Sunday, 24 August 2008

Holiday Bible Study

‘Jonah, who came out of the fish after three days, prefigures Christ who after three days left the sepulcher and rose form the dead’. So says a Latin caption in a fifteenth century bible picture book. And this is only the most obvious of a whole range of links between stories in the Old Testament and the Gospels which appear across pages and pages in such Biblia Pauperum (Bibles of the Poor). The parallels, prefigurings or ‘types’ would have been at the front of the mind of early and mediaeval Christians. It would have been a natural and prominent way of reading scripture.

The particular representation of the resurrection on a brass in St Nicolas’, Great Coates looks just like the picture in such books, which is what first took me to them. But having been taken to them, we keep finding the types represented everywhere. Buying a facsimile edition of a British Library Biblia Pauperum earlier this year has proved the most consistently useful and interesting purchase for a long time.

After Easter we went to Cambridge and spent a couple of hours in King’s College Chapel looking at the windows (having been prompted by Carola Hick’s new book The King's Glass). The whole scheme there reflects the types of the Biblia Pauperum. The sea monster disgorging Jonah in the resurrection window has a magnificent gleaming red eye with a huge green body curling away into the distance behind it.

This month we found him again on a tomb in the town church at Weimar; we enjoyed him so much that we chose him as the postcard to send to family and friends from the holiday (to the surprise of the man running the church bookstall who didn’t appear to have been asked for twenty-two copies of it before, and doubtless to the surprise of those receiving the postcards).

A neighbouring tomb had David carrying the head of Goliath which seems an unlikely representation of resurrection hope on a tomb until one goes back to the Biblia Pauperum and finds it is there a type of Jesus’ harrowing of hell.

The picture is of the town church in Jena rather than the one in Weimar because it was raining the day we were in Weimar.

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