They say a picture’s worth a thousand words, but honestly? Medieval religious art can pack so much in a tiny space that perhaps it worth ten thousand words!
For instance, look at this picture. At first glance, this appears to be an image of the Crucifixion. After all, the Crucified Christ is at the focal point of the image and His suffering is unmistakable. Your eye is immediately drawn to Him and those that are near Him at the foot of the cross.
But, look closer. Much closer. This is not simply an image of the Crucifixion — it is an image that depicts some of the most pivotal scenes of the Passion as tiny little moments!
Let’s look at some of the parts of this work, shall we?
Christ Taking Leave of His Mother
This is a popular devotion around the time that this art was made that was known as, “Christ Taking Leave of His Mother.” Though not written in the bible, medieval tradition states that Christ said goodbye to his mother, knowing that He was about to die. He joins His disciples and they go to Jerusalem, where Jesus will be welcomed into Jerusalem, riding a donkey, and then subsequently condemned and crucified. It was used as a way to honor the Virgin Mary.
Agony in the Garden
Here, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane as His disciples sleep. The angel comes, bearing a cross and a cup to indicate the path in which Jesus must take. And, right next to Jesus, is what looks to be a cypress tree. In art, cypress trees often indicate mourning and death — though because the point straight up, they also are a reminder to take hope and remember Heaven.
The Carrying of the Cross
Here, Jesus carries the cross. Men beat him to encourage him to walk further, Veronica gives him her veil, and from far off, Our Blessed Mother, The Beloved Disciple John, and other women watch in horror at what is happening.
And finally! One of the most popular devotions of the Middle Ages was Veronica’s Veil! Looking at the detail of Veronica’s dress, the hems of her dress spell out words, such as, “SALVE” and “REDEMPTO” to highlight the saving power of God.
All of these mini images could be their own artwork entirely, and many artists have devoted entire paintings of each of the little mini images that are displayed here! Yet, it was common in medieval artwork to cram as much imagery in as the canvas would allow.
And so, this little gem of a painting shows us, in as many little ways that it can, of many of the Passion’s most powerful little moments, while reminding us, with the image of Christ Crucified in the center, the final cost that God paid for us.
Remind us in our little moments throughout the day of Your Real Presence. Help us see Your Face and make us aware of the bigger picture in everything that we do.