Animal ambiguity

The floral décor was an interesting “symbol of the harmonious universe God created for us”. As is clear from my analysis of Romanesque cathedral architecture and décor, this is not always the beautiful message that the Catholic Church displayed in its very eclectic symbolic images that served different purposes with the different messages they related to its attendees. For one, a symbol of harmony requires a reconciliation between God and Man that the Catholic Church would not dare to admit existed considering the underlying “fear”, they sought to instill and keep in the people in order to maintain power. For if there existed a way for man to be saved without the help of indulgences, pilgrimages, and mass attendance, the Church would soon find itself obsolete and impotent in its authority. It is also interesting to contrast these decorations and their harmonious message with that of the gargoyles and the “monstrous” images that are depicted in frightening animals (at least for me) such as snakes and vultures that served to depict the evils the Church fought against. It is this duality of harmonious and frightening messages in Romanesque art that the Church finds a balance for keeping its followers obedient and yet motivated in their faith.

The symbolism in these church sculptures and decorations used in the Poitou region in France also introduce the meaning of the cross as something I had never considered to be a possible message for it. The Poitou website describes the symbol of the cross as, “ Le symbole des crosses peut être identifié avec la chute de l’homme et le rachat par la religion dont l’évêque”. Therefore, it can be argued that there is a great contrast between the harmonious feelings that the church wished to establish for welcoming its followers and motivating them to thank and praise God for their fortune and yet, the feeling of separation from God which begins to appear with the church and clergy as the necessary intermediaries in the path toward salvation. I touched on this a bit in an entry I did on the afterlife with Saint Denis I believe but it is interesting to note just how this time with the use of decoration and symbols, the Catholic Church establishes its role as a necessary way of life for a Christian to reach out to God as they became “unworthy” of a closer relationship upon committing the original sin.

It is also interesting on the subject of original sin that women are to be blamed for this downfall of man and consequently, the alienation of a straight path to salvation. The siren or mermaid becomes then the symbol of this female temptation represented in cathedral architecture as a reminder of woman’s negative influence and inferiority in virtuousness as emphasized by the Catholic Church at the time. However, if we are saying women are not to be followed because of a lack of virtue in the past, is the Church not copying their Pagan rivals in comparing the woman to a mythological creature? Yet, it is art that nevertheless defies all lines and boundaries because it is through its incorporation and its symbolism that a message spreads, that being the ultimate goal and purpose for its existence.

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