Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The fresco is in St. Jacobus, Urschalling

Thanks again to Mac who was most helpful in pointing me in the right direction!

The church where the fresco is located (pictured in my previous post) is St. Jacobus in Urschalling, in the Alps. I came across an article in the travel section of the New York Times which gives details about visiting the town HERE. I want to see this in person!

I have been analyzing early Christian texts and manuscripts as I have been writing a chapter on the holy spirit for my new book, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter. This artwork adds new dimension to my argument that the original Christian Trinity was the Father, Mother Spirit, and Son. Here is a 12th century fresco in a European church that commemorates this!

That this was covered up by other frescos and now is being interpreted as the three angels that appeared to Abraham (because we all know the mother spirit is not part of the Trinity!) is in line with what I have found in the ancient manuscript and hermeneutical tradition.

Later religious thinkers in traditions obscure those earlier scriptures and art which no longer support their present theology or practice. This was done in manuscript copying, where sentences were altered or deleted to fit current beliefs as the scribe made the new copy of the old text. So the old tradition was erased from the manuscripts just as the old art was covered by new art in St. Jacobus. It was also done hermeneutically, by providing the correct way to read and understand the text just as is now being done by the church who wants the fresco to be seen as Abraham's 3 angelic visitors since it is impossible for their forefathers and foremothers to have a painting of the Trinity with a female holy spirit in their church.

I could go on, but I have to get back to the things on my desk that are pressing me.


Cecilia said...

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. 2He looked up and saw three men standing near him.

So, that doesn't really work, either, does it?

Thanks for this. Gorgeous fresco!

Pax, C.

J. K. Gayle said...

We can hardly wait for your new book, Sex and the Serpent: Why the Sexual Conflicts of the Early Church Still Matter!

Some of us think that Aristotle may have influenced the attempt to reverse or to erase the Greek association of divine breath / godly spirit with mothers. He propagated the idea that male "seed" (or semen) was a combination of water and πνεῦμα (or "breath / spirit"), which he thought was the source of heat and therefore life of the soul. The female, according to Aristotle, did not have this seed, did not have this "hot living air plus water" combination. In Aristotle's view, the male had to give the female "soul" by his movements, his form, and his seed. The woman is the passive recipient; and even the embryo depends on the fathering male, according to this "science." Aristotle also wrote, in the same treatise, that females are botched or mutilated males, and the blame for all deformed babies goes to the mother, in these cases bad recipients of the pneuma containing seed. This supposed "objectivity" is all very well documented in Aristotle’s treatise the Generation of Animals (see 2.2, 2.3, 2.6, 3.11).

But before Aristotle was a different view. Euripides, for example, has Hippolytus, the protagonist of one of his plays, address the virgin goddess Artemis. She not only possesses but also is her own πνεῦμα (pneuma) -- the very thing which this male does not have; (”Hippolytus,” lines 1390-93):

ὦ θεῖον ὀδμῆς πνεῦμα· καὶ γὰρ ἐν κακοῖς
ὢν ᾐσθόμην σου κἀνεκουφίσθην δέμας·
ἔστ’ ἐν τόποισι τοισίδ’ Ἄρτεμις θεά.

"But what is this?
O breath of divine fragrance! Though I am in misfortune
I sense you and my body’s pain is lightened.
The goddess Artemis is in this place!"

John Noyce said...

There is a discussion of this image in Thomas Schipflinger, Sophia-Maria (English trans: Samuel Weiser, Inc, USA, 1998), p391, including this:
"It is an interesting and seldom-encountered portrayal of the Trinity, which unmistakably presents the Holy Spirit as a woman, indicating that even in those times conceiving of the Holy Spirit as the Trinity's maternal principle was not unknown."
Schipflinger dates the image to "the beginning of the ninth century."

John Noyce said...

Schipflinger has several chapters on the art of the European middle ages depicting the maternal image of the Divine.
Reading his book inspired me to research, write (and complete!) my MA thesis on the visions and prophecies of the Goddess in the western tradition. This is now available as 'The Wisdom Tradition' through

Pastor Bob said...

Using the meeting at Mamre as an icon for the Trinity is very common in Russian art. Of course in the Russian icons all three persons of the Trinity have beards . . .

John Noyce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
José Solano said...

It should not be surprising that some artists have depicted the Holy Spirit as a woman. The Holy Spirit has been frequently symbolized as a dove but that does not mean that He is a dove or anything like that. There have been numerous times in which the Holy Spirit was actually symbolized as Jesus Christ and the Father has been symbolized also as Jesus Christ. The wind, oil, water, etc. also serve as symbols of the Holy Spirit.

The Godhead has also been referred to as a Quaternity to include within it the feminine. The Assumption of Mary has been used as evidence of woman in the Godhead.

Andrew Criddle said...

One important early father to regard the Holy Spirit as Feminine (and Maternal) is the 4th century Latin Platonist Marius Victorinus

Andrew Criddle said...

Robert Murray in his study of Syriac Christianity Symbols of Church and Kingdom has an interesting discussion on the tradition of the Holy Spirit as Mother. On page 320 he says The curious Trinity fresco in Urschalling, Bavaria, in which the Spirit might seem feminine, is of the three ages of man.

IE Robert Murray appears to regard the central figure of the three as juvenile rather than feminine.

David said...

He must have missed the vulva.

Square Canon said...

(1)I understand that the frescos were plastered over rather than just painted over.
(2) Wikipedia dates the foundation of the church to approximately 1100, which would make an earlier date for the frescos problematic!
(3) The cruciform halo(or trinitarian halo, since it is only used to signify one of the trinity) clearly present and divided among the three figures makes it clear that the trinity is depicted. The visitors to Abraham would be unlikely to get any halo at all as Old Testament figures seldom(/never)get even a simple halo.[Cruciform halos are rare in early Christian only becoming the norm later than the Twelfth Century]
(4) Proverbs 8 where Wisdom is a ´she´ who was there when God "set the heavens in their place" also provides an Old Testament picture which can identify with the Holy Spirit.