Heaven come down

Our examination of the frieze on the west façade of the Church of Notre Dame de la Grande was particularly fruitful to me. This in particular is what I was looking forward to most in this art class – examining the interrelations of a work of art and being stunned at the depth each detail conveys.

The theme that I was most taken with in this particular frieze was that of heaven come down; holiness dwelling among the earth; God conveying Himself to men. This is not necessarily remarkable without the far left image of Adam and Eve. They are portrayed in their fall – they are separated from God just as the tree separates them. Without the Fall there are no depths to which holiness can descend.

This image is followed, from left to right, by Nebuchadnezzar. In Daniel 2 Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that he cannot remember. He summons the wise men of his land to tell and interpret his dream, but they cannot, so he makes to put them to death. The mystery of the dream is revealed to Daniel by God, and Daniel blesses God for the revelation. Daniel proclaims God’s might to Nebuchadnezzar, and identifies the king’s dream as prophetic:

And Daniel made answer before the king, and said: The secret that the king desireth to know, none of the wise men, or the philosophers, or the diviners, or the soothsayers can declare to the king. [28] But there is a God in heaven that revealeth mysteries, who hath shewn to thee, O king Nabuchodonosor, what is to come to pass in the latter times. Thy dream, and the visions of thy head upon thy bed, are these: [29] Thou, O king, didst begin to think in thy bed, what should come to pass hereafter: and he that revealeth mysteries shewed thee what shall come to pass. [30] To me also this secret is revealed, not by any wisdom that I have more than all men alive: but that the interpretation might be made manifest to the king, and thou mightest know the thoughts of thy mind.

God’s truth has been revealed to a Gentile king who has His people captive. Few could be further removed from God (Nebuchadnezzar indeed acts as a beast in the next chapter), but still the truth of Heaven descends to man. This is again reflected in the prophets.

The Christ series which follows needs little explanation as to how it fits in this theme: “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) And this ability for unity (symbolized by the far right embrace of the two figures) with the divine is exactly what those walking through the doorway will receive. Christ present in bread and cup (in fact the washing image bears a resemblance to a cup bearing the wine of the Eucharist) which those entering – fallen and divided as they are – will taste and partake in holiness come down.

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