5. IN THE BOSOM OF ABRAHAM
(or: The Descent into Limbo) DECRYPTION
 
Le sein d'Abraham
The Righteous of the Old Testament assembled in the bosom of Abraham

CORRESPONDENCES

The Bosom of Abraham (or Limbo of the Patriarchs) gathers under the roof of the New Jerusalem seven haloed and seated patriarchs and biblical prophets, four standing women and two children embraced by Abraham. All were chosen for their correspondence with New Testament because all are prefigures announcing Christianity.

The Correspondences' play, very popular in medieval exegesis, consists of emphasizing the links which unite the Past to the Present, which illuminate the Bible through the Gospel (and vice versa). This lower register is a kind of echo chamber of the middle register. It allows us to reveal many of fundamental themes of this “History of Salvation.”

Abraham, father of Believers of the three Religions of the Book, sits in the center. The presence of his descendants (notably his son Isaac) inevitably refers to the theme of sacrifice, which prefigures the Passion of Jesus.


Just as Abraham had agreed to sacrifice his son for fear of God, the Most High offered His son as a sacrifice for the salvation of men.
At the same time, Abraham's gesture and the salutary intervention of the angel Gabriel who hold back his hand and offers the sacrifice of a ram in exchange, are an allegory of the transition from human sacrifice to animal sacrifice, a major civilizational progress.

 

 

The Binding of Isaac, Caravaggio, Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
La crucifixion
A PREFIGURE OF THE TRINITY
La Trinité abrahamique
The Abrahamic Trinity: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

The biblical Trinity

In Judaic tradition, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob constitute a Tinity, present in Orthodox iconography, from Ethiopia to Russia with triadic figures with similar faces and holy Nimbus around head. Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob... and of Christians.

 

 

 

La Trinité biblique
The Trinity, fresco by Andrei Rublev, Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir
(Russia, early 15th century)


 

         Isaac             Abraham                   JacobLa Trinité
Isaac, Abraham and Jacob, fresco of the troglodyte church
of Abuna Yemata Guh, Gheralta, Tigray (Ethiopia, 5th century)


THE RITE OF MELCHIZEDECH
 

Melchisédech

 

La Cène, Léonard de Vinci

The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, fresco in the Santa Maria delle Grazie church, Milan

L'agneau de Dieu
Here is the Lamb of God


The sacramental offering of Bread and Wine offered by Melchizedek, priest and king of Salem (the ancient name of Jerusalem) to Abraham is of course a prefigure of the Last Supper. (Gen 14:18-20) Here, bread and wine replace the flesh and blood of animal sacrifice (ram, sheep, or lamb): a new historical stage in the reduction of sacrificial violence.

Melchizedek, prefigure of Christ: both are Judges and Kings

Melchisédech, roi de Salem
Melchizedek and Zechariah wear the royal crown and hold a chalice; Zechariah also holds the palm of the martyr, while the missing hand of Melchizedek perhaps held the bread
Le Christ JUDEX REX

AARON, PREFIGURE OF SAINT PETER

Moïse et Aaron

The gesture of Moses, placing his hand on the shoulder of his older brother Aaron, is a sign of his investiture as the first High Priest (cohen). This scene echoes the choice of Peter (Simon or Cephas) to build the Christian Church (Christ's Charge to Peter).

Le Christ confie l'Eglise à Pierre

Christ’s Charge to Peter, 1515 by Raphael – Victoria and Albert Museum, London


THE PROPHETS, PREFIGURES OF THE APOSTLES

The apostolic mission of the prophets is evoked by the presence of scrolls and books of the Bible, the main tool of pastoral teaching. Jeremiah raises his right hand as a sign of faith and holds the book assigned to him in the other.

To his right, the gesture of Ezekiel who raises his tunic above the knee perhaps refers to his vision of the new Temple to be rebuilt after the exile in Babylon in which he sees life-giving springs gushing under the threshold of the temple . (Ez 47, 1-4) This reconstruction corresponds to the new Church rebuilt in three days by the death and resurrection of Christ.

Moïse et Aaron tenant des  rouleaux de la Torah
Moses and Aaron hold Torah scrolls
Jérémie et son livre
Jeremy holding his Book

ZECHARIAH PREFIGURES THE CHRISTIAN MARTYRS

Zechariah ben Jehoiada, son of the High Priest of Jerusalem, was stoned in the courtyard of the Temple on the orders of King Joash (Jehoash of Judah) and his blood left an indelible stain.

 

 

Jésus sur la croix
Sainte Foy martyre
The palm and the grill, symbols of Saint Faith's martyrdom

THE POLYSEMY OF FIGURES (several characters under the same figure)

 

The character of Zechariah allows us to introduce the notion of polysemy. Figures often have a polysemous meaning, which makes their identification more complex but their interpretation richer. The character of Zechariah provides a good example:besides Priest Joad's son (2 Ch 24, 17-22), the Bible relates slaughters of several other Zechariahs over the centuries:


- Zechariah, son of Barachiah, (and father-in-law of the king of Judah, Ahaz, in the 8th century. BC), was murdered between the sanctuary and the altar by the king's henchmen (Mt 23:35; Lk 11:50-51);
- Zechariah, son of Barachiah (and father-in-law of the king of Judah, Ahaz, in the 8th century BC), murdered between the sanctuary and the altar by the king's henchmen (Mt 23, 35; Lc 11, 50- 51);
- Zechariah, son of Barachie, son of Iddo (Priest and Prophet from the time of Darius 1st, 6th century BC) and author of the Book of Zechariah (Za 1, 1; 7, 1)
- Zechariah, son of Baraskaios, priest of the Temple late 60s. BC, husband of Elizabeth and father of John the Baptist, was murdered in the temple by order of Herod the Great, as was his son by Herod Antipas. (Lk 3:2)

Zacharie
Zechariah and the palm of martyrs

THE PRIESTHOOD, THE COMMON THREAD OF THE TYMPANUM

In Abraham's Bosom, no fewer than five priests are gathered: Melchizedek, Zechariah, Aaron, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. They illustrate the three priestly functions: sacramental, regal and apostolic. All confirm the formula “People of Priests, People of Saints, People of Kings”.

TWIN STRUCTURES: the example of two twinned saints

Corespondences have also an allegorical meaning which is at work in the pairing of figures often presented and associated two by two. This twinning is systematic under the arches of the Old Testament floor with Isaac & Jacob, Moses & Aaron, Melchizedek & Zechariah, Ezekiel & Jeremiah.

Two saints, Mary of Magdala and Saint Faith, each appear twice, in the lower register but also in the middle one for the first, and in the intermediate spandrel for the second. They are also the subject of a twin cult, always celebrated together on the same day in Conques (6th of October).

 

 
Marie de Magdala présente deux fois au tympan de Conques
Double presence of Mary of Magdala
Sainte Foy présente deux fois au tympan de Conques
Double presence of Saint Faith

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition, the abbey owns and venerates the relics of these two saints. (1)

Next Chapter...

 
La statue-reliquaire de sainte Foy
Reliquary statue which contains the head of Saint Faith, Ecclesiastical Treasure of Conques

Le reliquaire triptyque gothique

Gothic triptych reliquary contains a relic of Mary Magdalene
(hover over the image to view it)

Next Chapter: The Tartarus


(1) The famous shrine of Saint Faith in majesty bore signs of her priesthood, acquired posthumously like all martyrs: she in fact wore priestly vestments: a pallium, formerly completed by an amict or protective dorsal. (see chapter 8)

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HOME
TYMPANUN THEME
THE PROJECT
STRUCTURE
PARADISE
LIMBO
TARTARUS
THE SINS
THE 4 SENS
LEONINE VERSES
CONCLUSION