Girona Beatus

Girona Beatus f. 189r, The baptism of Christ


f. 189r, The baptism of Christ

The Gerona Beatus is, apart from the Turin Beatus, the only extant Beatus to feature this illustration, which is situated at the end of the storia about the Lamb upon Mount Zion (Rev. 14: 1-5) on the page preceding the painting that illustrates this section. It has no frame, as is usual in themes not belonging to the Revelation, and covers the entire folio. Depicted in the upper part are the two sources of the Jordan, in the usual, circle form – the left-hand one reading “FONS YOR” and the right-hand one “FONS DAN”. A water course emerges from each one with wavy sides –both with a fish– which then merge into one where there is a baptismal font with Christ, possibly represented as a naked child inside. Situated above his head is the Holy Ghost, in the form of a dove, with the legend “SP[PIRITU]S”, whilst St John garbed in ankle-length, sacerdotal robes instead of his camel skin, is shown on a rock to the left grasping Christ by the body and right leg, thereby revealing that it is a baptism by immersion. Neither the Lord nor the Precursor have a nimbus, which could suggest a link with a very ancient model. Underneath and flanking the scene are another two fish and two trees that symbolise the leafy banks of the Jordan, with the words “ubi xpi et iohannes in iordone/flumine tinctus fuerunt” to the right. The meaning of the image is twofold, being both evangelical, with the representation of the two figures and the dove of the Holy Ghost in the river, and sacramental, by including liturgical elements typical of that period, such as the baptismal font and St John’s priestly robes. As regards the first aspect, the Baptism of Christ consists of two elements: the purification of the river water and the theophany. As for the sacramental nature, the place where the catechumens await their baptism by immersion is called agnile in the Mozarabic Liber Ordinum; similarly, St Gregory of Nazianzus called it the antechamber of the heavenly liturgy. Continuing with the liturgical implications of the baptismal font upon the Jordan, the Mozarabic Liber Ordinum specifies that it must be filled with river water. In addition, the baptism of children has been recorded in Hispania since the 3rd century. There are images of Christ being baptised in a font dating back to Early Christian and early medieval times. All this is possibly linked to the notion of the redemption made by the Lamb of God, hence this image may be deemed to be a gloss of “Hii emti sunt ab initjo/d[e]o et agno” (f. 188v.) in Rev. 14: 4 or, more probably, as an illustration of Tyconius’s interpretation of this passage, as can be seen in the preface by Beatus: “cantant canticu[m] nobu[m] id est/predicant xpm [...] p[er] babtism[um] et penitentja[m]/remissionem om[n]ium peccator[um]” (f. 26v).

Carlos Miranda García-Tejedor
Doctor in History
(Fragment of the Girona Beatus commentary volume)

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