Saturday, June 28, 2014

Chartres Cathedral (#12): The Finale

The stained-glass window depicting the parable of the Good Samaritan concludes with three final scenes. First, God appears in the middle of the last medallion. Once again, congruent with the interpretation that Jesus is the true Good Samaritan, God appears as Jesus with a cross nimbus around his head. His right arm points down toward the previous scene, where Adam and Eve, after their sin, clothe themselves and attempt to hide from God. Opinions differ as to what this scene signifies. Some argue that it portrays God/Jesus as subjecting human beings to mortality. Others, however, argue that the main point of the window is portrayed: God is promising human beings redemption. 



      The latter seems more likely, but first, just to the right of this scene, the pattern of sin continues, because the next scene depicts the predicament of human sin and the struggle to choose between good and evil. This continuation is demonstrated by a portrayal of Cain murdering Abel. Cain murders Abel with a hoe, while his left foot stands upon him.


But that is not the final answer or situation, because the portrayal of Jesus concludes the story with Jesus appearing at the top of the window. He sits on a rainbow in between two angels who kneel before him. He, as the redeemer of the world, holds a globe of the world in his left hand and blesses the viewers with his right hand. Jesus/God is the one who has offered the solution to the predicament of human sin, and the parable of the Good Samaritan, when allegorically interpreted, gives that answer.


Other examples of stained-glass windows that combine the story of Adam and Eve with the parable of the Good Samaritan in the same allegorical way may be found in the cathedrals in Bourges and Sens. 

As I discussed earlier, these windows relate the story of salvation history. The fall of Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, and it continued through their offspring to future generations. 

The window then reproduces in visual form the allegorical interpretations of the parable of the Good Samaritan from such theologians as Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Augustine, Gregory the Great, Bede, and others: The man leaving Jerusalem is Adam and is symbolic of fallen humanity leaving Paradise (note the common red door motif). The thieves who stripped and beat him represent the devil and other hostile powers who attack fallen humanity and leave them “half-dead” with sin. The priest and Levite represent the old dispensation and its inability to provide salvation. The Samaritan is Jesus, who rescues fallen humanity from their sin, brings them to the “inn” of the Church, and promises to return again. The parable, then, remains symbolic of Jesus’ incarnation and the process of redemption of human beings.

One interesting element that occurred in my recent lecture at the University of Oxford was that the audience members much preferred an artistic work that depicted only one scene of a parable over an artistic work that depicted the entire story (such as the stained-glass window in Chartres that depicts the parable of the Prodigal Son). In my next post, I will discuss that perspective and other aspects of the discussion after my lecture in Oxford.

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