Fall into Ruin of the House of God | Art for Proper 28

Luke21:6 Jesus said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Fall into Ruin of the House of God
Fall into Ruin of the House of God
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Click to find Haggai among the Amiens Cathedral 44 Prophet Quatrefoils
The Lord shows Haggai his vision of the ruined Temple
Quatrefoils on the western exterior, depicting the Temple which the people have allowed to fall into ruin
Cathédrale d’Amiens
Relief sculpture
Amiens, France
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

The Fall into Ruin of the House of God and The Lord Shows Haggai the Ruined Temple, Stone, c. 1220-1240, Western exterior, Cathedral of Amiens, France

In the year AD 1220 when the construction of the Cathedral of Amiens began, the invention of the printing press was still more than two centuries away. Books were handmade and not available usually to the general public; a majority of people were unable to read. For them, subjects in the Bible were learned through the spoken word and the visual arts. Illustrations in mosaics, stained glass, paintings, and sculptures, re-enforced visually the biblical stories they heard. These arts were an integral part of their churches.

The three recessed arched entrances of the Cathedral of Amiens are covered completely with relief sculpture. The walls are flanked by biblical figures carved in high relief and the space above the central doors – the tympanum – depicts the Last Judgment. From eye level to ground level, a base with two rows of relief sculpture framed in quatrefoils continues around the interior of all the buttresses of the façade. The figures in the base of the central portal depict virtues with their corresponding vices. From there, the rows continue with scenes of the Major and Minor Prophets. The images depicted in the top row show significant events in a prophet’s life; other important events associated with him are placed directly below it.

The prophet Haggai (HAG-eye) is represented by four scenes but he is not pictured on the upper row and he appears in only one of the quatrefoils. The Temple in ruins shown above is in the upper row and God is standing in the quatrefoil directly beneath it; Haggai is seated to his left. God is pointing to the Temple above him and calling Haggai’s attention to the fact that it has been left in ruins by the people. The scenes representing most of the prophets are self-contained; the subjects are complete in themselves. The ruined Temple differs, however, in that it is linked to the scene of God and Haggai below it. The two images support each other to complete a visual message.

In ancient times, people and animals in distant lands tended to be a mystery; often the descriptions of them were a result of the imagination. A host of animals and creatures – sometimes with frightening powers – were imagined and became part of the lore that was passed down through the ages. Bestiaries compiled during the Middle Ages included special attributes and symbolic associations with creatures such as unicorns, basilisks, and griffins. These and other imagined animals often appeared in medieval art. At Amiens, the ruined Temple of God is being inhabited by reptile-like creatures crawling among the fallen stones and rubble.

Hovak Najarian © 2013

Hannah, prophetess and mother of Samuel, thanking God | Art for Proper 28B

1 Samuel 1:10 She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD, and wept bitterly.

Hannah, prophetess and mother of Samuel, thanking God
Hannah, prophetess and mother of Samuel, thanking God
Miniature from the Paris Psalter 10th century
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, France.
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Commentary by Hovak Najarian

Hannah Thanking God, Miniature from the Paris Psalter, Manuscript illumination, 10th century

Image makers of the tenth century were generally awkward in their drawing skills and were successful only partially in their efforts to create an illusion of depth. Although Greek and Roman artists made progress toward creating a likeness of the physical world, the artists of the middle ages tended not to consult classical works. Yet, exceptions could be found among artists in Constantinople where the Paris Psalter was made and the influence of Roman frescos can be seen in some of its illustrations. There were variations, however, and the person that created “Hannah Thanking God” was less skilled than some of the other artists of the Psalter.

In this painting, Hannah’s relaxed stance with bent knee is Greek in origin but the architecture is confusing and much of the painting is filled with an off-kilter perspective. The architecture of the synagogue as well as its shadows, the landscape, and the lines of Hannah’s robe all are slanted to the right. It is very unlikely this was done deliberately but the effect seems to suggest, nevertheless, that all subjects are leaning toward God (who is not in the painting but represented by an arm and hand). In composition, this painting is the simplest of the miniatures in the Psalter and although it tends to lack artistic sophistication it is, nevertheless, a direct and sincere effort to depict a spiritual moment.

Hannah was unable to have children and her husband Elkanah’s other wife, Peninnah, belittled her constantly for this. Her husband treated her well but Peninnah’s irritation went on for years and caused a great deal of grief. When Hannah was praying at the synagogue, Eli the priest misread her emotional state and thought she had been drinking. Hannah explained to Eli she had not been drinking and told him about her sadness and distress. Eli assured Hannah that God would hear her petition for a son and it would be granted.

This simple scene in the Paris Psalter shows Hannah standing outside the synagogue with arms raised in thanksgiving to God for her son, Samuel. How to depict Hannah was not difficult but how to depict God was a dilemma; artists seldom attempted it. Only a hand and a portion of arm were shown usually. It was believed that inasmuch as God was invisible, an image was not possible. Later, and only occasionally, artists depicted God’s face; usually as a bearded old man. In passing years, more of the body of God was shown and by the time of the Renaissance in the fifteenth century the entire figure was being represented. In this painting of Hannah from the Paris Psalter, God’s hand and a portion of a sleeved arm is seen in the upper right hand corner. Rays are extending from the fingers of God as a blessing is being bestowed on Hannah.


In the Episcopal Church, The Psalter (the Book of Psalms) is included in the Book of Common Prayer. During the Middle Ages, however, the Psalter was likely to be a book commissioned by a wealthy lay person for use in a private chapel. As such, it was decorated elaborately and included usually devotional writings as well as miniature paintings that depicted the Passion or Old Testament subjects. The Psalter was used also as a book from which a person could learn to read.

© Hovak Najarian, 2012

Jael, Deborah and Barak | Art for A Proper 28

Judges 4:4 At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel.

Jael, Deborah and Barak
BRAY, Salomon de
Jael, Deborah and Barak
Oil on panel, 87 x 72 cm
Museum Catharijneconvent, Utrecht
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