Professor Stephen Murray

An intriguing intellectual encounter took place as Marcel Proust edited and translated John Ruskin's Bible of Amiens. [1] Although overwhelmed by the physical beauty of the place, Ruskin was at pains to explain that his real interest lay in the moral and historical lessons to be learned: the power of the cathedral to express the creativity of an entire people; the cathedral in the city; the cathedral as the physical expression of a kind of cooperation between man and God. He saw the sculpture of the portals as an open book--a sermon from which humans, who (he argued) are naturally disposed to the good and the moral, could derive clear lessons. Ruskin's approach was, of course, a characteristic one in the mid-to-later nineteenth century when much hope was pinned upon the reconstruction of a unified Christian society with all its exterior trappings. The restoration of Amiens Cathedral in the 1850s and 1860s under Viollet-le-Duc; the construction of many a Gothic Revival church (like the late-nineteenth-century church of Saint-Remi of Amiens, in its details a clone of the cathedral) are all part of this agenda.

Marcel Proust, on the other hand, although fulsome in his praise of Ruskin (even wanting a statue of his hero erected in front of the portal), accused him of a kind of idolatry or fetishism--of having aestheticized the cathedral, constructing a religion of beauty. In dissembling his real intentions Ruskin thus deceives his readers. Proust concurred that Amiens Cathedral should be considered as a book, but one "written in a solemn language where each character is a work of art that nobody can understand any more." (my italics) [2]

Proust concluded (elsewhere), "There is no Logos; there are only hieroglyphs." [3] This may be true for many people today, but was it always so?

The Portal of the Beau Dieu. Unification and Division: Resurrection of the Body and Last Judgement

The overall design of the west faade with its three portals bearing a complex program of figurative sculpture is no accident: the essential dimensions and proportions of the interior are made manifest on this, its exterior face (Figs. 106 and 108). Architecture and sculpture are here coordinated in an extraordinary way. And at the fulcrum of this rigorously conceived composition is Christ. Not a single Christ, but three superimposed images in the sculpture of the central portal: the Beau Dieu of the central trumeau; Christ, the Judge in the middle lintel and the apocalyptic Christ at the top of the tympanum (Figs. 24, 111, 132, 133 and 135). [4] In their interaction these three images form an ideographic axis that binds the sculptural program together, lending it peculiar richness and intensity. The central axis will thus provide both the starting point and the end of our exploration of the west portals.

At the summit of the central tympanum is the awesome image of Christ of the Second Coming: the apocalyptic Christ described by Saint John in the first chapter of Revelation (Figs. 132 and 135). [5] Two swords issue from his mouth while he holds in his hands two scrolls that disappear into the clouds described by the Revelation text. Traces of bright red and blue paint can still be seen in his halo--this image was once ablaze with color. The finality of Christ's Second Coming is underlined by the interruption of the comforting alternation of sun and moon--here held by a pair of flanking angels.

Below this terrible image sits Christ the Judge framed in an architectural canopy (Fig. 135). The central edifice has seven windows (painted bright red)--again referring to the apocalyptic text and encouraging us to see this as the New Jerusalem. The seven bays of the nave; the seven segments of the hemicycle make sense in relation to this central theme. The resurrected Christ seen here is not a fearsome or godlike creature. With upper body naked except for a fold of drapery covering the left shoulder, and with an expression full of humanity, he sits on a low seat (hardly a throne) and raises both hands, palms forward. Presumably the imprints of the nails in the hands and of the spear in the side were once painted. The painted pupils of the wide-open eyes are still apparent. With this image a powerful axis is established along the full length of the cathedral since this is the sacramental Christ--the body and blood depicted here are the same body and blood in the bread and wine transformed on the high altar in the Eucharist. [6] It was at the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 that the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation was codified. [7] Evrard de Fouilloy, bishop of Amiens, was a participant at this council.

Christ is flanked by the intercessors--Mary and John Evangelist--and angels on either sides bear the instruments of the Passion, cross and crown to his right and spear and nails to his left. [8] The tympanum is framed by eight enclosing voussoirs: two orders of angels, followed by martyrs, confessors, virgins, apocalyptic elders, a Tree of Jesse and patriarchs of the Old Testament.

The temporal framework established by the images at the top of the central tympanum thus corresponds to the end of time as it can be known by human beings. The Second Coming of Christ to his new Jerusalem will bring the final judgement by Christ, the Son of Man. At that time all humans who have ever lived and died will rise from their tombs and be reconstituted as corporeal beings. [9] Although theologians might address the logistical problems that would attend this re-embodiment, it was left to the ymagiers , the sculptors, to picture the process. The corporeality of the resurrected body lent itself particularly to the art of the sculptor working in the three-dimensional medium of stone, assisted by his colleague the painter, who rendered the little human bodies in living shades of pink and red (traces of the colors are still visible). Naked and semi-naked men and women, some still wearing their tomb shrouds, are seen forcing their way out of the heavy-lidded sarcophagi in the eight deeply-carved blocks set in front of the masonry field of the lower lintel (Fig. 136). The newly- incorporated look up and react to imminent events with a variety of emotions-- fear, anticipation; confusion. Some clasp their hands in prayer. They are surrounded by trumpeting angels. In the center stands Michael with his scales (Fig. 137). To be found worthy, one needs weight. The right side of the scale (the beholder's left) is weighed down with an Agnus Dei and cross while the left side of the scale bearing a devil's head rides high. [10] A devil below interferes with the balance. And at the very front of the stage, a tiny image of Synagoga, blindfolded, slumps under the devil, while under the Agnus Dei, Ecclesia sits up and points to her scroll. [11]

The division of saved and damned unfolds in the upper lintel. The elements of the composition owe much to the words of Saint Matthew's Gospel, "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken. And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." [12] The depiction of saved and damned is organized around the central fulcrum. To Christ's left a miserable band of naked people is ushered off by hairy devils and angels with flaming swords to be masticated in the mouth of hell (Fig. 138). [13] One man staggers under an enormous weight slung around his neck--a miser punished by his own money bags. Only two women will share the fate of this mostly-male group that includes a king and a bishop. Holding on to each other they are hustled forward; the two leaders look back in anguish, but a hairy arm reaches out from the very mouth of hell as a devil pulls them in.

The horrors to be encountered by the damned--strangling, scalding, cutting and with torture concentrating on the sexual organs- -are continued in the lowest elements of the voussoirs. [14]

The community of the elect, a mixed group of men and women including one crowned figure, are clothed in the same long robes as the apostles and prophets in the jambs of the portal below (Fig. 139). The most significant temporal note is provided by the image of a friar at the head of the procession of elect, clad in a cowled habit tied with a three- knotted girdle. His gesture in covering the hands suggests that this might be Saint Francis of Assisi himself, who habitually concealed his stigmata. [15] Saint Peter welcomes him to heaven, depicted here as an over-sized door attached to a miniscule church with buttresses and spire. Angels provide light (candles) and odor (incense burners) and crown the triumphant Francis at the very gate of heaven.

Heavenly images are carried over into the bottom of the voussoirs, matching the infernal scenes on the other side. Thus, we see souls in Abraham's bosom, and pairs of people (male and female), some accompanied by angels, heading toward heaven. The leading couple (unaccompanied) carries posies and birds.

The powerful teleological sequence of images in the tympanum and lintel transfixes our attention. Step by step we follow the extraordinary events unleashed by the Second Coming: our own passage from tomb and the dissipation of the body to miraculous reconstitution. We see our own surprise and consternation, as we follow the inevitable division, looking anxiously for ourselves on the side of the elect. [16]

The binary left-right division of the Judgement is continued into the jambs of the portal in the form of the wise and foolish virgins who are types of elect and damned. [17] The monumental column figures in the embrasures, however, together with the central image of the triumphant Christ on the trumeau, counteract this left-right division and establish uniformity through overwhelming formal sameness (Figs. 130, 131 and 133).

On the trumeau the resurrected Christ has triumphed over evil and death expressed in the two beasts, leonine and serpentine, trampled under his feet (Fig. 133). This is the image popularly known as the "Beau Dieu." [18] His right hand is raised in blessing and the left hand, holding a book, hitches up the drapery that swathes his waist, creating a handsome diagonal cascade of folds. Christ's feet seem to ride forward on the beasts. He is placed high above the the visitor and his wide-open eyes stare out above us into the middle distance.

Below the triumphant Christ is an aedicule enclosing a crowned figure, either to be seen as David, composer of the Psalms, or, more probably, Solomon, the personification of Old Testament wisdom, a prototype for the Logos of the New Testament, that is Christ. Solomon was thought to have been the author of the Song of Songs, a most important source of inspiration for the Amiens sculptural program, as we shall see later. [19] The images of the beasts trampled by Christ make specific reference to Psalm 91, "Thou shalt tread upon the lion and the adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under thy feet." In the Speculum Ecclesie of Honorius of Autun the sermon for Palm Sunday is based upon this text. [20] The idea of Triumphal Entry (celebrated on Palm Sunday) with Christ as the door thus lies at the center of the sculptural program just as the Easter celebration of the resurrection of Christ's body and the Eucharist lie at the center of Catholic dogma and faith.

The stance, drapery and faces of the statues of the Apostles who line the portal jambs follow the pattern established by the great prototype (Figs. 130, 131 and 133). The images of the Apostles are so repetitive that only four individuals are readily recognizable: Peter, to Christ's left, with tightly curled hair and beard, bears a cross, and Paul, to Christ's right, bald and heavily bearded, with book and sword. [21] John is young and unbearded and James, next to him, has a pilgrims's pouch with shells. The others have been identified by their attributes, but some ambiguity results from nineteenth-century restorations. The Apostles on the right of Christ (our left) all carry books, whereas only one book appears on the other side.

The images of the Apostles gain meaning through their multiplicity, through their attachment to the architectural frame by means of a column anchored in the back, and through the perfection of the serial production that lends to each member of the group a high degree of likeness one to another. The erect stance of each column statue is contrasted with the contortions of the supporting figure in the console below.

Within the Augustinian theology of medieval thinkers like William of Saint-Thierry, likeness conveys the idea of participation-- a saint's proximity to Christ will be conveyed by physical similitude. [22] The key to the achievement of this level of likeness and proximity to Christ is provided by the way we live--by the choices made between virtue and vice. These choices are expressed in the images in the low-relief quatrefoils placed below the Apostles (Figs. 130-131). [23] Here the designer has avoided a binary opposition of virtue to Christ's right and vice to his left. Although an echo of such a left- right division can be found in the book-carrying Apostles and the Wise Virgins to Christ's right, in the quatrefoils the virtues and vices are placed one above the other: the vices are represented in explicit depictions placed in the lower register (vice is more accessible to the visitor than virtue) and the virtues by female personifications holding signs in the upper register. Thus the path of righteousness is revealed only indirectly through signs. One exception to this is Charity: an explicit depiction of the dividing of a cloak for a poor beggar carries the specifically amiŽnois memory of Saint Martin.

The repetitious quality of the quatrefoil frames with their low-relief images is reminiscent of wax impressions mechanically produced through the imprint of a seal. [24] The same mechanical-looking repetition is inherent in the low-relief foliate pattern of the lowest level of the embrasures below the quatrefoils.

Thus, in the central portal the binary opposition of saved and damned in the Last Judgement is overwhelmed by the unity provided by the lines of Apostles that flank the doorway. In entering sacred space (Fig. 24) the visitor has joined the company of the elect .

The Portal of the Mother of God

In the south portal of the west faade, known as the portal of the Mre de Dieu, Mary stands against the central trumeau clad in a long, finely-pleated robe, holding her infant son in the left hand and with the right hand outstretched as if to welcome visitors (Figs. 111 and 126). [25] This is a triumphant image: Mary, crowned as Queen of Heaven, tramples a beast (snake's body with woman's head) just as Christ also tramples beasts in the central trumeau. Unlike the square-set plinth of the central trumeau the plinth of Mary's trumeau presents an angle toward the front, seeming to offer less resistance to the passage of visitors. The trumeau plinth carries six scenes from the story of Adam and Eve from the creation of man and woman to the Original Sin and the Expulsion from the Garden. The serpent who tempted Eve is to be understood as the beast trampled under foot, for Mary is the New Eve, by whose agency humans may escape the consequences of Original Sin. [26]

The statue of Mary is sheltered by a canopy quite unlike any of the others in the portals of Amiens Cathedral. Above the canopy a gabled tabernacle carried by four columns and capped by towerlets shelters a box with elaborate clasp and hinges--a depiction of the Ark of the Covenant. In the Book of Exodus (Chapter 25) the Ark was a physical expression of the contract between God and the Israelites. Its manufacture followed the escape from Egypt and from the dangers of the Red Sea and starvation in the desert. The Ark signified not merely the Promised Land, but also the social, economic and liturgical structure laid down by God. In the Middle Ages the Tabernacle of Moses that sheltered the Ark was seen as a prefiguration of the Church--just as Mary herself personified the Church. [27]

Particularly intriguing at Amiens is the resemblance between the miniature architecture that encloses the Ark and and the tabernacle that sheltered the Host upon the high altar. [28] In this way the manna of the Israelites becomes the Eucharistic bread of the Christian. [29] An analogy is made between the container that carries the eucharistic bread which is the body of Christ and the Virgin Mary whose body was the container that carried (the infant) Christ.

The presence of the six seated patriarchs flanking the central tabernacle in the lowest register reinforces the link established between the Jewish and Christian Church. [30] Moses to the right of the Ark carries the tablets of the Law (Exodus 20) while Aaron wears a pectoral and diadem as described in Exodus 28. The other Old Testament figures (patriarchs/prophets) are not defined, but they resemble the prophet Ezechiel in the central portal.

Thus, the physical presence amongst the Israelites of the material Ark of the Covenant as a sign of a social and religious contract with God is reconciled with the real presence of Christ (in the Eucharist) and the miraculous triumph of the Virgin Mary seen in her Dormition, Assumption and Triumph depicted above. While all human beings who have ever died await the second coming of Christ and the re-assembling of bodies and souls involved in resurrection and the Last Judgement, only two are free from the corruption of the flesh and the prolonged separation of body and soul associated with death, namely Christ and the Virgin Mary. Post-canonical sources differed on the question as to how long the Virgin lived after the Crucifixion, but there was broad agreement on the circumstances of her Dormition and Assumption. [31] As the disciples gathered around the bed of the stricken Virgin, Christ himself appeared to summon her to join him, "And in this manner Mary's soul went forth out of her body and flew upward in the arms of her Son; and she was spared all pain of the body, as she had been free from corruption from without." [32] The body, which emanated a dazzling light, was placed in a bier and buried to the sound of angelic music. On the third day Mary's body was raised from the tomb to be re-united with her soul.

To the left of the upper lintel Mary, clad in finely crinkled drapery, lies on a bed-like tomb whose side is decorated with oculi and lancets (Figs. 126 and 140). Twelve bearded and robed Apostles gather around, their repetitive stooped bodies forming a rhythmic framing pattern with two center points There are five Apostles at Mary's feet, each carrying a book. Intense expressions of anxiety are evident and one Apostle clasps his hand tightly in prayer. A more hopeful group concentrates its attention on the Virgin's head. The physical reality of the situation is emphasized through the Apostle who lays his hand on the Virgin's breast while another bends close to her face to look for signs of life. Their hope is expressed by the cross that one of them carries. The sameness of the sarcophagus in the right hand scene of the Assumption enhances the miraculous nature of the metamorphosis conveyed by this double image (Fig. 141). Apostles are gone and in their place are angels providing light and odor (candles and incense burners). Although her eyes are still closed, Mary's right hand reaches up in an effort to grasp the hand of one of the angels. Her head and feet are slightly raised; a gap has opened up between her levitating body and the tomb.

In the tympanum Mary sits at the right hand of Christ as queen of heaven (Figs. 126 and 142). [33] Christ, crowned and with a book in his left hand, starts away from his mother almost like an Annunciate Virgin. He raises his right hand to bless. Mary, considerably larger than Christ, raises her left hand and holds a scepter in her right. She receives her crown from a group of three angels who descend from the top of the tympanum. Angels bear censers and candles. The composition is framed by three orders of voussoirs carrying angels and the kings of the Tree Jesse.

M.-L. Therel emphasized the duality of the temporal framework of the Triumph of the Virgin. On the one hand the Virgin precedes us. She intervenes for us, and she promises to draw us up after her. [34] But on the other hand, the final triumph of the Church at the end of time is prefigured by that of the Virgin. Thus, Revelation, 21, 2, "And I, John, saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven prepared like a bride adorned for her husband." [35] The great mosaic image of the Triumph of the Virgin placed in the apse of Santa Maria in Trastevere by Innocent II in the 1140s clearly conveys this eschatological mood. Thus, the upper band includes apocalyptic elements including the seven candlesticks and Alpha and Omega. This is the Celestial Jerusalem evoked not directly by a city image, but by the image of a bride decked out for her groom.

Variations upon the theme of the Dormition and Assumption of the Virgin and her triumphal reception in heaven had already been depicted in Gothic sculpture at Senlis, Laon, Chartres and (particularly close to Amiens) Notre-Dame at Paris. Whereas at Senlis the column figures depict the typological forebears of the Virgin and Christ, here at Amiens, a sequence of figures was chosen from the events that preceded and accompanied the birth of Christ. On the right are three pairs of linked figures, each involving a different kind of encounter: the angel greets Mary; Mary visits Elizabeth, the mother of John Baptist; Mary presents the infant Christ to the aged Simeon in the Temple (Fig. 124). The archangel Gabriel assumes a contrapposto stance--one of only three examples of this mannered and elegant posture on the Amiens west faade. [36] The drapery of the angel's robe, falling amply to the ground and covering the feet, is crinkled in a version of the "antique" style. Mary's body assumes a light curve in response to the angel. Head covered, she wears a simple robe with a brooch at the throat. Folds are bolder and more vertical than in the angel. Mary's right hand is raised in blessing and she holds a book in the left. On her left is a mirror image of herself. Another Mary, clad in exactly the same attire turns to greet her cousin Elizabeth. The comparison between two almost identical images emphasizes Mary's change of state-- the second figure of Mary to the right is clearly seen to bear the infant Christ. Elizabeth wears a bulky robe tied with a triple-knotted rustic rope--perhaps signifying the austere life of her son-to-be. And finally, a third Mary presents the infant Christ to Simeon who has respectfully covered his hands. This Mary is quite different from the previous two: she has a rather narrow forehead and the drapery folds are heavier and clumsier.

The quatrefoils below contain Old Testament typological references to the Virgin birth (Gideon's fleece, the burning bush that was not consumed, Aaron's blossoming staff etc). [37] Under the Visitation appears the history of Zacharias and Elizabeth. And below the Presentation, the pagan idols fall from their columns in the Flight to Egypt.

The three Magi and Herod dominate the left side of the portal (Fig. 125). Powerful crowned figures, they are clad in robes whose vertical folds are broadly chiselled. Carrying gifts, two of them turn to present themselves across the space of the portal to Mary and Christ (in the trumeau) while the third lingers to talk with an angrily-scowling Herod. Then comes a fourth king--Solomon, with crown and scepter, and carved in very much the same fashion. And finally, the Queen of Sheba is clad in softly crinked drapery. Sheba and Solomon, like Mary and Christ, are types of bride and groom (sponsa and sponsus) expressing the relationship between the lover and the best-beloved in the Song of Songs. In the quatrefoils under Solomon the enthroned king prays before his temple and makes gifts to the Queen of Sheba. [38] Under the images of the Herod and the Three Kings an extended narrative sequence includes Old Testament typological references to the Epipany as well as the events of the journey and arrival of the Magi. [39]

The Portal of Saint Firmin

The theme of the north portal of the west faade, dedicated to Saint Firmin and the college of local saints, is contrasted and reconciled with the Virgin portal. Having committed to memory the various elements of the Mre de Dieu portal, the visitor is invited to to compare them with the corresponding elements of the Saint Firmin portal, and to construct appropriate conclusions. This is precisely the kind of play that is difficult within the structure of the written text.

Against the trumeau of the north portal stands Firmin, the first bishop of Amiens (Figs. 111 and 129). He is clad in full episcopal gear: sandals, alb, fringed stole, dalmatic, chasuble and hood. He wears a miter and carries a crozier in the left hand while the right is raised in blessing. Just as Mary treads the snake (of Original Sin) and Christ of the central portal treads the asp and basilisc, Firmin treads the figure of Sebastianus, the Roman offical responsible for his death. [40]

The lower lintel of the Saint Firmin portal provides a close formal parallel to the equivalent zone of the Assumption of the Virgin portal (Figs. 126 and 129). There, six seated Old Testament priests flank the central tabernacle of the Ark of the Covenant. Here, in the Saint Firmin portal, the similar canopy flanked by six seated bishops of the earthly diocese of Amiens might be seen as a reliquary shrine. Jewish patriarchs have become Christian priests; Mary, the Ark, Ecclesia, and reliquary are equated as one and the same.

The invention and translation of the relics of Saint Firmin are shown in the upper lintel and tympanum, where low-relief scenes have been carved in the shallow blocks of stone placed in front of the masonry field. In the center of the middle register the fully-clothed body of a bishop rises out of a diagonally-placed sarcophagus. [41] How can one fail to recall the similar form of the sarcophagus and the peculiar head-upwards levitation in the matching scene of the Assumption of Mary? Instead of angels around the body, however, here Bishop Salve and his followers are illuminated by a central ray of light. [42] The bishop, wielding a spade, is flanked by three spade-carrying helpers as well as other companions including a prominent female figure wearing a nun's veil. On either side of the central scene are four city images with people emerging--these are the local cities of ThŽrouanne, Cambrai, Noyon and Beauvais mentioned in written accounts of the miracle. Notable is the variety inherent in each group of people, including old people, adults and children of both sexes. The discovery of the relics is thus seen to be an urban affair in which all kinds of people participated just as described in the text given by the compilers of the Acta Sanctorum. [43] The beholder is invited to reflect upon the contrast between the Celestial City personified in the right portal in the Virgin Mary at the moment of her triumph and the earthly city placed in local space and contemporary time. One is permanent and destined to triumph at the end of time; the other is subject to constant change and ultimate destruction.

The solemn translation of relics into the city of Amiens is depicted in the tympanum (Fig. 129). As the procession bearing the relics returned to the city of Amiens the cold winter's day was miraculously turned to warmth. For three hours flowers bloomed and trees became green with leaves. [44] The city gate is seen on the far right; youths climb trees to gather the fronds of foliage to throw in the triumphal path of the ch‰sse while flowers bloom in the grass at the foot of the city wall. The procession is led by five choir boys in albs carrying censers and a candle. A boy points into the open book that he carries, as if to validate the event through reference to the written source. Behind come clerks in dalmatics carrying a closed book and an arm reliquary. Then follows (carved in a separate block of stone) the steep-crested ch‰sse of Saint Firmin carried by two mitred bishops and two clerks.

Behind the ch‰sse is a young man in a broad-skirted garment holding a flowering branch in the left hand (Fig. 143). Overcome by the excessive heat generated by the miracle he has thrown off his coat which he carries on a stick over his right shoulder. And on his head (a most important detail, as we shall see) he wears a crown of greenery. Behind him and over his head sprout luxuriant leaves.

The archivolts of the Saint Firmin portal are made up of three orders of angels.

In the jambs of the portal are arranged twelve local saints, accompanied by a couple of angels (Figs. 127 and 128). Georges Durand identified the right hand figures (from inside to outside) as Firmin the Confessor, Domice, Salve, Fuscien, Warlus and Luxor, and on the left HonorŽ, an angel, Ache, Acheul, another angel and Ulphe. [45]

To identify each of the column figures by name is less important than to recognize the general principle of formal comparison between the legendary pillars of the local church whose relics were contained in the great ch‰sses on the relic altar and the company of the Apostles in the central portal. That saints in their lives re-create the life of Christ is indicated by means of the formal sameness that relates these images to the Beau Dieu of the central trumeau. [46] However, there is a real interest in the stories gathered around these legendary local saints. Saint Ulphe, on the extreme left of the left portal, attracts our interest partly through her formal characterstics as an aberrant (Fig. 127). [47] Her face idealized, with almond-shaped eyes, and her slender curved body swathed in finely-chiselled drapery, crinkled in the hooked folds of the "antique revival" Ulphe seems isolated amongst the substantial and solidly planted figures with their drapery falling in broadly-cut vertical folds.

Ulphe was said to have been born in the Soissonais in the late seventh century. Her life followed the pattern of many a Christian virgin. Devoted to the church, she declined several offers of marriage, insisting on no spouse other than Jesus Christ himself. When her parents attempted to impose a secular life upon her she simulated madness, running half-clad through the streets, her hair and clothes in disorder, her face soiled. Abandoning her father's house in Amiens she sought solitude in the wilderness, where she fell asleep by a spring. The Virgin appeared, splendid in light, holding the infant Jesus, who told her to establish a house where other religious women could follow her example. Passing by the spring came Domice, a former canon of Notre-Dame of Amiens who had given up his prebend (regular income) to live a solitary life. Warned of his approach in a dream, Ulphe rose and greeted him, asking to be adopted as his spiritual daughter. Meanwhile the bishop of Amiens also had a dream. Unhappy about the lack of young women taking vows of perpetual virginity, the bishop was granted a vision of a young woman who had come to him seeking to make such a vow. With appropriate celebration the bishop accepted Ulphe's vow, entrusting Domice with her protection. Ulphe died on January 31 and her remains, at first interred in her own oratory, were later transferred to the cathedral. Her cult was well-established by the thirteenth century-- Bishop Arnoul (d. 1247) left 60 sous for the celebration of her anniversary. [48]

Ulphe's aberrant status, expressed in the clear formal differences outlined above, allows for an intriguing double reading. The twentieth-century beholder might want to find here a commentary upon the construction of gender difference and the status of women. However, what we now read as "aberration" may, paradoxically, have originally been intended to provide a prototype. In her stance and attributes, Ulphe is very similar to the Virgin of the Annunciation in the south portal (Fig. 124). [49] This statue may actually have been carved as the Virgin Mary, only to be put aside and later employed as a type of Virgin.

Ulphe's companion on her left is an angel, and beyond that are two cephalophores --decapitated figures who now carry their own heads (Fig. 127). These figures have usually been identified as the little-known local saints Ache and Acheul, who were buried at Abladne close to the tomb of Saint Firmin the martyr--a spot commemorated through the construction of the church later known as Notre-Dame des Martyrs and Saint- Acheul. [50] Although the names of these saints are commemorated in thirteenth- century litanies, they are not associated with any specific thaumaturgical attributes. This identification is to understood in relation to the presence of relics of these saints on the relic altar. The identity of the two decapitated figures vibrates with that of two much better-known members of the local hierarchy--also cephalophores--John Baptist and Firmin Martyr.

Next in the series of column figures on the left side of the portal comes an angel with an incense burner and lastly a bearded figure in the garb of a bishop holding a chalice generally identified as HonorŽ, seventh bishop of Amiens (died c. 600). [51] HonorŽ is said to have resisted his vocation as bishop. His reluctance was overcome by a miraculous consecration resulting from an effusion of holy oil from heaven. Many more miracles followed, some of which we will find depicted in the tympanum of the portal of the south transept. The most important event that secured the preeminence of this bishop amongst the saints of the diocese was the discovery of the relics of the martyred saints Fuscien, Victoric and Gentien. King Childebert himself had allegedly attempted to take possession of these relics, but he was prevented from removing them. The king subsequently made generous gifts to endow the cult of the three saints and sent goldsmiths to Amiens to make a silver ch‰sse. HonorŽ is said to have been buried at Port, the place of his birth. In the ninth century Bishop Hilmerade had the remains of his body brought to Amiens because of the danger from the invading Danes. In 1060 at a time of great drought Bishop Guy ordered a procession to carry the relics around the walls of the city. A paralytic, unable to follow the procession, was healed at the spot of the oratory of Saint Martin; the drought was relieved and other miracles ocurred. In another procession, as the ch‰sse passed the church of Saint Firmin the Confessor, the figure of Christ on the crucifix of the jubŽ inclined his head. In 1240 a great quest was undertaken in which the ch‰sse was taken out into the diocese in order to raise funds for constructing the cathedral (Appendix A, item 15).

The innermost figure of the sequence on the right side of the portal is also a bishop (Fig. 128). It has been assumed that this is Firmin the Confessor, a little-known personage, said to have been the son of Faustinien, the Roman senator converted by the Martyr. [52] He was patron of the parish and collegiate church that existed to the north-west of the cathedral. After a stay in Rome he returned to rebuild the churches destroyed by Attila. Returning to Amiens, he erected a church on the site of Saint Firmin's tomb at Abladne. Among the miracles associated with Saint Firmin was the vision of Christ's hand marked with the sign of the cross that appeared to the bishop as he was celebrating the Eucharist. He was buried in the church that he had erected at Abladne.

Next to Firmin is a deacon generally identified as Domice, the spiritual guide and protector of the saintly virgin Ulphe. Given the proximity and distance that characterized their lives, it seems appropriate to find them in the same portal, yet not side-by-side. In this figure the sculptor has succeeded in breaking away from the too-well established Amiens type, carving a figure that is full of humanity

The next figure in the sequence on the right side of the portal is a bishop generally identified as Saint Salve (Sauve) who succeeded HonorŽ and who died in 615 (Fig. 128). [53] Born of a wealthy family of Amiens he gave up his wealth in order to construct a monastery at Montreuil-sur-Mer, of which he became the first abbot. It has been claimed that at the time he became bishop (c. 600) his seat was in the church of Notre-Dame des Martyrs, the site of the burial of the sainted evangelists of the diocese. The story of the invention of the relics has already been told. In the spirit of local tradition, it is to this bishop that we owe the existence of the cathedral in the city of Amiens.

After Salve come three male figures, who are normally identified as saints Fuscien, Warlus and Luxor. [54] About Warlus and Luxor we know nothing, and it is much more likely that Fuscien is accompanied by his companions, Victoric and Gentien. Fuscien and Victoric were said to be part of a group of evangelists who came from Rome in the third century. Endangered as a result of the persecutions of Rictiovarius, Fuscien and Victoric were sheltered by Gentien, a native of the area. All three were executed. The place of their burial was revealed in the sixth century to a priest of Amiens, Lupicin, whose joyful singing came to the ears of Bishop HonorŽ. The relics were subsequently brought into the city of Amiens. In the column figures one of the three is depicted with a sword in reference to the manner of his execution. The other two bear scrolls--they actually look more like prophets than local martyrs. [55]

Below the column figures the signs of the zodiac and images from the labors of the months convey the cyclical nature of life. The year begins to the right of the portal with double-headed Janus and proceeds to the outer edge of the embrasure, then returning from outer to inner on the matching embrasure on the left. It is within the revolving sequence of the year that the saints are remembered, each on their appropriate feast day.

The designers of the portal have thus created a palpable structure to convey to the visitor the idea of the church as it existed at Amiens: founded through the agency of saints and martyrs and legitimized through the physical presence of their remains and through miracles. The portal might be compared with the precious books, the martyrologies and necrologies, that preserved the memory of the local saints within the cyclical framework of the Christian year. But placed within the overall framework of the west faade the portal can achieve more than any book. The beholder is given vital clues and incentives to match the local and the particular with the universal--thus, the triumphal entry of the relics of Saint Firmin into the city of Amiens becomes the Triumphal Entry of Christ into Jerusalem, with fronds thrown on to the road and the cry of "Hosanna!" [56] The column figures are the re-created bodies of the saints whose relics were placed on the relic altar of the cathedral providing a preliminary experience of the sacred objects in the spaces yet to be entered.

The events of the invention and translation of the relics of Saint Firmin were re-created by the clergy as a means of forming a kind of consensus: a unity of intention that embraced all types and ages of men and women: in other words all the city population who were the hommes de Saint Firmin.

The Prophets [57]

Each of the portals has been entered and considered as a separate unit. The designer of the faade has, however, taken care to link the three portals with a unifying screen of human figures attached to the front surfaces of the four great buttresses. These are the twelve minor prophets. The four major prophets are set against the buttresses of the main portal, continuing the lines of the Apostles. The prophets constitute a kind of avant-garde, forcing the visitor to withdraw a little way back from the faade, and to begin to consider the integrity of the program as a whole (Fig. 111).

Prophets are voyants --they have the power to see and to speak of the future. [58] It is intriguing to consider the implications of the word, praedicere, to "say beforehand," since the same stem lies behind "prŽdicateur," a preacher. The prophets were preachers, just as the Apostles who followed them. Commentators on the meaning of the church saw the towers as preachers--it thus seems appropriate to find prophets placed upon the great buttresses that ascend to form the corners of the west towers. [59]

Prophets are agents provocateurs with the power to criticize kings as well as the people at large. They destabilize society. Their job was to reveal the ultimate pattern of things that was at risk of being forgotten, and to underline the pertinence of this pattern as far as problems in the current order were concerned, revealing a future hidden in the mystery of God. The encounter with the twelve minor prophets at Amiens, all of whom look somewhat similar one to another, indicates the presence of an intellectual system --one that has the power to bind together the three portals. We encounter here a caste of people, a privileged group, who anticipated the priesthood of the Church. The anticipation inherent in prophecy interacts with the beholder's forward motion as he or she moves from the realm of the old law to that of the new, and into sacred space. The forward pull established by this avant-garde justifies our earlier treatment (Chapter Three) of the interior spaces in terms of movement .

The overall impact of the prophets is simple and powerful, and the beholder is encouraged to continue the search for a more specific structure behind their placement. The sequence runs from right-to- left with Hosea, Joel and Amos on the extreme right buttress, Obadaiah, Jonah and Micah to the right of the central portal, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephanaiah to the left and Haggai, Zecharaiah and Malachi to the extreme left. [60] Each prophet carries a scroll and stands above quatrefoil images that project elements of his vision, reminding us that God communicated with the prophets both in words and in images. The quatrefoil images are like learned footnotes pointing to a background in the Paris schools and the study of Saint Jerome's commentaries on the prophets.[61]

Commentators on the prophets have searched for a structure of some kind behind rambling and repetitious writings that veer from songs of elation to visions of destruction. The message conveyed by the prophets related, above all, to the theme of the Israelites as the elect--God's people, chosen, yet chronically prone to sin, and in need of constant threats of punishment and warnings of a final judgement. Within the system devised by the designers of the Amiens program the idea of the elect is transferred from the Israelites to the Catholic Church. A recent study of the minor prophets emphasizes the unity of the first six of them in their interest in the cosmic implications of the covenant made between God and the sinning Israelites. [62] We have seen that this idea of a covenant is developed in the lintels of the south portal, where the Ark of the Covenant is flanked by the priests of the old order. The designers of the sculptural program obviously wanted to project the idea of the Church as the result of a new covenant between God and the elect of his Church. The acceptance of Gentiles into the elect; the possibility of forgiveness from sin and the essential inclusiveness of the Church are conveyed in the quatrefoil images on the far right buttress of Hosea's wedding to a prostitute (symbolizing the acceptance of the Gentiles).

The next three prophets, Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephanaiah may be understood in terms of their concern with the punishment that will be meted out to sinners. They are well-placed on the buttress that flanks the portal of the Last Judgement. While dealing with the same themes as the others, the last three prophets, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi open the possibilities of restoration.

Adolph Katzenellenbogen in his search for structure in the quatrefoil images observed that the prophecies chosen for the two right buttresses illustrate the conditions for salvation and the foreshadowing of God's grace, whereas gloomier themes are conveyed in the quatrefoils of the prophets on the two left buttresses. [63] Thus, the essentially optimistic message derived from the acceptance of the harlot on the extreme right buttress may be balanced by the punishment of the unworthy priests in the quatrefoil under Malachi, who occupies the corresponding position on the extreme left hand buttress. Whereas on the right side the cities of Nineveh and Zion are shown in a positive light, on the left the city receives a very different kind of treatment. Unforgettable is the image of the Lord with his lantern searching Jerusalem--for none shall escape his scrutiny (Zephanaiah). Nineveh is shown lain waste. A malediction is placed upon the city with its shining sword and glittering spear (Nahum) while Haggai grimly views the fallen temple. It is intriguing to find these negative urban and architectural vignettes flanking the left portal. For this is the portal dedicated to Saint Firmin, the protector of the townsfolk of Amiens and probably their principal means of entrance to the cathedral. [64] These images flanking the portal of Saint Firmin serve to remind us that the City of God and the material city are ultimately irreconcilable.

The four major prophets stand with their backs to the buttresses flanking the central portal: they thus link the screen of minor prophets with the lines of Apostles. Isaiah and Jeremaiah stand on Christ's left (our right) and Ezechiel and Daniel opposite (Figs. 130 and 131). The transition from the age of prophecy to the age of grace is marked by a break in the well-established regularity in the rows of figures on each side. Isaiah assumes a contrapposto stance (the only figure in the central portal to do so ( Fig. 131). His drapery falls in the crinkled hook-folds of the "antique revival". His face with almond-shaped staring eyes and wavy hair shaped with geometric regularity is quite different from the faces of his companions to either side. This visual differencing serves to announce a separation between the ranks of Apostles and Prophets. It is also possible that Isaiah was carved early in the sequence of work on the column figures (like Sainte Ulphe in the north portal) and that the figure embodies a style that was rejected as the work progressed. It seems that a deliberate attempt was made to match this unusual figure on the other side in the figure of Ezechiel, who is also aberrant (Fig. 130). His short and stocky body is enveloped in an oversized robe that breaks into complex folds as it cascades to the ground. Unlike his companions, he wears a cowl that allows a short fringe of hair to escape on to his forehead. The two outer prophets resemble the Apostles: next to Ezechiel, Daniel is clad in the same kind of drapery as his New Testament colleagues, although he is considerably thinner. Daniel's head was replaced in the restorations of the nineteenth century. Jeremaiah, next to Isaiah, who carries a cross (perhaps a nineteenth-century restoration) could be taken for an Apostle.

Whereas the extraordinary forms assumed by Isaiah and Ezechiel might be read as expressive of the rupture between Old and New Testaments, the images in the quatrefoils below emphasize their unity and interaction. Thus, the interlocked wheels under Ezechiel and the two seraphims under Isaiah refer to the relationship between the two Testaments. In the lower quatrefoils the Old Order is put straight by the New (Christ with his plumb-line correcting Jerusalem under Ezechiel) and Isaiah with his lips purged by a hot coal held in tongs, the two parts of which also symbolize the two Testaments.

Unifying Themes

The prophets have forced us back and away from the portals to the far side of the cathedral square, the parvis (considerably less extensive in the Middle Ages than now), and have provided an incentive for the search for the underlying formal and thematic integrity of the program as a whole (Fig. 111).

Up close, overwhelmed by the surfeit of imagery (especially in its present blackened and besmirched state), the modern beholder, averting the eyes, may simply pass by. There is simply too much to deal with here! We are thus brought back to the problem of intelligibility with which we opened this chapter. Is it possible to make sense of the totality in terms of something greater than the sum of its too many parts?

At a short distance the church is quite literally seen to be built upon the company of the prophets, the saints and the apostles. The column figures, despite slight formal differences, bear a high degree of physical resemblance one to another--an expression of the corporate identity of the elect, unified as the ideal community of the Church. The general appearance of the line of long-robed column figures at Amiens recalls the images of the elect in the mosaics in Italo-Byzantine churches--one thinks, for example, of the sameness of the long-robed martyrs and virgins who line the nave of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna. [65] The same prototype is recalled by the drapery and stance of the Amiens figures, with their deliberate avoidance of the rhythmic interactions inherent in the contrapposto stance. Willibald SauerlŠnder found in the rigid columnar appearance of the Amiens column figures a dependence upon Middle Byzantine ivories (see Chapter Seven, above). [66] I would want to underline this connection, speculating upon a relationship with Italo-Byzantine monumental mosaic and painted programs, and a vital interaction between the form of the Amiens figures and their intended meaning. Bishop Evrard de Fouilloy had been a participant in the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome that marked a decisive step forward in centralized papal control over the Church. [67] The deliberate rejection of the subtle curves and crinkled broken drapery of the first Antique Revival figures carved at Amiens (Sainte Ulphe; Isaiah) in favor of columnar rigidity provides a palpable indication of this Italocentrism.

In the shimmering light-reflective images set high on the walls, triumphal arch or apse of an Italo-Byzantine church human beings are depicted in their perfect post-resurrection state. [68] At Amiens, however, an extensive eschatological program has been adapted to the three-dimensional medium of monumental portal sculpture, and the figures of the elect placed a level where they are very accessible to the beholder--almost within range of the touch. The company of the elect gains additional meaning through its corporeality and its rigorous coordination with the architectural matrix. The beholder is invited, in a sense, to participate. Thus, Saint Paul in Ephesians, 2, 19-22, "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God. And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." Similarly, in I Peter, 2, 4-5, "To whom coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed, indeed, of men, but chosen of God and precious. Ye also, as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood...." Particularly powerful in the context of the Gothic portal is the allegorical significance of the elect as columns in the new Jerusalem. See, for example, Revelation 3, 12, "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out; and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is the new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God..." And Paul, in Galatians 2, 9, refered to the Apostles as pillars. These texts found many echoes in the biblical exegesis of the Middle Ages. [69] And of course, Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis (De Consecratione ) referred to the twelve supporting columns of the ambulatory of his abbey church as the Apostles. [70]

The human figures depicted in the portals thus gain specific levels of meaning through their relationship to the architectural frame. The emphatic straightness of the column figures is enhanced through contrast with the crouching console figures that support them. Medieval theologians repeatedly returned to the theme that while man's soul is created in the image of God, in his body he is a microcosm of the carnal world. However, the potential of man to transcend the animals is signaled by the fact that he walks upright --this is a sign of potential redemption. [71] These are thus changed figures--humans who have rejected their own carnality.

The architectural frame lends other levels of meaning: the heavenly orders, for example, find their place in the overarching voussoirs. The very apertures of the doors themselves are significant. If the visitor has missed the point that Christ is the door by which the faithful enter sacred space, the story of the wise and foolish virgins carried on the door jambs refers to the open and closed doors of the wedding feast. [72] But there is an exciting hidden dimension in the metaphor that may escape the attention of the casual visitor. Christ is not only the door, he is also the Logos, the ordering principle that lies behind the totality. [73] This concept is rendered palpable in the very proportions of the doorways at Amiens. In the relationship between its long and short sides the rectangular aperture of each portal embodies the perfection of the relationship of one to the square root of two--the same proportion that determines the nave plan and the elevation of the west faade. [74]

With the image of Christ, the Beau Dieu, at the center of an ideal community of apostles, prophets and saints, we have come full circle back to the point where we began--the three superimposed images that form such a clear axis for the entire program. The Beau Dieu stands at the center of a great three-dimensional cross-shaped pattern of related images. [75] The vertical axis of this structure is provided by the three Christological images themselves, including the Son of Man/Judge and the Apocalyptic Christ. This vertical axis is established by personal identity but not by formal similarity. In other words, although we know that Christ is depicted three times, the images do not look alike. [76] Horizontal linkage, on the other hand, is established by the overwhelming formal sameness that characterises the relationship between the Beau Dieu and the Apostles, prophets and saints in the column figures. Given the eschatological time framework of the central Last Judgement, the Apostles, prophets and saints might be seen as bodies in the perfection and permanence of their resurrected state at the Second Coming. [77] Some of the Apostles carry the instruments of their martyrdom or trample the person responsible for their execution. The participation of the elect in Christ, already apparent during life, will be perfected only after resurrection. [78] This is, then, nothing less than the community of the elect participating in the Second Coming of Christ to his Heavenly Jerusalem. The citizens of the Church, which is the City of God, are signed or stamped with Christ's image. And the third dimension of the cross-shaped matrix results from the relation between the Son of Man in the lintel and the eucharistic sacrament on the high altar. The visitor in front of the portal is invited to embark along this long axis extends the length of the cathedral

It would be a mistake, however, to limit the role of the column figures to a distant eschatological realm. These are not, after all, the shimmering images high up in a Byzantine church. With the details of their faces (including the pupils of the eyes) emphatically painted and their near-human scale these figures must have looked very much alive. There was, moreover, a certain resemblance between the column figures and the beholder who might look upon the image as a kind of model or paradigm. These paradigms were intended to help the pious beholder rediscover the image of God placed in each human being and confirmed at baptism.

The understanding of the column figures and the Beau Dieu of Amiens as living prototypes has recently received striking confirmation in Wilhelm Schlink's book, Der Beau Dieu von Amiens. [79] Schlink finds an important dimension of the unifying power of the Beau Dieu within the framework of Biblical exegesis. Psalm 91 ("Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder") was an exegetical pivot between Old and New Testaments. Saint Augustine and other Church Fathers stressed the connection between the psalm and Matthew's account of the Temptation of Christ. The devil, tempting Christ to throw himself off a high pinnacle of the Temple, has the wit and cunning to quote the psalmist's words, "for it is written, He shall give his angels charge concerning thee: and in their hands they shall bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone."

Christ's ability to triumph over the devil and resist temptation provides the living model or template for those who would wish to emulate him and join the elect. Herein lies a most important dimension of the similarity between the Apostles and the central image. The Apostles are human beings who, thanks to the model provided by the living Christ, have achieved perfection even during their own lives. The visitor to the cathedral is invited to do likewise, and is provided a map in the form of the quatrefoil images of the virtues and vices, and the door, Christ, through which to enter as well as the forma formatrix, the forming form that is the Beau Dieu. [80]

Thus, we have recognized the potential of the Apostles and saints to serve both as projections of the elect of the Heavenly City and living models demonstrating to the pious visitor that the battle with sin was one that could be won. The idea of predestination is inherent in the image of the living elect. [81] The image of God is planted within each human being. The essential objective of life is to find that image, which is nothing other than the image of that very person himself or herself. Images tend inexorably toward their prototype. Each human, with this image imprinted on the soul, projects him/herself forward toward God, just as the sculptural program projects the Church toward the ultra-temporal New Jerusalem, the City of God, populated by the citizens of heaven.

The same interaction between the present and the ultra-temporal is inherent in the Eucharistic sacrament. The Last Judgement of the central tympanum brings Christ to the New Jerusalem at the end of time (a second Triumphal Entry). This Second Coming was linked to the arrival of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist and resurrection--"Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood hath eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (John, 6, 54). Thus, the Second Coming of Christ, the Last Judgement, is anticipated in his arrival to the community of his assembled people as they celebrate the Lord's Supper. [82]

The idea of arrival, adventus, is developed further in the two side portals of the west faade.[83] To the right of the north portal of the Mre de Dieu the angel arrives to announce to Mary the imminent birth of Christ; Elizabeth to confirm his conception; Mary to present the infant to Simeon. In the tympanum of the same portal the Virgin arrives to a triumphant reception at the side of her son. And in the left jamb of the portal the three Magi arrive to present their gifts across the space of the portal to the infant Jesus in the trumeau.

The adventus of the Three Magi, celebrated at Epiphany (January 6) interacts with translation of the relics of Saint Firmin depicted in the north portal since the two different arrivals were celebrated at Amiens within the framework of the liturgical year in a double feast (January 6-13) when a multi-sensory re-enactment of the miracle of the invention and translation of the relics was undertaken.

The miraculous appearance of leaves and flowers in the dead of winter was personified through the appearance of a Green Man (l'Homme Vert ) at cathedral vespers. [84] In the liturgy the role of the Green Man was played by the beadle from the church of Saint-Firmin-en-Ch‰tillon, clad in green, and wearing a foliate crown. The day before the feast of the invention of the relics of Saint Firmin (January 12) the same Green Man would appear carrying foliate crowns for each member of the clergy. At a point in the service after the response, Cum Aperiretur, incense was thrown upon burning embers to recreate the perfume that had emanated from the newly discovered relics. At the blessing of the incense the celebrants changed into summer robes to signify their reaction to the miraculous winter warmth. During the Magnificat the Green Man presented a foliate crown to each of the canons and chaplains. The Green Man might also appear on occasions of great festive significance, such as the visit of the king to the cathedral.

Several kinds of reference can be found to the agency of the Green Man in the stones of the cathedral. He can be recognized as the young man with the foliate crown following the ch‰sse of Saint Firmin in the tympanum of the north portal (Figs. 129 and 143)). And the interior space of the cathedral itself is girded with a rich band of foliage (at the level of the triforium sill) that forms an undying reference to the miracle of the foliage and flowers (Fig. 14).

The Green Man was clearly a phenomenon rooted in the distant pre-Christian past. His arrival coincided with the popular time for marriage in Amiens--known as Saint Firmin l'Amoureux. His cyclical appearance should be understood as one of many such practices that bridged the potential gap between "high" and "low" religion in the Middle Ages. [85]

A similar bridge between the complexities of Biblical exegesis and the popular understanding of Christian truths was provided by sermons. [86] The modern beholder who attempts to come to grips with the meaning of the cathedral in the eyes and minds of contemporary (thirteenth-century) people and the multiplicity of potential responses can refer to a written source of great value: the text of a sermon preached in Amiens Cathedral in the second half of the thirteenth century. [87] Whereas the sophistication of the sculptural program of the western frontispiece with its prophets and quatrefoil imagery like learned footnotes probably originated in the Paris Schools, the unidentified preacher spoke a vernacular language aimed directly at the popular audience.

The overall theme of the rambling sermon is obedience--a theme that is also of relevance as far as the architectural program is concerned. The preacher tells his audience that obedience is expected, above all, in keeping the feast days and sacraments and respect for the bishop who is a type of Christ, standing "in the place of our Lord on earth." This typological link is expressed visually in the trumeau figures of Christ and Saint Firmin as well as in the episcopal tombs that were originally placed on the axis of the church directly inside the central portal. In those tombs the images of the bishops are cast, in a sense, in the same mold as the Beau Dieu (Figs. 133 and 134). In the images of virtues and vices in the quatrefoils of the central portal disobedience is portrayed as a young man insulting a bishop.

Our preacher has no difficulty in locating the origin of disobedience in the Original Sin of Adam and Eve (depicted at the base of the trumeau of the right portal), who, he says, spent five hundred and fourteen years in death and in hell because of their disobedience--may God through his mercy save us from the same fate! Disobedience leads to judgement: "'Sinners,' says Jesus Christ, 'there, where I find you, there, I shall judge you!'" [88] Those found in a state of unrepentance and without the grace of confession are sentenced to death and the torments of hell. The words of the preacher find their immediate expression in the theme of the tympanum of the central portal.

What is the sinner to do under these unpropitious circumstances? The preacher proposes three possibilities. The first one lies in good works-- through the actions of the repentant sinner who follows the teaching of the Apostles; who seeks again to love his neighbor; who undertakes a penitential pilgrimage; who keeps the feasts; who comes to church. Just for leaving your home and coming to church without paying a penny, you can gain forty days of remission! As far as the actions of the penitant are concerned, the preacher stresses repeatedly that it is not the beginning of life that matters, but the end. Judas Iscariot had a good start, but a bad ending; Mary Magdalene, conversely, ended well after a bad start. It was, the preacher tells us, through repentance and through the worthy end of her life that the Magdalene was crowned in paradise with the Apostles. The good works prescribed by the preacher correspond with the signs clearly established in the virtues and vices in the quatrefoils of the central portal. It is by following these signs that penitants are able to cast themselves in the same mold as the Apostles and saints of the portals.

In addition to good works (stressed in the central portal), penitants have two powerful agencies working on their behalf. First, the Virgin Mary, the patron of the cathedral itself. "The sweet mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens, she is your lady over all ladies. She is the the lady of the world, the queen of the glorious heavens. She is the treasure of sinners; she is the saviour of souls, she is the spouse of Our Lord; she is the mother of Jesus Christ; she is the temple of the Holy Spirit. This lady recovers those who are lost; she lifts up those who have fallen: this lady is the help of captives. She comforts the sad, she helps the weak; she prays for the people, she sustains the timid; she defends women. Know that evil entered into the world by woman and is eradicated by woman." [89] Mary is thus able to rectify the reproach that had resulted from the action of Eve (refer to the image of Eve at the foot of the trumeau of the right portal). The image of Mary as the Temple is conveyed by the Ark of the Covenant placed inside Ecclesia, directly above the Virgin's head, and Mary as the spouse of Christ is in the tympanum. The preacher illustrates Mary's power to pardon even the greatest sins by means of the story of Theophilus, who had sold his soul to the devil but who was redeemed through his own penitance and confession, and through the intervention of the Virgin Mary: "Good and sweet man, the mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens truly brings you eternal pardon." [90]

The third possibility for the redemption of sinners resulted from Christ's presence on earth and the conversion of Saints Peter and Andrew and the others who became fishers of men. The preacher names other saints and their martyrdom: Bartholomew, Laurence, Hippolytus, Catherine, Margaret and Agnes, as well as (later) Augustine, Bartholemew, Catherine (a second time), John Evangelist and Agatha. No mention is made of the local saints of Amiens featured on the left portal. The preacher explores the Church as it was established on earth through Christ's calling of the Apostles and his ministry accompanied by miraculous healings. This earthly Church was established under the leadership of Peter who holds the keys to Paradise. Peter's authority is embodied in the Church with its hierarchy of archbishops, bishops and parish priests. It is through this church, with its sacraments, that the faithful are empowered to overcome the devil. It is in this context that the preacher makes a specific reference to the construction of the cathedral of Amiens. "Be sure that the devil, the enemy of our souls, was never as tormented as on that day and at the very hour that the first squared stone of this church was laid and the first child was baptised and regenerated in its holy font, and the first offices and the first sacraments of Jesus Christ were celebrated--as God be in my soul! And do you know why he was so tormented? May God pardon me! Because of the high pardons and the high prayers that are afforded you, good Christians...." [91]

The redeeming power of Mary and of the established Church are one and the same: "Good and sweet man, all of you together and each one of you who want to recognize the Mother of God, Saint Mary of Amiens, who is your mother Church the source of good, the source of unction, chrism, baptism, burial, betrothal, marriage and the sacred sacraments made in the holy church. The lord the bishop of Amiens who is our spiritual father is bound to bring you and lead you to Paradise in the blessed company of the angels, archangels, martyrs, confessors and blessed virgins who have won their term in Paradise through the martyrdom of their bodies and the shedding of their blood." [92] This company of the blessed is none other than the column figures of the left portal with Saint Firmin on the trumeau. And the designer of the portal has taken care to emphasize formal links to express the concordance of the two lateral portals.

It would, of course, be a mistake to represent the sermon purely as a parallel to the sculptural program of the western frontispiece. A sermon unfolds within a linear structure; the various elements of the sculptural program, on the other hand, were available to the pious visitor as objects of prolonged and ritual devotion. The beholder of the sculpture plays a much more active role in the construction of truth than does the aiudience of the sermon. Yet the preacher's rambling and repetitious treatment of the three great avenues of salvation outlined above--through good works; through the agency of the Virgin Mary; through the agency of the established Church--allows the listener to return and reconsider the well- established themes that do, in fact, correspond with the three portals of the cathedral. And there is clearly a central concern--disobedience; sin; purgatory; potential damnation; the means of redemption. The sermon is incomplete and we are unfortunately deprived of the conclusion. As far as the surviving portion indicates the preacher begins with the fear of Last Judgement and ends with an intense contemplation of the corporeality of Christ and the reality of his sufferings. [93] This strategy resembles our own visit to the sculptural program, which began and ended at the central portal.

The sermon thus provides hints about the way in which the complex message of the sculptural program might have been propagated to the people of Amiens. Although certain levels of meaning inherent in the exegetical framework of the sculptural program would have to be decoded rather than "read" (more on this later), a single root image is propagated in both the learned and the popular vehicle. The interaction between the words of Psalm 91 and the story of the temptation of Christ indicates that at the center of the cathedral lies the victory of Christ over the devil. And this is exactly what the preacher tells his audience--that the devil was never so tormented as on the day when the first squared stone of the cathedral was laid.

Thus, it might be concluded that the redemptive significance of the sculptural program of the west faade was not lost upon an audience familiar with sermons like the one examined above. However, we must allow for the possibility of multiple responses recognising that certain elements of the program might exert particular power over certain individuals or groups. The written sources allow us to document an instance where an element of sculpture became an icon attracting the devotion of the townsfolk. In 1549 Martin Bucer and Paul Fagius from Strasbourg passed through Amiens on their way to England. [94] They mention a devotional practice that is documented in several other local sources. At dusk the artisans and workers of the city would gather at the portal to kneel before the statue of the Virgin Mary (south portal of the west faade). To add greater intensity to the ritual experience and to animate the image a lamp would be hoisted up to illuminate the face of the Virgin. Thus, what we would see as an integral part of a a rigorous encyclopaedic program might be, in a sense, detached from the whole in order to serve as an icon, the object of intense personal devotion.

In one important respect the efficacy of the sculpural program should be questioned. Despite the best efforts of the clergy to propagate the cult of local saints the written evidence suggests that individuals like Saint Victoric or Saint Gentien aroused little popular interest in the late Middle Ages. [95] Lists of devotional objects in local sixteenth-century inventories do not include statuettes of (for example) Sainte Ulphe or Saint Ache amongst the possessions of the bourgeois of Amiens. [96] On the other hand, the power of the cult of Firmin or John Baptist is attested by the great popularity of these Christian names amongst the local population in the Middle Ages.

The promotion of the cult of the local saint was, no doubt, to some extent a self-conscious phenomenon intended to unite the local population around the great construction project. In the difficult middle decades of the thirteenth century, at a time of financial exigency, the clergy again appealed to the popularity of a powerful local bishop-saint--this time it was Saint HonorŽ.

The Portal of Saint HonorŽ: an Affirmation of the Local Bishop Saint [97]

This sculpture of the south transept faade portal has always been difficult to understand within the general sequence of work at Amiens. Particularly problematic is the sharp difference between the stolid column figures with their heavy vertical drapery folds and puppet-like neckless heads and the lively and expressive figures in the voussoirs and tympanum that seem to belong to the stylistic ambiance of the mid- century (Fig. 118). It was demonstrated in Chapter Seven that the lower parts of the embrasures of this portal were begun with the earliest work at Amiens, in the early 1220s, and before the western frontispiece. However, the construction of the south transept faade was again taken in hand only when work had reached the upper nave in the mid 1230s. It was then decided to thicken the wall in the central segment of the south transept faade. The austere north transept portal which provided the main entrance toward the bishop's palace stands in sharp contrast to the lavish decoration of the south portal (Fig. 119). The south portal was probably originally intended to have resembled its counterpart to the north. Its elaboration clearly responded to its public location, giving on to a major thoroughfare, as well as the area of the canons' houses.

The eight column figures of the south transept portal were probably left-overs from a rejected scheme for the saints' portal of the west faade (Fig. 118). The innermost figure on each side is an angel carrying an incense burner: the drapery of the figure to the left of the portal is crinkled in the "antique" style. The other figures are generic ecclesiastical types: three hold books, two hold scrolls and one a chalice. Deeply chiselled vertical folds groove their drapery. The faces have a dispiriting monotony. Those on the left are neckless and look as if they have been somehow inflated. The work has a certain rough and unfinished appearance. But we may be dealing with an ideal facial type of the period that the modern beholder simply cannot appreciate. We have already seen such faces in the angels of the voussoirs of the Saint Firmin portal. On the right embrasure of the portal of Saint HonorŽ the angel has the same kind of bloated face, while the other three figures look somewhat more human. The architectural canopies and bases look maladroit (like those of the Saint Firmin portal) and the corbels under the bases carry a range of figures including a broad-faced squatting black man, wrestlers, a spreadeagled man who carries the console on his back, birds, a blacksmith, a man and his dog, a devil with a (restored) baby devil in his lap and a crouching figure. These robust little figures, picking up popular themes and interests, provide some relief in the ensemble.

The voussoirs of the south transept portal, which I have dated around 1240, form an encyclopaedic structure of sacred history from Adam to the Apostolic era. Katzenellenbogen has perceived a complex system of balanced figures that is similar, in some ways, to the structure of the minor prophets of the west faade program. The four orders include angels, precursors from Adam to John Baptist, the major and minor prophets and finally the Apostles interspersed with holy women. Missing, however, is the central eschatological theme of the tympanum of the great central portal.

In the lowest horizontal lintel of the south portal twelve figures are grouped in six pairs engaged in conversation, some referring to scrolls in their hands. These are probably the Apostles--the young unbearded John and the James the pilgrim are readily recognizable.

In the next horizontal register HonorŽ, seated on the far left, is consecrated bishop. His initial reluctance was overcome through a miraculous effusion of oil, seen on the left. His consecration was, thus, willy-nilly. To the right, three pairs of witnesses engage in animated conversation. This might provide the clue for the understanding of the twelve figures below. There, mysteries are are explored through reference to the written text, here, on the other hand, they are actually being witnessed. The little figure to the far right points across to the next miracle to be witnessed Here (to the right) the bishop is seen enthroned in a miniature edifice that signifies Ecclesia . The bishop's hand rests upon a book placed upon a lectern near the altar. The altar carries an enormous chalice and is backed with a low screen and cross. As he sits in his church he turns his head to listen to the song of praise from the priest, Lupicin, far away, as he discovers the relics of the three sainted martyrs. As with the invention of Saint Firmin the full significance of the event is marked by the blossoming of trees.

In the third level, as HonorŽ celebrates mass, the hand of God blesses the sacrament. Once again, there are witnesses: the three clerics who stand behind the bishop. A blind woman is healed through the touch of the altar cloth where the statue of the saint stands. Behind the blind woman comes a lame man with his crutch and dog. The fourth register shows a procession with the reliquary of the sainted bishop led by clergy and choir boys. Some crippled men are healed as they touch the shrine. And once again, witnesses are present. Behind the ch‰sse a group of people including women (one with a child) and Jews is engaged in a lively debate.

In the crown of the composition is an image of Christ on the cross--unusual in Gothic sculpture of this period. [98] The image of the Crucifixion may be understood in several different ways. First, it is a depiction of the event. Christ is flanked by Mary, John and censing angels. Second, this is an image of the cross placed on the jubŽ of the church of Saint Firmin the Confessor (also known as Saints Peter and Paul) in the city of Amiens, a reference to the legend that the figure of Christ had bowed his head to the ch‰sse of Saint HonorŽ as it was carried by. And lastly, the superimposition of the Crucifixion directly over the ch‰sse suggests typological links between the corpus of Christ and the remains of the body of Saint HonorŽ.

Particularly interesting are the miraculous and thaumaturgical events associated with the sacraments and the physical presence of the reliquary of the sainted bishop. Each scene is witnessed and discussed. The imagery might be linked with the debates of the 1240s on the proper role of the clergy. In 1246 in the context of one of the anti-clerical appeals to the Pope, the secular nobles attacked the arrogance of the clerks, who, the sons of serfs, had arrogated to themselves great powers and jurisdictions. The clerks were exhorted to return again to the state of the primitive [Apostolic] church, leaving the active life to the nobility. In this way miracles, long since unseen, would once again manifest themselves. [99] Although Amiens was spared the violently anti-clerical uprisings that took place at, for example, Beauvais, we saw in Chapter Five that certain incidents in the 1240s and 1250s do indicate that the city could not entirely have escaped the tensions generated by the fund-raising for the crusade and the crisis of morale that resulted from the failure of that crusade. In this situation the clergy at Amiens chose to feature the story of their sainted bishop, framed in the sequence of sacred history.

Another special event from this period should be linked with the choice of this sequence of scenes in the tympanum. In 1240, presumably in response to a shortage of funds for the fabric, a quest was organized in which the reliquary of Saint HonorŽ was carried through the areas around Amiens with an appeal for funds. In this context the emphasis upon the thaumaturgical powers of the relics of the saint placed in a major thoroughfare of the city was of obvious relevance. In the difficult middle decades of the thirteenth century the clergy was attempting to re-establish the consensus that had allowed work to start on the Gothic cathedral decades earlier. They saw the sainted local bishop, his relics and ch‰sse as key instruments in this enterprise. [100]

It may have been intended to place an image of the bishop in the central trumeau of the portal. However, presumably at the instigation of a member of the clergy or a lay benefactor and at a date in the second half of the thirteenth century, the portal received an image of much greater authority--the trumeau statue of the Virgin Mary. [101] At about 2.25m meters in height the statue is a little smaller that the column figures of the west facade. Moreover, the stance assumed by the Virgin could not be more unlike the stolid square-set Apostles and saints. The Virgin's right leg is free of any weight-bearing function, yet the upper body curves over this non-structural support. The child is held in the Virgin's left hand; the right hand (restored) is free. A bunch of the Virgin's robe is held over the left wrist (under the child's behind) allowing a chute drapery to fall downwards and pulling a fan of folds from the Virgin's right elbow. The converging lines created by these folds fix the beholder's attention upon the child, whose weight is counter- balanced by the Virgin's upper body. The two sides of the Virgin's body are thus very different--her right with a powerful succession of V-folds like waves and her left with column-like verticality. In direct contrast to the Virgin of the south portal of the west faade, there is a certain sensuality about the statue that John Ruskin found deeply disturbing. Originally painted blue, this statue, installed in the second half of the thirteenth century, was later gilded, and became known as the Golden Virgin, the Vierge dorŽe, and the center of a local cult. Her presence confirms the conclusion already established from the study of the west faade sculpture--that despite the attempts of the clergy to construct a cult of local saints, including Bishop HonorŽ, it was, in the end, the powerful root image of the Virgin Mary that predominated.


The sculptural program of the portals of Amiens Cathedral has been construed here within a framework of change. In their material state the stone statues and reliefs of the portals are caught up in the same inexorable process of physical deformation or change that affects our own bodies: progressive decay that will ultimately lead to disappearance. The current program of conservation, begun in 1992, has drawn attention emphatically toward this accelerating process of decomposition. Yet, paradoxically, these stone figures were intended to be permanent, projecting images of changelessness. The column figures depict human beings who have resisted the corrosion of sin during life, in some cases triumphing over martyrdom, thus becoming the elect who look forward to the perfect state after resurrection. The paradox can be extended into the very process by which these images of perfection and changelessness were made. For it has been seen in Chapter Seven that this was a process in which change played a considerable initial role. Thus, the early work on the voussoir sculptures of the south portal of the west faade and the first column figures was characterized by experimentation and stylistic pluralism. The architecture of Amiens Cathedral, conversely, began with the exercise of powerfully centralized control over the means of production. This control is palpable in the repeated ("unchanging") forms of the nave--identical piers, windows, vaults and flyers. Whereas the high level of uniformity in the architectural forms of the cathedral was broken by the revolution of the mid-1240s (upper transept and upper choir), in the sculpture initial pluralism was overlaid by the powerful sameness of the column figures, particularly the Apostles and minor prophets (work of the 1230s and 1240s.) This emphatic sameness signifies the participation of the elect in the mystical body of Christ which is the Church, providing a glimpse of the perfection of the post-resurrection body.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the meaning of the various elements of the sculptural program would, for the most part, have been readily available to most medieval beholders: the Last Judgement; the Apostles; the familiar ch‰sse of Saint Firmin that was so often carried out into the community; the Virgin Mary. The Picard sermon, aimed at a popular audience, hinted at ways in which the themes of the three portals might be bound together into a single framework of redemptive meaning. We may surely agree with John Ruskin in understanding the sculpture as a kind of sermon in stone. This is not to say, however, that Marcel Proust was wrong, for there are certainly underlying levels of meaning--just like the underlying geometric matrix of the cathedral itself--that are not immediately apparent to the casual or uninformed visitor. The exegetical link between Psalm 91 and the Temptation of Christ inherent in the central trumeau provides an example of such encoded meaning. The idea of the Church Triumphant, moreover, is projected indirectly in the Coronation of the Virgin in the south portal. Behind this image lies an agenda, namely Church reform. The presence of the Ark of the Covenant in this portal is a particularly intriguing sign of this agenda since it provides a reference to the Lateran basilica where the remains of the Ark were preserved, and thus a reminder of the reforming Lateran Council of 1215, recently attended by the bishop of Amiens, Evrard de Fouilloy. [102] Within the sculptural program there are also levels of meaning that are propagated through the formal or stylistic choices that have been made. The idea of a reform-minded Church--one that embraced and propagated change--is conveyed by the very changelessness of human figures that refer back to the glorious mosaic images of Early Christian and Italo- Byzantine churches.

In assessing the problem of "decoding" these levels of meaning, I would not use the metaphor of unintelligible hieroglyphs, as did Marcel Proust. Our failure to understand results not so much from inability to "read" the individual elements of the program, but involves rather the atrophy, over time, of the connecting tissue that bound together these images one to another, as well as to significant indices in the outside world. Some of these lost tissues may be regained by considering (briefly) the putative objectives of the theologian whose ideas probably contributed to the program, namely the dean of the Amiens chapter, Jean Halgrin d'Abbeville. [103]

Jean Halgrin was born in the years around 1180 in Abbeville, to the north of Amiens, and studied theology in Paris in a context where he would have become familiar with the ideas of Peter the Chanter and Stephen Langton. The future Pope Gregory IX was amongst his school-fellows. Langton was particularly important in d'Abbeville's formation given the future archbishop of Canterbury's role in what Beryl Smalley has called the "Biblical moral school," and his commentaries on the prophets. After Paris, Jean d'Abbeville spent some years in his native city before becoming canon and dean at Amiens Cathedral, an office that he held until 1225 when he become archbishop of Besanon. Having first been nominated as patriarch of Constantinople, d'Abbeville was called into papal service (by the new pope, Gregory IX) as cardinal-bishop of Sabina. On his death in 1237 the Pope sadly referred to d'Abbeville as "that illustrious column that supported with such glory the edifice of the Church." [104] Given d'Abbeville's training in theology and his position as the highest-ranking member of the Amiens chapter in the years that the sculptural program was being planned and begun, it is impossible to escape the conclusion that he may have been involved in some way in its design. [105]

To provide a complete outline of Jean d'Abbeville's ideas and work would be quite impossible here, given the unedited state of the scattered manuscripts of his sermons and commentaries. Questions remain about the authorship of certain texts and considerable disagreement in the secondary sources about d'Abbeville's contributions and status as a thinker and preacher. The immediate passing of time was unkind to the dean--a near- contemporary, Henri de Gand (Henry of Ghent), archdeacon of Tournai, remarked that d'Abbeville's sermon interpretation of the gospels was overlaid with excessive verbiage and the induction of too many citations from the scriptures--to the point that the overall structure was impossible to remember. [106] One readily thinks of the quatrefoil images under the prophets at Amiens as a rather heavy system of scholarly footnoting based directly upon the scriptures. Despite Katzenellenbogen's best efforts, the general structure of meaning behind the quatrefoil images of the prophecies is still not entirely clear. It is intriguing to find Proust's negative judgement about intelligibility anticipated in Henri de Gand's response.

Henri de Gand's negative reaction to d'Abbeville's literary and rhetorical style did not, however, reflect the opinion of most of his contemporaries, since the dean was much sought after as a preacher. [107] His homilies were generally based upon a short literal explanation of the scriptural text followed by a more extended interpretation of the moral application of the allegorized text to Christian life. His own understanding of what he was doing was entirely different from Henri de Gand's unkind characterization. D'Abbeville stressed in the prologue to his homilies that he wanted simply to address simple words to simple people, avoiding the highly worked prose that charms the ears of the more sophisticated audience. [108] As one would expect from this former classmate of the future Pope Gregory IX and likely student of Stephen Langton, d'Abbeville was an ardent partisan of change--Church reform. His sermons include vehement attacks on self-indulgent prelates, clerks and monks and upon vain-glory, ambition, avarice, simony, luxury, nepotism, harshness toward subordinates and complaisance toward the powerful. [109] He was sympathetic toward the mendicants, working to facilitate their establishment at Abbeville and Besanon--the appearance of Francis of Assissi at the head of the elect in the central tympanum is to be understood under these circumstances.

The modern reader of the dense Latin prose of the transcribed sermons and commentaries may certainly understand the reaction of Henri de Gand, and yet at the same time may find something infinitely memorable about the dean's readings of the scriptures, since they are cast in such a way as to engage the audience in a very direct fashion. The responses and memories of our encounter with the cathedral are, in a sense, legitimatized--certainly rendered more profound--by d'Abbeville's readings. In the opening passage of his homily for Advent the preacher remarks that the four weeks of Advent reflect the four appearances of Christ: he comes as a human being; he comes in frightful majesty; he comes through his grace to illuminate our minds, and he comes knocking at our very doors. [110] We saw earlier that the cathedral portals are about arrival, adventus , and that at the axis of the system are multiple images of Christ. The preacher goes on to remark that the readings for the first week in Advent lie in the prophets, especially in Isaiah, since this prophet spoke of the mountains laid low and of the cleansing fire. It is through the fire of charity that human pride will be replaced by humility and what is cold, compact and hard through malice and obstinacy will melt in penitance at the appearance of the Lord. At Amiens, of course, the prophets on the front surfaces of the buttresses and flanking the main portal prepare us for the incarnation of the Man-God in the south and central portals. The shock of entry liquifies even the hardened visitor, preparing him or her to receive the extraordinary sequence of impressions that will be stamped or imprinted unforgettably upon the mind.

D'Abbeville's interpretation of the Song of Songs is one that emphasizes the dynamic and dramatic unfolding of a programed sequence of events, "For this canticle unfolds like a prophecy, for people are transformed all of a sudden; times are transformed all of a sudden." [111] D'Abbeville, like many of his contempories, turns the passionate movements and yearnings of the lover and best-beloved in the Song of Songs to the understanding of the relationship between Christ and his mother, his spouse, the Church. And the audience participates in the ardent relationship as the adolescentulae, the daughters of Jerusalem, who witness and join in the events described. [112] When the poet, the author of the Song of Songs declares, "Ecce iste venit, saliens in montibus, transiliens colles," this is interpreted as Christ striding between the hills and mountains and crushing them under foot. The hills signify the minor demons; the mountains the devil crushed by Christ, just as the prophet wrote, "Super aspidem et basiliscum et conculcans leonem at draconem." Similarly, to the poet's question, "Que est ista que ascendit per desertum sicut virgula fumi ex aromatibus mirre et thuris et universi pulveris pigmentarii?" d'Abbeville responds that this is the Virgin Mary ascending powerfully up from the world that is a desert.

The dramatic events of the Song are accompanied by bursts of burning warmth, sweet odors and prolific foliage, just as the events depicted in the sculptural program. It will be remembered that the invention of the relics of Saint Firmin and their triumphal entry into Amiens were accompanied by just these signs of change. The entire cathedral faade is seen to be "changed" as it bursts into flower on its northern flank. The effect of the great rush of warmth generated by these events is the melt-down or liquification of the obstinate soul. D'Abbeville identifies this phenomenon most directly in relation to the verse from the Song, "My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door and my bowels were moved by him." At this touch the soul is heated to the point of liquification. It is only in this state that the soul can accept the form imposed upon it by the "artifex," namely the Holy Spirit. [113] The use of the first person singular in the Song and in the dean's exegesis allows the meaning to be transferred from the interaction between lover and beloved to the readers or listeners themselves. Abbot Suger might respond to the many-colored gems of the liturgical equipment of the altar of Saint-Denis in terms of an ecstatic hovering in a remote in-between realm. D'Abbeville, on the other hand, invites his audience to participate in the sudden rush and burst of warmth that melts down obstinate hardness, leaving the soul in an impressionable state.

It is with these thoughts that we may end. In the opening sentences of my Preface the visitor (reader) was brought into sacred space. The power of the cathedral to liquify even the most hardened visitor is palpable on the astonished faces of those who enter the light-filled nave with its soaring spaces and repetitive forms. In their highly receptive state visitors are induced to explore, gathering impressions; storing and manipulating them. While for many modern visitors this may be a more or less self-conscious aesthetic or intellectual experience, d'Abbeville's sermons and commentaries serve as a reminder that this process of reception was not the end, but was rather the means to an end. That end was nothing less than the stamping or imprinting upon the softened surface of the soul of a series of powerfully interacting images that pertain to the idea of redemption through the Church. And the central image is that of Christ himself, stamped upon the soul at the point of entrance through the Beau Dieu. September 1994