She took us to three statues of Mary and Jesus from three different periods. The Romanesque statue showed Jesus as a little man sitting on Mary’s lap. Both looked forward, not at each other or at the viewer. Our docent said, this portrayal emphasized Christ as God incarnate and downplayed human emotion.
The Gothic statue showed Mary as a young woman, standing and holding baby Jesus, who had a tight grip on her gown. He was holding an orb—representing the world—and she was crowned, making the point that she is the queen of heaven and he is the lord of creation. Still, this statue emphasized the humanity of both and the warm, affection they shared for each other. It played to a more emotional piety.
The third statue came from the late Gothic period. In it, Mary held the crucified and dead Jesus on her lap. Jesus’ ribs were bare, emphasizing his gaunt frame and thus his great suffering for the sins of the world. This statue portrayed God’s suffering for us, and a piety more generally defined by suffering and death.
Her comments really helped me to see the shifts in culture and piety over time in the Medieval period. And it got me thinking, how would I portray Christ, and perhaps the Blessed Virgin, today? Our numbers are too big and our culture too diverse for any single portrayal to speak for everyone. But I like a statue I have seen in two Churches. It shows Jesus on the cross. But he is robed and crowned. His arms are straight and his body intact.
What that statue says to me is that Christ was crucified, but that he also was victorious over death even on the cross itself. It is thus an Easter portrayal that doesn’t neglect or ignore the crucifixion and the brutal reality of human suffering. But I need to think more on this….