A Gothic Sermon: Making a Contract with the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens

A Gothic Sermon: Making a Contract with the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens

A Gothic Sermon: Making a Contract with the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens

A Gothic Sermon: Making a Contract with the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens

Synopsis

In this groundbreaking work, Stephen Murray seizes a rare opportunity to explore the relationship between verbal and visual culture by presenting a sermon that may have been preached during the second half of the thirteenth century in or near the cathedral of Notre-Dame of Amiens, whose sculptural program was completed at about the same time. In addition to providing a complete transcription and translation of the text, Murray examines the historical context of the sermon and draws comparisons between its underlying structure and the Gothic portals of the cathedral. In the sermon, as in the cathedral, he finds a powerful motivational mechanism that invites the repentant sinner to enter into a new contract with the Virgin Mary.

The correlation between elements of the sermon's text and the sculptural components of the cathedral leads to an exploration of the socioeconomic conditions in Picardy at the time and a vivid sketch of how the cathedral and its images were used by ordinary people. The author finds parallels in the rhetorical tools used in the sermon, on the one hand, and stylistic and compositional tools used in the sculpture, on the other. In addition to providing a fascinating and cogent consideration of medieval beliefs about salvation and redemption, this book also lays the groundwork for a long overdue examination of the performative and textual in relationship to sculpture.

Excerpt

A small congregation has gathered to listen to the visiting preacher.
We are in a church in or near Amiens, a city in Picardy where the
great Gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame, under construction for the past
half-century, is now substantially complete, the paint still fresh on the
sculptured portals. Our congregation is made up of country folk, some
of whom have substantial land holdings. It is morning.

The preacher addresses the members of his flock directly, in their
own language. It is as if he knows who they are, what they have been
doing, and the way they think. He ruefully pokes fun at himself. He
slyly mocks the established church. He pays equal attention to male
and female members of the congregation. Swearing profusely, he con
demns such oaths, making his audience laugh. Yet, oddly enough, such
conduct only enhances the seriousness of his message. His vivid ver
bal images and lively dialogue impart knowledge of the scriptures and
a sense of the apostolic mission, as he urges his listeners to enter into
a kind of contract with Saint Mary of Amiens—to buy into a coherent
strategy of salvation.

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