The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England

The Grief of God: Images of the Suffering Jesus in Late Medieval England

Ellen M. Ross

Language: English

Pages: 240

ISBN: 019510451X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Graphic portrayals of the suffering Jesus Christ pervade late medieval English art, literature, drama, and theology. These images have been interpreted as signs of a new emphasis on the humanity of Jesus. To others they indicate a fascination with a terrifying God of vengeance and a morbid obsession with death. In The Grief of God, however, Ellen Ross offers a different understanding of the purpose of this imagery and its meaning to the people of the time. Analyzing a wide range of textual and pictorial evidence, the author finds that the bleeding flesh of the wounded Savior manifests divine presence; in the intensified corporeality of the suffering Jesus whose flesh not only condemns, but also nurtures, heals, and feeds, believers meet a trinitarian God of mercy. Ross explores the rhetoric of transformation common to English medieval artistic, literary, and devotional sources. The extravagant depictions of pain and anguish, the author shows, constitute an urgent appeal to respond to Jesus' expression of love. She also explains how the inscribing of Christ's pain on the bodies of believers at times erased the boundaries between human and divine so that holy persons, and in particular, holy women, participated in the transformative power of Christ. In analyzing the dialects of mercy and justice; the construction of sacred space and time; sacraments and ritual celebration, social action, and divine judgment; and the dynamics of women's public religious authority, this study of religion and culture explores the meaning of the late medieval Christian affirmation that God bled and wept and suffered on the cross to draw persons to Godself. This interdisciplinary study of sermon literature, manuscript illuminations and church wall paintings, drama, hagiographic narratives, and spiritual treaties illuminates the religious sensibilities, practices, and beliefs that constellate around the late medieval fascination with the bleeding body of the suffering Jesus Christ.

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Mary, Mother of Jesus; the disciples; and all "tru lovers" of Jesus (366). In imaginatively reenacting the Passion of Christ, the believer suffers with Christ just as the contemporary friends of Jesus had (692). As indicated in the discussion of sermons in the first section of this chapter, the practice of active remembering characterizes medieval spirituality. The purpose of this recollection was to arouse the meditator's affections, to bring the message of Scripture into the present.85 Julian

Child. Within the splays of the window just east of the Tree of Jesse is an Annunciation (celebrated in the liturgical year on March 25) with, as indicated above, Gabriel on the west and the Virgin holding a book on the east. This is followed on the first tier of the wall to the east by a Nativity (celebrated on December 25) and then an Adoration of the Magi scene (celebrated on January 6). The liturgical associations of this scene are evident in the fact that the mural painting chronicles the

crucifyed . . . & sche had so gret compassyon & so gret peyn to se owyr Lordys peyn pat sche myt not kepe hir-self fro krying & roryng pow sche xuld a be ded perfor. (68)34 During her lifetime, Margery Kempe was well known for her boisterous crying, which was triggered by anything that reminded her of Christ. She wept at the sight of crucifixes, images of Christ, and animals being beaten by their owners and even at the sight of small boys with their mothers. Her loud and public sobbing in the

like Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich convey so clearly, the spiritually mature person desperately longs to be with God but remains on earth for the sake of others. The centrality of purgatory in the lives of the twelfth-century Christina the Astonishing and the fourteenth-century Catherine of Siena appears in Margery Kempe's text also. When she is still young, Christina dies, and God tells her that she can either remain in heaven or be separated from the Divine by returning to earth, where

Kempe. Attention to the presence of the suffering Jesus in medieval women's lives, whether legendary or real, alerts us to the dynamics of female public religious authority in the late medieval world. Women used their theological, biological, and social identification with the body to express religious meaning and spiritual authority. In mimetic identification with Jesus, women manifest the ongoing presence of the Divine through their own bodies. Women's Jesus-identified suffering signals the

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