Girona Beatus

Girona Beatus ff. 3v-4r, Heaven
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ff. 3v-4r, Heaven

            This is the first image in the Gerona Beatus that covers two full pages – a characteristic trait of stemma II. However, apart from its copy, the Turin Beatus (Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, Sgn. I.II.1, ff 2v-3r) it is a unique illustration amongst the extant illustrated manuscripts of the Commentary on the Apocalypse. Depicted in a completely frontal and majestic manner around a central circle and seated upon a simple, silver throne, is quite a damaged figure which does nonetheless have the appearance of a warrior. His right hand is raised with his index finger and thumb lifted up, whilst his left hand holds a gold-tipped spear and shield. His naked feet and legs are shown resting upon a bluish, wavy form. His traits are practically obliterated: only part of his eye and traces of his long hair and bearded chin can be seen. He is flanked by a starry, golden figure that can be identified with the sun and a golden, first-quarter moon. Around him are five concentric circles divided by eight radial lines into as many sectors, except for the outermost circle. In the one closest to the centre, upon a blue background, are nine golden stars each in a separate sector except for the top, left-hand one with two. The sectors in this circle bear the inscription “Lv-//m-/e-/n//s-/telle//e-//t Lv-//me-/n//s-/telle”. The following circle contains twelve winged, lionlike quadrupeds, facing each other symmetrically with golden books between their legs, upon their head, or in their hands, like the one with an anthropozoomorphic appearance in the sixth sector, similar to St Mark’s symbol on folio 5r. The inscription in this circle reads “legi-/ones//a-//n-/ge-//l-/or[um]//le-//gi-/o-//nes//an-/ge-/lor[um]”. The third circle shows thirteen thuriferous angels with a book in their hands, facing each other symmetrically. The inscription “volvmina portan-//tes/et aromata//ho-/do-//ra-/n-/tes//volvmina//portan-//tes et aro-//mata/[h]odoran[tes]” can be read around the eight sectors. The circle sectors in the fourth and most intricate ring contain eighteen completely or partly naked winged beings. Their classical appearance, reminiscent of the atlases on the previous folio, is not homogenous: some have long hair whilst others, like those in the first sector, are fully dressed or, like those in the second, fourth and eighth sectors, wingless. Nor do their gestures clarify their function, which is conveyed by the legend around the circle: “sp[iritu]s vo-/lan-/t/sp[iritu]s vo-/lant//sp[iritu]s vo-/l-/ant//et altisi-/mo in trono//magnifi-/cant//sp[iritu]s volant/et alti-/si-/mo adorant// sp[iritu]s/volant// et seden-/ti/in t-/ro-/no// magnifi-/cant”. This is also the ring that features lines radiating out from the centre – with texts consisting of Biblical quotations that would constitute a poem – as far as what has been deemed to be personifications of virtues. It shows, moving clockwise in the usual fashion, firstly a man in a praying position wearing short garments and a cloak, with his feet resting upon wavy, purple lines. He is flanked by an inscription reading “In om[n]i ueruo quo procedit ex ore dei//non in/solo/pane ui-/bit omo”, taken from Matt. 4: 4. Hence this is the path of the pious man who lives by God’s word, which represents the path of contemplative mercy. The second figure wears long, sleeveless garments and his feet also rest upon wavy, purple lines. The legend reads “uia gaudium et pax semper//Inuenit esca et potus/tribuit”. This could be a reference to the way of compassion of he who gives food and drink to the poor. The third figure holds an upright spear in his right hand and a coiled snake which he seems to be strangling in his left. His feet are upon a bluish, wavy surface and the legend reads “pax et leticia in leticia in sp[irit]u sancto//propu-/gna-/tor/ad sal-/uan-/dum”, i.e. like the one battling for salvation. The pair of previous inscriptions may refer to Rom. 14: 17, although the paraphrase of the legend in the second circle means the opposite of the Biblical text. Whilst according to the Bible the kingdom of God does not consist of food or drink, the text in the miniature means that the man is distributing food, probably in reference to the first two acts of mercy, and will consequently find the way leading him to peace and joy. If one accepts that sharing is a virtue, then the man in the first quotation would represent reverence and the one in the second, generosity or compassion. The personification of the third quotation is defined as “propugnator ad saluandum”, words which may have been taken from the last part of Is. 63: 1 which describes the Lord as the judge and avenger of the nations he crushes in his wine press. This passage is usually interpreted as referring to Christ the judge although it does not seem to relate well to the text along the radial line, which could mean that joy and peace will be found in the Holy Ghost when the Master completes his work of salvation. Furthermore, the male figure with the snake in one hand and the spear in the other – traits that differentiate him clearly from the other men – may refer to the victory of God over evil, i.e. the one who fights and kills the snake. Hence, taking into account the traditionally negative meaning of this reptile, the saviour can be related to the marginal illustration of the knight spearing a snake on folio 134v. Whilst this illustration depicts the rider attacking the snake, the man in the illustration of heaven is the personification of the outcome of the battle: the fact that he is standing up with the spear and the snake indicates that the battle is over and the devil has been defeated. Another association can be inferred from the central image of Christ with a spear in his left hand, equivalent to the one in the man’s hand, which could suggest that at the end of the day, Christ is the propugnator of Isaiah, whom the exegesis identifies with the Son. Hence this section of the miniature could be interpreted as being a sort of illustration showing an imitatio Christi, by which the man – possibly a personification of the Church – has overcome the devil represented in the image of the snake in his hand as a symbol of victory. The reptile may also refer, furthermore, to the snake in Paradise who caused sin to enter the world and who was overcome by Christ’s saving deeds. Consequently, thanks to them the propugnator is the way to peace and joy through the Holy Ghost. The bottom part of the image is completely obliterated with just traces of the red ground. This part, like the top part opposite, must have featured an inscription around the image and along the line emerging from the centre. The legend in the space with the fourth man – again in the traditional pose of prayer with his feet upon a wavy, blue and white surface – reads: “uia qui recipit iustum in n[omi]ne iusti//mercedem/iusti/accipiet”, a paraphrase of Matt. 10: 41 that clearly refers to honesty. Written in the area of the fifth man – also at prayer, albeit less obviously so, dressed in short garments and with his feet resting upon a blue and gold ground – are the words “uia de elemosina qui extinguit peccata//danti/et acci-/pi-/enti”. The words alongside the sixth man – also in a vague pose and dressed in short garments read “uia sicut aqua qui extinguit igne//homo pieta[ti]s”. The quotations accompanying the fifth and sixth men are a pair, being an imitation of Sirach 3: 30. Hence, reference is made in the fifth sector and along its radial line to alms which extinguish or cleanse sins, hence the man symbolises alms. The sixth sector on the other hand, and its male personification, represents the pious man who, unlike the one in the first sector, refers to mercy of an active rather than a contemplative nature by associating it with the alms-giver. The spiritual significance of the whole is that alms are a sign of the mercy that cleanses and leads to the repentance of sins, just as water extinguishes fire. This brings the circle to a close, moving from the first sector round to the sixth; all about the same subject – mercy – but from different viewpoints. Finally, in the top part, in a similar manner to the bottom part, stands an extremely obliterated figure with what could be a rod possibly in his right hand and, on the left, part of his body in a bluish garment, a leg and a foot. The fifth, undivided circle shows eight symmetrical angels, dressed and facing each other, surrounded by the words “angeli li-/tores/et domino/portato-/res/missi svnt/angeli litores/et domino/portatores missi/svnt”, in reference to the importance of these heavenly spirits sent as the Lord’s messengers.
 
            The classic figure defined as cupular in the centre of the composition, has been interpreted as Christ the cosmocrator enthroned with his right hand raised in blessing. He is flanked by the sun and the moon, elements linked to him in that period mainly at crucifixions. Until now however, there have been no representations of Christ or God as soldiers. Furthermore, although it was not defined in tenth-century, western, Hispanic kingdoms, the Lord in Majesty was depicted in most representations with a cruciform nimbus; however the pointed shape around his head is similar to the one around the warrior on folio 213. This may be an indirect reference to the Saviour since Christ is assimilated with Helios-Apollo, the Cosmocrator. The enthroned figure with a spear and shield may have stemmed in the distant past from the monumental paintings of antiquity depicting a god in the same position, as can be seen in an early fourth-century frieze (housed formerly in Barberini Palace and currently in the Museo Nazionale delle Terme in Rome) showing a goddess with a shield, ceremonial staff and a victoria in one of her hands. This image, which is almost identical apart from the staff replaced by a spear, is to be found in a drawing of the personification of Rome contained in what is known as the Philocalus’ Calendar (Vatican, Apostolic Library, Cod. Barb. Lat. 2154, f. 2r), which is a copy of a fourth-century work. This image is also repeated in the same work in the portrait of consul Constantius II (f. 13r). The nine golden stars in the following circle may be related to the hierarchy of angels based upon the classification that Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite provided in Caelestis hierarchia, although it did have antecedents. One explanation for the lionlike figures in the following circle may possibly be the similar pronunciation of legions and lions, causing the artist to show angels as lions, it being no coincidence that they are twelve in number. The naked figures in the fourth ring – labelled not angeli but spiritus – and represented in the third and fifth rings according to the iconography typical of that period, are other beings stemming from an ancient model unrelated to Christian orthodoxy whose meaning was lost when it was included in the Gerona Beatus. The last circle, had it been complete, would have contained ten angels.
 
            Generally speaking it is possible that the composition of the image of heaven, like other subsequent images to be seen in the Gerona Beatus, stems from many sources, including particularly images of astronomy dating from late antiquity and the early Middle Ages or, perhaps, from Gnostic sources which often used intricate diagrams with a cosmic meaning. It is difficult to trace the transmission of an image, particularly an image modified by the passage of time, originating in the early days of Christianity and possibly greatly influenced by Gnosticism – had it not been Christian Gnostic from the outset – until the last quarter of the 10th century. From the 4th century onwards, the Western Roman Empire was home to many pagan and Gnostic customs and others related to pre-Christian beliefs alongside Christianity. A work penned by Priscilianus or one of his disciples describes beings similar to those in the image of heaven that could appear in a Gnostic diagram. Despite the on-going condemnation of the Church in Hispania and elsewhere, these heterodox ideas persisted until as late as the 10th century. It is however highly likely that only this figurative aspect, albeit greatly modified, survived in the circles in which the Gerona Beatus was illustrated, having lost the heretic or having adapted an image that, whilst of a heterodox meaning, was useful for illustrating an orthodox belief. C. O. Nordström pointed out the parallel with an illustration in a manuscript of Ptolemy (Vatican, Apostolic Library, MS. Vat. gr. 1291, f. 9r), that was copied between 813 and 820 from a model dating from late Antiquity: the illustration is divided into different sections by concentric circles and twelve radii which would be the equivalent of the radial lines with inscriptions in the Gerona Beatus. The sun, Helios, is in the centre in his chariot: this would correspond to the figure of Christ enthroned. This type of images is however different from the one in the Gerona Beatus which was undoubtedly inspired by a late Antiquity model, which is now missing but that must have existed in the library of the monastery where the Gerona manuscript was copied.
 
Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor
Doctor in History
(Fragment of the Girona Beatus commentary volume)

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