Cardeña Beatus

Cardeña Beatus f. 1B, Oviedo cross


f. 1B, Oviedo cross

The Oviedo cross was used in early medieval codices as an opening image and began to be included in Beatus and other codices at some point in the 10th century. It may have figured in the Morgan Beatus (c. 940), but none have survived at the start of the codex, which features just a small cross on f. 219. The figuration in the Valcavado Beatus (970) (f.1v) is splendid and its origin can be traced back to 9th century Asturian traditions of both sculpture and metal tooling, which themselves go back to the times of Alfonso II (791-842). It was inspired however by the Visigothic world, as revealed by sublime items such as the two gold arms of the cross in the 7th century Guarrazar treasure preserved in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional. This type of cross was, according to Schlunk, of oriental origin. One direct forerunner is undoubtedly the Los Ángeles cross cast in 808, although there are several differences including the way the letters hang , which is more similar to the relief of the cross of Alfonso III , dated c. 875 AD, preserved at Oviedo Museum. It is interesting to note in this respect that reliefs such as the Foncalada of Oviedo (between 866-910) bear an inscription to be repeated in the frontispieces of all types of manuscripts (including Beatus codices such as the one mentioned earlier and now housed in Valladolid): Hoc signo tuetur pius / In hoc signo vincitur inimicus [This sign safeguards the pious / This sign conquers the enemy]. One may therefore surmise that elements were gathered from different contexts. The cross became the symbol of the kingdom of Asturias and gave rise to a legend that set Pelayo on a par with Constantine, converting the triumph at Covadonga into a triumph similar to the one at Milvian bridge. The inscription that appeared in the sky to the conqueror of Magencio In hoc signo vinces was to be glossed in the frontispieces of all types of manuscripts in the inscriptions mentioned earlier. The cross in the Obecus Beatus lies upon a braid emerging from a sort of hillock surrounded by several cocks. These elements are replaced in the Fernando I Beatus by the lamb and six seniors plucking string instruments, in anticipation of the adoration of the Lamb by the twenty-four elders. The iconography of this Beatus differs in several respects from that of the Gerona Beatus (975), which like other illustrations was to serve as inspiration for the Cardeña Beatus. The cross stands directly upon the Lamb. The illustration in the Cardeña Beatus is directly inspired by the Gerona Beatus and is also located on f.1 verso, the location typical in branch IIb Beatus, including the Rylands Beatus. The Lamb, flanked by the heads of the symbols of John and Luke, holds in addition to the cross, two instruments of the Passion: the spear and the sponge. This imagery is not limited to Beatus codices, it is also found in other types of manuscripts and on the frontispiece of the New Testament in the Bamberg Bible. This is all portrayed in a similar fashion in the Cardeña Beatus, except that the symbols are replaced by angels, one of whom carries the three nails whilst his companion points to the Lamb, wearing a nimbus as in the model and facing right. It is again a Greek cross but in a different context. Greater emphasis is laid on the Passion by means of the instruments of martyrdom; the lamb is the victim. Only the testimonial character of the Oviedo cross remains. This illustration has many details in common with the illustration in the Rylands Beatus. The only differences lie in the fleur-de-lis type of cross, similar in shape to the Limousine style, and the angels without attributes of the Passion in the Manchester Beatus, elements which date said Beatus, inspired by the Cardeña Beatus, somewhat later. Stylistic concepts such as the Latin cross held by angels that figure in Beatus ms. 429 at the Morgan Library, dated in 1220, confirm that dating, although ancient elements still survive such as the cross with tapered ends. The colours are plain with green and blue grounds against which the gold, a colour found throughout the illustrations, of the cross stands out. The nimbi are also heavily gilded, and contrast with the red tones at the foot of the cross and the rods of the sponge and the spear.

Ángela Franco Mata
Chief of the Medieval Antiquities Department, Museo Arqueológico Nacional
(Fragment of the Cardeña Beatus commentary volume)

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