Solving the problem of evil in the twenty-first century

Autun St Lazare Tympanum


The Tympanum at the Saint-Lazare Cathedral in Autun, France is a portrayal of the Last Judgment, as the title reflects, by Romanesque sculptor Gislebertus. In the Tarn-et-Garonne department of France, the Marble tympanum rests over the west door of the Cathedral, in the Narthex. As Theologians of the day mandated what the subject matter of many artistic renditions would be, the church authorities dictated the theme of Gislebertus’ Last Judgment. The focal point of the piece is the centered Christ figure, drawing on the attention to salvation and prompting the viewer’s consciousness toward their personal actions.

The Savior sits disinterestedly enthroned in a mandorla of angels support, dividing the Blessed on the left from the Damned on the right. The “blessed” angels are anxiously awaiting the judgment of Christ for their entrance into heaven; the support amongst one another is especially noted through the various figures that appear before Jesus with reverent faces as they look upwards. Amongst these figures is St. Peter, turning toward those that surround him to guide the chosen souls into heaven. The apostle’s special role is particularly illuminated, as he and Jesus are the only figures with aureola’s hovering above their heads; this saintly glow singles both Jesus and St. Peter as good models for Christians to follow.

The counter to Saint Peter is Archangel Michael on the right side of the tympanum. Michael leans over in a subtle hunchback stance, applying his weight to the scale before him. The manner in which he leans is meant to help the demons go in the right direction, this being the path to heaven and away from sin. The damned are gruesome in their appearance, with eerily long bodies, exaggerated claws and agony-filled faces. There is one distinct devil who is hanging from the dragon mouth of hell, attempting to lead souls in to the infernal abyss while another demon above him drags more souls into a furnace. These depictions of the Last Judgment are truly evocative of moral thought and the consequences from doing right and wrong.

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One response

  1. ler884

    Depictions such as this one are always very interesting to me especially in light of the fact that they were always used in the entrances of churches to strike fear into those attending. The illiterate and poor demographic that these images were created for would see these things and automatically want to believe or be saved and therefore attend the churches that posted such art.

    May 13, 2011 at 2:49 am

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