene shows Christ
and Mary Magdalene listening to his words in a moment most often given
as the instant of the Magdalene's conversion from sinner to saint. On
right wing, we see the Mary Magdalene Preaching (Plate VIII),
the background scenes provide the portrayal of another pilgrimage (of
Provençal king to Rome) and a miraculous saving, multiple scenes
from the Golden Legend interspersed in the background much as
from a mille-fleurs tapestry design. What should be remembered in the
of Lucas' engraving is the cross-referencing from hunt to sermon, and
preaching to miraculous preservation after turbulent voyages. The
panel depicts two biblical scenes: the meal at the house of Simon with
the sinner anointing Christ's feet and, on the right, the raising of
Both are major scenes which refer to love, faith and hope of
On the exterior panels of the wings, we find a Noli mi tangere
enacted which shows the figures of Christ standing on the left panel
the viewer) and of the Mary Magdalene kneeling on the right. Both act
as intercessors on behalf of their patrons, an as yet unidentified
family who are shown kneeling before and below them, the male member of
the family on Christ's side, and the females, a mother and her
on the Magdalene's side.\17
This is a major structural confirmation of the privileged position of this saint who witnessed Christ's resurrection and announced it to his other apostles.\18 It is further emphasized by the stress upon the Magdalene's preaching which - especially for the purposes of this volume - is an important motif as it is in defiance of St. Paul's statement that women could not preach in church.\19 The Magdalen's authority, as first apostle, appears to be greater than St. Paul's. While one feels inclined to suspect that a learned woman has wittily suggested this theme to the altar's painter in an early instance of female emancipation, it is more likely that it reflects a contemporary ecclesiastical stand.\20 One cannot help but notice that the position of Christ and the male donor are on the side of the altarpiece which, when closed, would represent the placed of the saved in the conventional 'Last Judgment' setting while the women, including the Magdalene, are shown on the opposite side or the place of the fallen.
In her systematic inventory of the iconographic themes referring to the Mary Magdalen in the art of Italy, France, Germany and the Netherlands, Marga Janssen isolated programs of tapestry design, cyclical representations in glass windows, altar programs, panel paintings and graphic work as well. Her survey gives astonishingly rich documentation concerning portrayals in art of the Magdalene's earthly life which in many instances include scenes of the hunt and the dance.\21 Most consistently we find scenes of the Magdalene's missionary efforts where she is shown preaching after her own conversion effected by the exemplary words of Christ. Two extensively illustrated manuscript cycles have survived which combine scenes both of the Magdalene's sinful life and her redemptive missionary activites and which might be viewed as anticipatory mirrors for Lucas' engraving of 1519 and as likely iconographic sources for the Godefroy in the contemporary Vie de la Magdalène. The manuscripts represent two surviving incomplete versions of the Saelden Hort, an Alemannic verse poem of about 1300, of which one version with unsophisticated pen drawings outlined in red is located in Vienna, the other, more elaborate rendering in Karlsruhe.\22 It seems reasonable to assume that Lucas and the Master of the Magdalene Legend may have had access to copies of such an earlier model which, along with portrayals of the debauched sinner before her conversion in contemporary Passion plays, may have influenced their thematic conceptions of the role of the Magdalene. Stella Newton insists that the overemphasis in Passion plays on the Magdalene's sinful earthly existence eventually led to the detioration and decline of these places.\23
As recently as 1978, the sinful connotations of the Magdalene narrrative were noted by scholars who placed the Dance of the Magdalene in the context of the "power of women" topos.\24 As the unredeemed alter-Eve, they grouped the Magdalen with notorious women from both the Hebrew Scriptures and antiquity, such as Dalilah who shore Samson's locks; Potiphar's wife who pursued and tried to seduce Joseph; Phyllis who dominated and humiliated Aristotle and the Roman emperor's daughter who made slight of Virgil's love for her.\25
The following formal and thematic re-reading of Lucas' Dante of the Magdalene derives its initiative from the exploration of strategic concepts recently introduced into the critical literature dealing with Lucas' work, in particular the contributions by Peter Parshall and Werner Busch.\26 Marga Janssen and Rosy Kahn referred to Lucas' rendering of the Dance on three levels as medieval in mode.\27 This may be true in so far as Lucas' compact narrative attempts to deal with successive scenes of the saint's life which are separated in time, such as the dance, the stag hunt and the many years of penitence in the Sainte-Baume wilderness which, according to one version of the Provençal legend included the seven daily elevations at the canonical hours for celestial sustenance. But the coherent integration of all these separate time and space elements into a composite space that is rendered in logical perspective also reflects his increasing interest in the Italian Renaissance. It is the mixture of medieval and Renaissance which makes Lucas' print unique and intriguing.
Lucas guides the viewer carefully into the scene of the dance: along a narrow, short path, past the couple in the immediate left foreground to the extended hand of the young man's half embrace of his rich and fashionably dressed companion which arrests the viewer's progress right there.\28 This arresting gesture serves at the same time to aid in the circumscription of the space which separates the Magdalene and her partner from the other couples who form an elliptical extension around the inner separation space. This outer delineation of the couples' positions finds an echo in the undulating lines which separate the three grounds, but it is at the same time counteracted by two strong diagonal lines which twice begin in the left foreground, extend across the page and terminate first in the headgear of the musicians, and in the second instance in that of the couple at the right who are symmetrically aligned with the Magdalene and her companion across the page. This headgear provides pointers in each instance to scenes in the father grounds: the stag cornered by the hounds of the chase to the far right of the middle ground; and, in the far background, the difficult road to the penitent's life in solitude in a cave of the towering and foreboding rock. Encapsulated in the space which is created by the axial alignment of the Magdalen and her partner with the vertical expanse of the rock in the background and the triangular formation which is created by the imaginary line in space from the Magdalene to the musicians and then to the rock, is the miniature portrayal of the Magdalene on horseback, proud, her head held high as if pursuing a vision. Rider and galloping horse are separated from the rest of the hunting party whose joys are sounded by the hunters' horns and swelling the foreground tunes of fife and drum.
All signs so far then point indeed to the fact that we have a juxtaposition of worldly and saintly pursuits, at the ratio of 2:1 in favor of the former over the latter. Or do they? Must not the motif of the proud rider on horseback have resounded with echoes from classical antiquity, remniscent of Diana, chaste goddess at her hunt which were, no doubt, a part of the vocabulary of Lucas' clientèle?\29 Would not these same viewers have sensed in the hunted stag other, Christian references to the stag as symbol of Christ as well.\30 Does not this scene at the center of the horizontally extended middle ground rather suggest this to be the moment of the Magdalene's conversion, the moment of the encounter with Christ with its significant denoument of the transition from worldly sinner to saintly penitent? By implication, the legendary beauty of Venus undergoes a related metamorphosis and merges with that of Diana, as in Aeneid I.314-320; beauty turns into chastity as worldly sinner turns saint. That the Magdalen emerges from her encounter with Christ as a saint burdened first with a worldly, then with a celestial mission, is the contention of this essay. At the crux of her encounter and her consequent conversion lies the promise which Christ holds forth: that of redemption, through baptism, not only the Magdalene's but by inference, that of mankind. She rides then forth out of her encounter with Christ mucj as we would imagine the Christian soldier riding forth, in order to join the ranks of those other Christian knights who, like St.George, the dragon-slayer, or St. Eustace, the Roman general turned Christian saint, were active in the service of Christ's word, in spreading his message of salvation: the promise of redemption from sins which is the promise of eternal life.\31
The symbolic association of the stag with Christ and baptism was central to Christian thought and was figured forth in teh exegetical tradition surrounding Psalm 42.1: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, o God." Pictorial precendents for rendering this theme of salvation were available to Lucas - as were indeed models of the combinationof Christian exegesis with classical tradition. Portrayals of Apollo and Diana, for example, formed part of the stock in trade. Durer's engraving of this pair from antiquity was, no doubt, known to Lucas as was Durer's engraving of St. Eustace of 1501 (figure ).\32 The latter has as its subject the conversion of the former Roman general and hunter par excellence who turned Christian saint because of his encounter with the stag, whose symbolic importance is underscored by the crucifix which grows out of the animal's forehead. But if this iconographic detail in Durer's engraving provided the source of inspiration for Lucas' miniature in the middle ground, it is clear that Lucas has gone further than his model in the assimilation of this motif.
The reading of the Magdalene's hunt as a longing for Christ is corroborated by literary sources and by the reading of St. Eustace's encounter with the stag inthe forest as a signification of his own effected conversion. buit, given this reading of the middle ground, the question is how to register the function of the Magdalene's image in the foreground? Were Lucas' contemporaries, as we are now with the help of the preceding analysis and with the knowledge of Lucas' methods, to read the dominant foreground scene not as a conventional rendition of the Dance of the Magdalene but rather as a courtly gathering into which she has just entered but of which she neither is, nor ever will be, a part? Just as the middle ground calls for allegorical interpretation, the foreground calls for a more literal sense of things.
A logical reading of the engraving must maintain that the foreground scene is indeed a scene of worldly enjoyment. It is, however, a pagan scene, a rich and memorable foreground in which dark hues prevail and which Lucas sharply contrasts with the shimmering bright light which unifies both middle and far backgrounds. By means of such contrasts of light and dark, Lucas has created a further commentary on the particular landscapes he presents to us: the foreground as the place of spiritual darkness into which the enlightening words of Christ's message have not yet come - but are just about to enter with the Magdalene. Here there is no case of violent anachronicsm. The initial sense of alienation which was caused by the seeming juxtaposition of the halo and the sinful nature of the dance now assumes a new meaning: Lucas has "rehabilitated" the literal meaning of the image. The Magdalene wears a halo to signify her missionary activity and her current sanctity.
The scene in the middle ground by comparison must be seen as an image of the paradiso terrestre, earthly paradise. The hunt for Christ on earth is the first step in the recovery of the celestial paradise, which was promised in the act of redeeming man's fall from grace, and which is figured forth in the engraving by an almost indecipherable sign of her elevation in the far background.\33 These landscape designs for a paradise lost, a paradise sought and a paradise regained are unified by the trees which so prominently transcend all grounds and thus both heighten a sense of tension among the grounds, and at the same time affirm the divinely instituted continuity betweem death and life, between Fall and Redemption.
The theme of tension or strife is amplified by the "Samson and Delilah" couple in the foreground which in turn reverberates with the general presence of the "Power of Women" topos.\34 The large, prominently placed sword in its unmistakeably phallic associations reiterates graphically the cause of man's state of suffering in darkness: the temptation of Adam by Eve (the serpent), their eating of the Tree of Knowledge, and the subsequent expulsion from Paradise. Again, in terms of depicting the ambiguities of strife, Lucas is quite capable of presenting the Magdalene as the embodiment of evil and a temptress of saints. For instance, in his Temptation of St. Anthony (B.117) of 1509 Lucas has convincingly rendered the conflation of the Magdalen as saint and evil temptress by letting his Magdalene of the Elevation (St. Mary Magdalene Carried on High, B.124, 1518) appear as the horned temptress to the saint whose agony at the vision of evil remains exemplary throughout the later Middle Ages and in particular in the art of the North. In the Dance, however, the Magdalene is consistently a figure of reconciliation as she mediates the Word. Her most notable act in the narrative of Christ was to recognize the true and hidden validity of the Word among all the other words. In this depiction she fulfills that ability. One can even say that Lucas' manipulation of ground and our point of view replicates for us an occasion to engage in the Magdalen test of recte legende or right reading.\35 Can we, too, see the Word among the words, distinguish the significant from the merely present, "know the Dancer from the Dance?"\36
Jacobus da Voragine called Mary Magdalene the "light giver" because, as he said, she listened to Christ's message with which she "enlightened" others.\25 The Magdalene's missionary role, as the "messenger" of Christ is then the main theme in the foreground and the reason for the enormous halo of the Magdalene: the well-earned halo of a sinner whose love, faith and hope made her the favorite of Christ who bestowed upon her the right to pass on his word, to preach the sermons that Paul would forbid, when he made her the witness of his resurrection.\38
In the context of the Provençal legend, one further suggestion may be justified: that the prominent foreground scene may also be a reference to a landscape located in the vicinity of Marseilles. The garments worn by the couple in the right foreground have been identified by Stella Newton as harking back to the mid-fifteenth century fashions of the Burgundian Court, while the rest of the company wear fashions which are contemporary with Lucas' own time.\39 So there is some deliberate anachronism here after all. But it functions in the service of historical distancing within a fundamentally "realistic" set of expectations. Such means of historical distancing appear emphasized by the couple's structural alignment with the Magdalene and her companion, by the crowned (court) poet\40 sitting next to them, in a posture reminiscent, perhaps of Celtis' visions of better, golden times, and finally, by the fool in Midas' cap whose hailing gesture across the landscape may then indeed signal that all is not what it appears to be.\41 Such historical distancing in the context of the Provençal legend might allow us then to identfy the couple to the right with the royal pagan couple at Marseilles and to name the Magdalene's companion. Unlike the traditional interpretations which have at best seen in him a courtier from among the Magdalene's fashionable acqaintances and at worst, an 'emissary of the devil',42 we would call him Lazarus, the brother of the Magdalene, her companion on the miraculous trip from Jerusalem to pagan France, and a bishop in the service of Christ. Both are richly clothed, signifying their royal descent, and they move in a pose of humility in which the feather-decorated hat which Lazarus holds in his hand negate the traditional association of feathers with luxuria.
While this new "reading" of Lucas' Dance of the Magdalene does not alter our sense of mortal existence as a dialectic between Fall and Redemption, it does provide a new interpretation of Lucas' sense of Magdalene's role in this program of redemption which is both active, as messenger of Christ's word, and passive, in the contemplation of the inherent promise in his word. Lucas graphicaly depicts the Magdalene's journey and, by extension, our own; from right middleground (her conversion) to foreground (her missionary activities) to far background where, above and to the right of Peter's rock,\43 we see the signum of the elevation of the Magdalene as she claims the promise of Paradise regained. Jacobus de Voragine calls Mary Madagalene "amarum mare," "bitter sea," for Mary, and "manens rea," "armed, magnificent," for Magdalene, delineating the poles of the pilgrim's journey from Fall to Redemption. The eschatological significance of this pilgrimage is symbolized in the elevation of the saint which figures the ascent to a regained Paradise, that heavenly Jerusalem of which St. Augustine wrote so movingly, and which Dante envisioned as he entered, at the end of his pilgrimage, into the brilliant, intellectual light that filled his universe.
Art and Architecture Library
University of Colorado, Boulder
Figure 4. The Dance of the Magdalene, 1519. Engraving, 11 3/8 x 15 1/2, Lucas van Leyden (Dutch, 1489/94-1533).
Plate VIII. Mary Magdalene
(circa 1518). Panel painting, Master of the Magdalene Legend. John G.
Collection, Philadelphia Museum of Art.
concise definitions of the Mary Mgdalene (including Mary of Egypt)
see James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (New
Harper and Row, 1979 rev. ed.), pp. 202-204. For more detailed
see Louis Réau, Iconographie de l'Art chrétien (Paris:
III.2.846ff; Karl Kuenstle,
der christlichen Kunst (Gütersloh: Gütersloher
Gerd Mohn, 1969-1980) 2. Auflage, esp., see Bd 1.167-168; Bd. 2.27-28;
2 For an account of the apocryphal life of the Magdalene, see the English translation of the Legenda aurea: Granger Ryan and H. Ripperger, The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine (New York: Arno Press, 1948), pp. 355-364. Honorius Augustodunensis' sermon from his Speculum ecclesiae (PL CLXXII.979-82) of circa 1100 contributed to shaping the legendary aspects of the Magdalene Vita. Se also 'Maria Magdalena', Lexikon der Christlichen Ikonographie, Bd.7 (1974), column 517.
3 For references to the debate, see Anselm Hustader, "Lefèvre d'Etaples and the Magdalene," Studies in the Renaissance, XVI (1969), 31-61; Myra Dickman Orth, "Francis du Moulin and the Journal of Louise de Savoy," Sixteenth Century Journal, XIII (1982), esp. p. 57, notes, 10, 11.
4 Luke 7.36-50; John 20.14-18; Luke 10.38-42.
5 Luke 8:2; on St Gregory's exegesis of the Magdalene's seven devils as vices see Ellen Jakobovitz, The Prints of Lucan van Leyden and his Contemporaries (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 1983), p. 194, note 5, giving 'What are meant by the seven devils, unless all vices? Because all time is included in seven days, surely the universe if figured on the number seven. Therefore Mary, who was full of all vices, had seven devils. But lo, because she saw the stains of her baseness, she ran to be washed at the fountain of mercy' (Sanctus Gregorius Magnus, XL Homiliarum in Evangelia, Lib. II. Hom. XXXIII. in Patrologia Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, 76, col. 1239). John 20.14-18 refers to her encounter with CXhrist, the 'Noli me tangere' scene.
6 Luke 10.38-42.
7 Lexikon der christlichen Ikonographie, ed. W. Braunfels (Rom: Herder, 1968-76), Bd. 7.519.
8 For both earlier and more recent scholarship see especially the following studies: Craig Harbison, 'Lucas van Leyden, the Magdalene and the Problem of Secularization in Early Sixteenth Century Northern Art', Oud Holland, 98 (1984), 117-128; 'Lucas van Leyden Studies', Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 29 (1978), esp. Peter Parshall, 'Lucas van Leyden's Narrative Style', 185-238; Lawrence A. Silver and S. Smith, 'Carnal Knowledge: The Late Engravings of Lucas van Leyden', 239-298; Rosy Kahn, Die Graphik des Lucas van Leyden: Studien zur Entwicklungsgeschichte der Hollaendischen Kunst im XVI. Jahrhundert (Strassbourg: J.H.E. Heitz, 1918). This last study bases its styulistic analysis of Lucas' work on essential comparisons with that of Durer.
9 "The Magdalene Shrine of La Sainte-Baume in 1516: A Series of Miniatures by Godfrey Le Batave (Bibliothèque Nationale fr. 24.955)," Gazette des Beaux Arts, ser. 6, XCVIII (1981), 201-214, esp. 203.
10 Myra Dickman Orth, Progressive Tendencies in French Manuscript Illuminations: 1515-1530: Godefroy le Batave and the 1520's Hours Workshop (New York University, PhD Dissertaion, 1976; Ann Arbor: University Microfilms, 76-19,530) 3 vols. For her discussion of the Vie de la Magdalene (B.N. MS. fr. 24.955) by François du Moulin and its illuminations for Godefly le Batave, see pp. 298 ff; for a list of the 72 miniatures, see Appendix A, pp. 415-417; for text excerpts (which the miniatures follow closely), see Appendix A, pp. 417-421. Hufstader cites a different title, Vie de Saincte Madeleine (BN. fr. 24.955).
11 Orth, BN. fr. 24.955, folio 10v; see her fig. 122. For Du Moulin's text, upon which the bedroom scene is based, see p. 316, which compares this kiss to that of Judas and sees it in the "plaisir-peine" context. The inscription on the miniature's frame is in Latin, but is derived from Partrarch's Trionfi, according to Orth. By comparing the boldness of this miniature to Lucas' relatively bourgeois rendering of the Dance of the Magdalene one understands the influence exerted by their respective patronage: the one royal, the other democratic.
12 It is a format which Lucas also briefly explored in his engravings of the Passion of Christ, the Round Passion (B.55-66), of 1509.
13 In 'Some Artistic Anticipations of Theological Thought', Art Quarterly, 3 (1979), 67-89, Craig Harbison discussed Lucas' Baptism of Christ (B40) of 1510 in terms of the contemporary Anabaptist controversy, because of the missing dove above Christ's head which traditionally signifies the acknowledgement by God of Christ's divinity. Harbison argues there that Lucas, far from making a pro-Reformation statement, chose to render a moment other than the tranditional one. He admits that he, like others, finds it difficult to define Lucas' particular stand.
14 For an introduction to Lucas' contemporary society, see Jeremy D. Bangs, Cornelis Engebrechtsz.s Leiden, Studies in Cultural History (Assen, Netherlands: van Gorcum, 1979); on popular (orthodox) piety, see esp. pp. 75-79,
15 See Jeanne Tombu "Un Triptyque du Maitre de la Legende de Marie-Madeleine," Gazette des Beaux Arts, ser. 5, 15 (1927), 299-310.
16 This may be a reference to the joke comparing the quest for lovers with the hawk hunt, here with the sexes reversed. The motif is seen in Flemish manuscript marginalia.
17 Jeanne Tombu established the donors' Brussels provenance by identifying the Church of Sainte-Gudule in Brussels in the background architecture, pp. 307-8. She further identified the two additional figures of patron saints standing behind the donors as Saint Louis and Saint Margaret, which may provide clues as to the identities of the donors, pp. 302-8.
18 John 20.1-19, Luke 24.10; Jerome, Epistola CXXVII, and Abelard, Letter 5, tell Eustochium and Heloise of this to comfort them.
19 1 Corinthians 14.34-46.
20 Tombu, p. 307, pointed to the differentiation in the female donors' portrayals reflecting contemporary fashions for young and older women as well as the female donors' preferences which, according to her, they must have communicated to the altarpiece's painter.
21 Marga M. Janssen, Maria Magdalena inder abendlaendischen Kunst. Ikonographie de Heiligen von den Anfaengen bis ins 16. Jahrhundert. Diss. phil., Freiburg, 1961. She points out that both the themes of the dance and the hunt are unique creations of Northern art which focus on the Magdalene's sinful life prior to the sinner's forgiveness of her sins in the house of Simon.
22 These two versions of the Saelden Hort - which I examined in situ in 1989 - provide together probably the most complete illustrated cycle of the Magdalene's life. The Vienna manuscript, Codex Vindobonensis 2481, Oesterreichische Nationalbibliothek, dates back to circa 1390 and consists of 120 miniatures in which the Magdalene's life is seen as part of Christ's life on earth and immediately after his Resurrection. The Karlsruhe manuscript, Codex St. Georgen 66, Badische Landesbibliothek, dates back to circa 1420; it consists of 24 miniatures done in colored pen drawings and which are slightly more elaborate than the illustrations at Vienna. These amplify the earlier Vienna cycle by emphasizing the Magdalene's missionary activities in Provence. For detailed references, see Janssen, pp. 217 ff.
23 Stella Newton, Renaissance Theater Costume and the Sense of the Historic Past (New York: , 1975), p. 49. M. Janssen, p. 42, refers in this context to the Passion play of Arras where the Magdalene is turned into "une veritable courtisanne" who refers to her indulgence in worldly pleasures with the words: "Ve ci mon coprs que je presente a chascun qui le veult avoir." Janssen points out that the depictions of her worldly pleasures are based on the Scriptures and precede her conversion; the scenes which show her activities after the Resurrection of Christ are, by contrast, based on apocryphal accounts.
24 Silver and Smith, p. 252.
25 For Lucas' illustrations see Samson and Dalilah (B.25), 1505-8, engraving; Joseph Escapes from the Wife of Potiphar (B.20), 1512, engraving; Aristotle and Phyllis (H.104), 1513-14, woodcut; Virgil Suspended in a Basket (B.16), 1513-14, woodcut; Virgil Suspended in a Basket (B.136), 1525, engraving: Jacques Lavalleye, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Lucas van Leyden: The Complete Engravings, Etchings and Woodcuts (New York: , 1967).
26 In his ground-breaking study, "Lucas van Leyden's Narrative Style," in "Lucas van Leyden Studies," Nederlands Kunsthistorisch Jaarboek, 29 (1978), 185-238, Peter Parshall carefully analyzes Lucas' specific modus operandi. He finds this exemplified in the intricate interaction of the traditionally dominant theme stated in the background (furthest away from the viewer) and of Lucas' new, though related, main theme being introduced in the dominant foreground. Parshall insists that Lucas' narrative development proceeds very logically, receiving its ipetus and direction from the inherent solution to the problem which Lucas states in a clear, albeit unorthodox way. Parshall's analysis, pp. 222ff, of another engraving by Lucas, The Conversion of St Paul (B.107) of 1510, may serve as an example. For specific references of the viewer's positions, see esp. pp. 202ff.
Werner Busch engages in a typological exegesis of Lucas' print, Abraham Renouncing Hagar in his 'Lucas van Leydens 'Grosse Hagar' und die Augustinische Typologieauffassung der Vorreformation,' Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte, 45 (1982), 97-129. For excellent references on visual exegesis, see also Anna C. Esmeijer, Divina Quaternitas: A Preliminary Study in the Method and Application of Visual Exegesis (Netherlands: Assen, 1978), pp. 59ff. For an extended 'tree exegesis', see 'Baum' entry, Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschihte (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzlersche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1937-48), Bd. 2 (1948), 63-90, esp. 63-70.
27 M Janssen, p. 333; see also R. Kahn who based her stylistic analysis of Lucas' works on essential comparisons with that of Durer.
28 In the following analysis, 'left' and 'right' are to be understood from the viewer's point of view and not in terms of the picture proper, as stage left and right.
29 See James Hall, Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art (New York: , 1979), note 4, pp. 318-320: "Diana"; see also Oxford Classical Dictionary (Oxford: Clarendon [?], 1970), "Diana," pp. 337-338, which refers to her as wood-spirit, moon-goddess, and to her fertility functions. For Renaissance humanist practices of merging the iconography of the Virgin Mary with that of goddesses from antiquity, see Ernst Guldan, Eva und Maria: Eine Antithese als Bildmotiv (Graz, Köln: Böhlau, 1966), p. 85 et al.
30 References to the stag as sign of Christ abound, among others: Herbert Friedmann, A Bestiary for Saint Jerome: Animal Symbolism in European Religious Art (Washington, D.C.: 1980), p. 207; Physiologus, trans. Otto Seel (Zurich, Stuttgart: 1960), p. 26: "Hirsch"; Emblemata: Handbuch zur Sinnbildkunst des 16. und 17. Jahrhunders, ed. Arthur Henkel (Stuttgart: 1967), col. 470: "Una salus Deus est . . . " (God is our only salvation), the emblem showing a stag covered with snakes running towards a fountain of water implying a reference to salvation through baptism. See also Schiller, note 4, p. 131, who refers to the stag as a symbol of baptism; Volkmar Kellermann, "Der Hirsch: Beiträge zur Erkenntnis eines Sinnbildes," Germanien: Monatshefte für Germanen-Kunde, XII (1940), 128-136, refers to baptismal decoration programs incorporating the stag; tostag hunts and to the stag as leader into hell, as leader of the dead (Totenführer). See also Psalm 42.l. For an extended meaning which connects the snake (serpent) with the stag in the Christian program of salvation (implying fall and redemption) see Physiologus 12: "von den Schlange," which associates the shedding of old skin with Matthew 7.14: the difficult path that leads to redemption.
31 For a discussion of the miles christianus as embodied in Durer's engraving, Knight, Death and Devil of 1513, esp. in connection with Erasmus' miles christianus, see E.H. Gombrich, "The Evidence of Images," Interpretation: Theory and Practice, ed. Charles S. Singleton (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press [?], 1969), pp. 98-99; see also Erwin Panofsky, The Life of Albrecht Durer (Princeton: University Press, 1955), pp. 154 ff. Panofsky suggests there are two kinds of Christian knights: the rider whoactively engages in Christ's service (as representative of the vita activa) and his opposite, the hermit who spends his life in penitence (signifying the vita contemplativa). See also Walter L. Strauss, The Intaglio Prints of Albrecht Durer: Engravings, Etchings and Drypoints (New York: 1977), pp. 196-199.
32 See Strauss, Intaglio Prints, note 33, pp. 116-117, for Apollo and Diana of 1502; pp. 104-107, for St. Eustace of 1501.
33 The elevation as a sign of almost accomplished redemption may have evoked in the contemporary viewer echoes of the inscription traditionally associated with the Magdalene, the sinner, after Luke 10.42, "Ne despereti vos qui peccare soletis, exemploque meo vos reparate Deo." "Do not despair, you who have fallen into the way of sin; restore yourselves through my example and through God."
34 See Silver and Smith, pp. 239-298.
35 This applies to both the literal sense as well as the message of John 1.14: "Verbum caro factum est." For an interpretation of a later painting by Lucas van Leyden, his Moses after Sriking the Rock which also addresses the idea of right reading, here in terms of the Sacramentarian debate, see Lawrence A. Silver, "The Sin of Moses: Comments on the Early Reformation in a Late Painting by Lucas van Leyden," Art Bulletin, 55 (1973), 401-9.
36 W.B. Yeats, "Among School Children," in The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (New York: Macmillan, 1959), p. 214.
37Golden Legend, p. 355.
38 For an authoritative survey of the systematic theological discussion of the aureola as distinct from the halo or "aureole" see Edwin Hall and Horst Uhr, "Aureola super Auream: Crowns and Related Symbols of Special Distinction for Saints in Late Gothic and Renaissance Iconography," Art Bulletin 67 (1985), 567-603. Based on Thomas Aquinas' exposition, halo and aureole are signs of beatitude enjoyed by all saints; the aureaola, however, is reserved for those among them who won a special victory over three conflicts inherent in human existence: over the flesh via virginity, over the world via martyrdom, over the Devil via expulsion of the latter, by a "life of preaching and teaching." As virgins, martyrs, teachers, these saints are closest to Christ since each of them signify an essential part of his life. The Magdalene's role as apostle, as apostola apostolorum, as the one who witnessed Christ's Resurrection and was asked by Christ to tell the others, is the subject of Joseph Harris, "'Maiden of the Mor Lay' and the Medieval Magdalene Tradition," Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies, 1 (1971), 59-71, esp. 79.
39 Newton, pp. 173-4.
40 Ellen Jacobowitz, p. 192, identified the "actor-poet" as a character from Hans Burgkmair's Triumphzug, circa 1512-18. He also apears in Lucas' Conversion, in this instance leading the dogs from Durer's St. Eustace. In 'Forest Primeval: Albrecht Altdorfer and the German Wilderness Landscape', Simiolus, 13 (1983), 4-43. Lawrence Silver discussed the theme of nostalgia which Conrad Celtis, court poet to Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) had sounded in his writings, such as his Ludus Dianae of 1502 or his Tauerdank of 1505-8. Celtis' plays, according to Silver, celebrated the theme of the hunt in which knights set out much as Arthurian knights to battle and conquer evil in the dark forest of man's existence. Such ideas were supported by Maximilian's notions of the ideal knight as much as by his real conviction of the necessaity of a Christian crusade against the Turks after their conquest of Constantinople in 1453. See also E. Jacobowitz, p. 199.
41 The fool as a distancing device, a sort of vanitas of the world symbol, was expressed by Lucas in his Tavern Scene, woodcut, 1518-20 (title and date after Snyder). For the translation of the fool's words see James Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, the Graphic Arts from 1350-1575 (New York: , 1985), p. 462. See also 1 Cor. 3.18-23 on True Wisdom, and its use by Erasmus in Praise of Folly.
42 See Jacobowitz, p. 194, who points to the Digby Play where the Magdalene's companion in the dance is identified as an 'emissary of the devil'. In the Saelden Hort codex at Karlsruhe (St Georgen 66), fol. 26v depicts Lazarus, the brother of Mary Magdalene in the costume of a courtier suggesting nobility of descent for both.
43 Christ said to Peter, "Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church," Matthew 16.18-19. As the delivery of the keys to Christ's kingdom, this is understood as instituting the Sacraments of Holy Orders. For Paul's interpetation of Christ as the Rock, see I Cor. 10.4; also L. Silver, in his interpretation of Christ as the supernatural rock with Christian redemption, and the miracle of the Eucharist.
Scholastica and Benedict: A Picnic, A Paradigm
Sr. Jane Morrissey
Woman in the Middle Ages can be thought of as some invisible entity to be discovered only when she talks extensively, like the Wife of Bath, or when she bullies Popes, like Catherine of Siena, or conducts courtly love, like Eleanor of Aquitaine. Yet if one seriously tackles medieval texts and examines their rhetoric, one can find moving revelations about those women who seem to be lurking in shadowy parentheses, at the margins of the medieval world. In his Dialogues, Gregory may seem to be saying little of women. So too his ardent disciple, Deacon Peter. But if one takes the time to examine closely the uses of language in what may seem to be a simple anecdote, much can be inferred. In Chapter XXXIII of the second dialogue Gregory tells a story of Benedict and Scholastica, which story along with a brief allusion to her death in the subsequent chapters, represents the only account we have of her existence.\1 In the story, Benedict and Scholastica disagree about whether or not she should leave her convent after a visit. She wants him to stay. They do spend the night together in prayer and holy conversation. In the next chapter, we are told that shortly afterwards she dies. The story is simple. But if one examines the context, diction, images, narrative and didactic elements of the story, one finds a rather singular woman. In fact, one finds a rather singular parable, illustrative of the lives of Benedict and Scholastica in particular, men and women in general, earth and heaven, time and eternity, and finally humanity and God.
First, let us examine the context of Chapter XXXIII of the Dialogues. Gregory has just completed a catalogue of Benedict's miracles, those performed at will and those effected by prayer. As his final example, he tells the moving story of a farmer who has carried the body of his dead son to the monastery where Benedict restores him to life, after praying that God consider not his own sins but the faith of the boy's father. Deacon Peter then asks Gregory "whether holy men can always carry out their wishes,or at least obtain through prayer whatever they desire." Gregory says no, then tells the story of the visit of Benedict and Scholastica in which Scholastica upstages her brother, in Gregory's words, "contra hoc quod voluit, in virtute omnipotentis Dei ex feminae pectore miraculum invenit," "contrary to what he willed, by virtue of a miracle of almighty God, procured by the heart of woman." In these words Gregory contrasts the request of Scholastica which came from her heart, "ex pectore feminae," with Benedict's desire to return to the monastery. "Se venerabilis viri mentem aspicimus," "if we consider the mind of the venerable man" (italics mine). So Gregory is answering Peter's question regarding the possiblity that holy men always have their way by telling the story of a holy woman whose heartful prayer once disallows her brother's having his way, albeit his legitimate way.
Peter then responds to Gregory's anecdote and intepretation with evident delight. Gregory, however, returns to his narrative in the subsequent chapter, as if the story had not been interrupted by either his explanation or Peter's comment. He simply states that the next morning Benedict and Scholastica return home. In thus bringing his story to closure, in a singular instance he uses the adjective ordinarily reserved for Benedict, venerabilis, to describe Scholastica, who is commonly described, sanctimonialis. He goes on to narrate three stories of death - that of Scholastica, of Germanus, bishop of Capua, and of Benedict himself - and thus brings his dialogue about Benedict, Dialogue Two, to a close.
When I look at the story of Benedict and Scholastica in the context of the Dialogues, taking into account Peter's question which prompts the story and the subsequent narration regarding the deaths of Benedict and Scholastica, I notice that the frame of the story offsets two factors within the story. Peter's question makes us focus on the relationship between Benedict and Scholastica and helps us to see in his weakness her strength, in his defeat her victory. Since these opposites are ultimately apparent, rather than real, they establish paradox, rather than contradiction. Finally, the distinction between brother and sister helps us to realize how close they are to one another, how each complements the other. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of this story and the story of Scholastica's death, leads me to believe that the complementarity we see between brother and sister does not merely characterize this one day in their lives, but makes of that day a metaphor for their entire lives. There is a harmony, deeper than the ties of blood, which binds brother and sister to one another. Gregory acknowledges as much when, after mentioning that Benedict had his sister buried in the tomb he had prepared for himself, he comments, "quo facto cintigit ut quorum mens uno semper in Deo fuerat, eorum quoque corpora nec sepultura separet," "The bodies of these two were now to share a common resting place, just as in life their souls had always been one in God." The story then ends with explicit emphasis on unity, a unity which is the reconciliation of opposites within the story.
As I read the story, I find in its diction the poles of oppositon which are ultimately reconciled, between the verbs "volo" and "valeo," and between the various nouns used to identify Benedict and Scholastica, as male and female. The harmony between these poles is discovered in the way one complements the other. Forms of the words volo and valeo appear eleven times in the 439 words of Chapter XXXIII. Their occurrence is densely concentrated at the beginning and at the end of Gregory's story - four instances in the first two sentences, seven instances in the four sentences at the end. In the first sentence of Chapter XXXIII, Gregory introduces the verbal opposition between volo and valeo. He reveals to Peter that it is impossible for the holy man always to obtain what he desires by reminding him that St. Paul - and who can be holier than he? - asked three times that the Lord remove the sting from his flesh, "et tamen quod voluit obtinere non valuit." Gregory returns to these words at the end of the chapter. In the last four sentences, he uses "non valens," "noluit," "voluisse," "voluerit," "voluit" and "valuit." In the first instance, both verbs are used in the negative. Benedict, like Paul, cannot have his way: "Ipse autem exire extra tectum non valens, qui remanere sponte noluit, in loco mansit invitus," "on the other hand, unable to go out from under the roof, although he did not want to remain of his own accord, he had to stay in the place, unavenged." Benedict's wish not to remain, noluit, echoes the use of the same verb in the preceding sentence, a beautifully balanced statement of Scholastica in which she explains, "Ecce te rogavi, et audiri me noluisti; rogavi Dominum meum, et audivit me," "I asked you, and you would not hear me: I asked my Lord and he heard me." Benedict is reprimanded for his unwillingness to hear his sister, not only by Scholastica and the Lord but also by Gregory's style.
In the subsequent sentences, after explaining that brother and sister spend the night in sacred colloquy, Gregory comments first in an indirect discourse, "eum voluisse aliquid, sed minime potuissse," "that he wanted something, but could have less"; secondly, "dubium non est quod eamdem serenitatem voluerit," "that there is no doubt but that he wanted a clear sky"; and that what ensued was "contra hoc quod voluit," "contrary to that verything whichhe wanted." In the last sentence of the narrative, Gregory explains why everything went amiss for Benedict and for the first time uses "valeo" in the affirmative. He says "Nec mirum quod plus illo femina, quae diu fratrem videre cupiebat, in eodem tempore valuit," "it is no wonder that in this instance the woman, more than her brother, was able to have that which she desired." The concluding sentence thus alerts us to what was allowed to Scholastica. The use of cupio, rather than volo, in this instance seems to imply that Scholastica's request was one of heartfelt desire, quite distinct from Benedict's act of volition.
If by following the verbs valeo and volo through the text one can sense the distinction Gregory makes between what one wants and what one is allowed - a distinction which serves to characterize the brother and sister and their God - , by examining the various nouns which identify Benedict and Scholastica, one can see that they are often strategically chosen to name the role the man or woman takes at a given point in the story. Benedict is pater, frater and vir; Scholastica, soror and femina; Benedict, venerabilis, Scholastica, sanctimonialis (nun or holy woman). Gregory only once refers to Benedict as pater, and there seems to emphasize his relationship as a Benedictine to the founder of his order. Three times he refers to Benedict as frater: when he comes to visit Scholastica; when Scholastica has heard his refusal to stay; and finally when he compares the effectiveness oftheir wishes in his concluding comments on the justice of God's resolution of their difference. In these three instances, he emphasizes the close relationship of brother and sister, elucidates Scholastica's sensitivity to Benedict's refusal, and then judges and explains the woman's superiority over her brother. The two times Benedict is referred to simply as vir, "man," there seems to be a touch of irony in the text. In the first instance, Benedict, vir Dei, "the man of God," is disturbed and complains bitterly that he cannot return to his monastery. In the second, Gregory is explaining that in the end, the woman's heart wins over the mind "venerabilis viri," "of the venerable man." The diction identifying Benedict seems to remind us of the importance of relationships, of brother and sister, man and woman.
The same can probably be said of the words which identify Scholastica, except that she has the advantages of her victory. Of course, she is introduced as sister to Benedict. When she first asks Benedict to spend the night, she is identified as woman and sister, sanctimonialis femina soror. From that point on, with one noteworthy exception, she is referred to as femina, "woman." which seems appropriate, given that she is thinking and acting in a fashion independent from, even opposed to her brother. The one exception to the choice of the noun "femina" to identify Scholastica occurs in Benedict's denunciation of her act, "Parcat tibi omnipotens Deus, soror; quid est quod fecisti?" "May almighty God spare you, sister, what is it that you have done?" Where Benedict in a sense demeans his sister, Gregory, and God, exalt the woman by settling in her favor. While Gregory is certainly not describing a "battle of the sexes" and choosing the female victor, he is describing in a very deep way how man does need woman and the woman indeed deserves the settlement in her favor.
While God's settling the debate in the woman's favor is the central resolution of the anecdote, I feel that it may be equally important to look at the narrative elements of the story to determine what the settlement means in symbols that may stretch even the beautiful moral Gregory draws from the outcome of the dispute. Brother and sister, and their brothers and sisters, are at table, sharing food, cibus, and the heavens, coeli, respond to Scholastica's wishes, rather than Benedict's. The alliterating nouns, cibus and coeli, gently remind us of the original harmony betweenerth and heaven. The table at which the group eats foreshadows the eternal banquet. The altercation alone disturbs the peace. Gregory reminds us that the sisters and brothers have supped together and are at table when Scholastica first invites her brother and his brethren to spend the night. When he resists she puts her hands on the table and her head in her hands. Simultaneously when she lifts her head from the table, the thunderstorm begins. Grergory repeats that the woman's tears and the rain so coincided with one another that the thunder resounded as she was lifting her head from the table. The revelation of and resolution to their disagreement comes from the skies as a kind of Christian deus ex machina, but also as a symbol which relates this story to those which follow it.
In the stories that follow, Benedict reads portents of death in the skies; later his own death is accompanied by a heavenly sign. In the first instance, three days after he has spent the night with his sister, while he is in his room looking up to the sky he sees her soul leave her body and enter heaven in the form of a dove. In the second instance, standing at his window while everyone is sleeping, he sees a flood of light, then the whole world is gathered into a single ray of light, and finally the soul of the bishop of Capua is carried by angels to heaven in a ball of fire. Finally, when Benedict himself dies, two monks - one at Monte Cassino, the other at a distance - have the same vision of a richly carpeted road, glittering with light, which stretches to the heavens, on which Benedict walks in majesty. The association between the firmament and the heavenly kingdom is suggested from the first time it is mentioned, in Chapter XXXIII, when Gregory explains that the table conversation is "de colestis vitae gaudiis," "about the joy of the heavenly life." He immediately asserts that "vero erat coeli serenitas," "indeed the sky was clear," and so connects "heavenly matters," spiritual realities with the blue sky. In Chapter XXXV Gregory further explains to Deacon Peter that the vision Benedict has of the world's assumption into heaven indicates not that the world grew small, but that the enlightened spirit is enlarged and can therefore contain the world.
This explanation of Gregory in the later chapter elaborates on his didacticism in the story of Benedict and Scholastica. It is indeed a story of spiritual relationship. The prayer of Scholastica is answered because "Deus charitas est," "God is love," and because Scholastica, "amplius amavit," "loved more." Love allows the synchronicity between the prayer of Scholastica and the storm which effects the answers to her prayer. She, like Magdalene in Luke's Gospel, is granted her request because she loves more.
Scholastica at once desired (cupiebat) and prevails (valuit) "in eodem tempore," because in that point in human time where love as desire and love as act are one in God, the person is open to eternal life. The regularity of the monastic hours, which impels Benedict to say, quite reasonably, that it is time to go, yields to a holy desire which creates its own time for an exchange of thoughts about the secrets of the spiritual life. The unity of earth and heaven, desire and act, time and eternity, is complete in Chapter XXXIV where Benedict sees Scholastica's soul "in columba specie coeli secreta penetrare," "in the likeness of a dove penetrate the depths of the heavens."
In conclusion this seeming scrap of information about the life of Scholastica can serve as a paradigm in which what one wishes is allowed, because of the love in the wish; volo and valeo are reconciled. In the same love, heaven conspires against the brother who would choose the law over his sister's loving request, in a way that unites brother and sister, woman and man, in a night long conversation about the interior life. Man and woman are reconciled in God. Finally, heaven and earth are reconciled, because Deus charitas est.
Our Lady of the Elms College
De miraculo Scholasticas
eius. Caput XXXIII
Quisnam erit, Petre, in hac vita Paulo sublimior, qui de carnis suae stimulo ter Dominus rogavit, & tamen quod voluit obtinere non valuit? Ex qua re necesse est, ut tibi de venerabili patri Benedicto narrem: quia fuit quiddam quod voluit, sed non valuit implere. Soror namque eius, Scholastica nomine, omnipotenti Domino ab ipso infantiae tempore dedicata, ad eum semel per annum venire consueverat. Ad quam vir Dei non longe extra januam in possessione monasterii descendebat. Quadam vero die venit ex more, atque ad eam cum discipulis venerabilis eius descendit frater: qui totum diem in Dei laudibus sacrisque colloquiis ducentes, incumbentibus jam noctis tenebris simul acceperunt cibos. Cumque adhuc ad mensam sederent, et inter sacra colloquia tardior se hora protraheret, eadem sanctimonialis femina sorror eius eum rogavit, dicens: Quaeso te ne ista nocte me deseras, ut usque mane de coelestis vitae guadiis loquamur, Cui ille respondit: Quid est quod loqueris, soror? Manere extra cellam nullatenus possum. Tanta vero erat coeli serenitas, ut nulla in aere nubes appareret. Sanctimonialis autem femina, cum verba fratris negantis audisset, insertas digitis manus super mensam posuit, et caput in manibus omnipotentem Dominum rogatura declinavit. Cumque de mensa levaret caput, tanta coruscationis et tonitrui virtus, tantaque inundatio pulviae erupit, ut neque venerabilis Benedictus, neque fratres qui cum eo aderant, extra loci limen quo consederant, pedem movere potuissent. Sanctimonialis quippe femina caput in manibus declinans, lacrymarum fluvios in mensam suderat, per quas serenitatem aeris ad pluviam traxit. Nec paulo tardius post orationem inundatio ills secuta est, sed tanta fuit convenientia orationis et inundationis, ut de mensa caput jam cum tontiruo levaret: quatenus unum idemque esset momentum, et levare caput, et pluviam deponere.tunc vir Dei inter coruscos et tonitruos atque ingentis pluviae inundationem videns se ad monasterium non posse remeare, coepit conqueri contristatus, dicens: Parcat tibi omnipotens Deus, soror; quid est quod fecisti? Cui illa respondit: Ecce te rogavi, et audiri me noluisit; rogavi Dominum meum, et audivit me. Modo ergo si potes, egredere, et me dimissa ad monasterium recede. Ipse autem exire extra tectum non valens, qui remanaere sponte noluit, in loco mansit invitus. Sicque factum est ut totam noctem pervigilem ducerant, atque per sacra spiritalis vitae colloquia sese vicaria relatione satiarent. Qua de re dixi eum voluisse aliquid, sed minime potuisse: quia si venerabilis viri mentem aspicimus, dubium non est quod eamdem serenitatem voluerit in qua descenderat permanere; sed contra hoc quod voluit, in virtute omnipotentis Dei ex feminae pectore miraculum invenit. Nec mirum quod plus illo femina, quae diu fratrem videre cupiebat, in eodem tempora valuit: quia enim juxta Joannis vocem, Deus charitas est, justo valde judicio illa plus potuit, quae amplius amavit.
Petrus. Fateor, multum placet quod dicis.
Petrus, Dialogus, Biblioteca Vaticana, lat. 1202, folio 72v
The first frame shows Benedict disdaining his sister's prayer, Scholastica placing her head upon the table. the second shows Benedict seeing the soul of his sister ascend into heaven in the form of a dove.
Saints Benedict and Scholastica, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Vat. lat. 1202, fol. 72v
1 Patrologia Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, 66, cols. 193-196. For an English text, I have relied on Saint Gregory the Great, Dialogues, trans. Odo John Zimmerman, O.S.B., (New York: 1959) The Fathers of the Church, 39.
Saints Benedict and Scholastica: The Liturgical Music
Rev. Gerard Farrell, O.S.B.
The chanted offices for the
of Saint Scholastica, February 10, are from the Monastic Antiphonal
1934). The early Antiphonaries (monastic), Hartker, tenth century, and
Luques, twelfth century, do not have this office. They do have that of
Saint Benedict, March 21. However, the celebration could still be quite
early and the text of the Vesper dialogue is from the Dialogues of
Gregory (+604) who records the visit of St. Benedict (+480) to his
twin sister, Scholastica.
The antiphon, Cum sanctus Benedictus, speaks of St. Benedict seeing the soul of his sister entering heaven in the form of a dove.\1
Westminster Choir College and
Antiphonal (Solesme: 1934), pp. 815-816.
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