Drama and Imagery in English Medieval Churches

Drama and Imagery in English Medieval Churches

Drama and Imagery in English Medieval Churches

Drama and Imagery in English Medieval Churches

Excerpt

Faced with the almost unimaginable accumulations of modern learning, most scholars have become specialists who restrict their professional researches within comparatively narrow fields. This method of strip-cultivation has produced bountiful harvests of knowledge, but it is not without danger when rigidly applied to such subjects as English medieval literature and church imagery. These arts were developed as closely integrated parts of medieval culture, and if they are studied separately there is a grave risk that problems may remain unsolved in one or other field of expertise because the answers to them lie on the further side of the professional fence. A single example may here illustrate both aspects of this danger. The architectural experts who have solved every problem of style and structure are baffled by such a strange subject as the angel in the choir of Lincoln Cathedral who is holding out to an alighting hawk the leg from some large bird. No explanation is to be found in the normal sourcebooks of medieval iconography, yet the carving cannot be dismissed as a mere babery, since all the other angels hold attributes which clearly refer to the Passion of Christ or the Last Judgment. The specialists in medieval literature, on the other hand, probably know the poem in a fifteenth-century manuscript in the British Museum which makes the falconer who

. . . when his hawk fro him does flee Shows to the hawk red flesh to see, And when the hawk looks thereunto Fast to his master he hastes to go . . .

a symbol of Christ who hung bleeding upon the 'tree' to win back the soul of man,

The whilk fro hym by sin does flee away .

They are not, however, sufficiently interested in church imagery to . . .

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