The cover of the month
“Do you not care that we are perishing?” by Pierre-Marie Dumont
Ottonian art flourished in the heart of the Germanic Holy Roman Empire (present-day Germany) between 950 and 1050. The heir of Carolingian art and precursor of the Romanesque, it bears witness to the religious and cultural golden age that marked, in Europe, the definitive end of the “age of the barbarians.” Through an ingenious freedom of interpretation, this miniature (a painting in minium) is typical of this art. It is from an illuminated Gospel on vellum (calfskin), thought to have been executed in Cologne around 1040 in the archdiocesan scriptorium (copyist’s studio). Its was probably carried out under the direction of Ida (also called Hitda), the abbess of the Cologne convent of Saint Mary’s in the Capitol. Ida’s bold cultural initiatives attest to the eminent role women played in the Ottonian renaissance, particularly as patronesses and sponsors, but also as project supervisors.
Here then, rendered in a highly evocative manner, is the shipwreck, inescapable in human eyes, of the Church over the course of her journey through history to the other side. Peter has lost hold of the rigging and let the mainsail billow; the other Apostles, huddled together in terror, have abandoned their oars. Even the figurehead of this frail bark seems to fear the worst! And in the meantime, Jesus sleeps peacefully. From Nero and Diocletian, through the barbarians, the scandals of the Renaissance, the French Revolution, Communism and Nazism, how many times throughout history has the cry not rung out, “The Church is foundering! The Church is about to sink without trace!”? And each time, in the end the Lord has risen up to command the roaring waves to be calm. And they have obeyed. In our day, the Church seems once again on the verge of perishing, first of all, alas, because of scandals within, while her external enemies, not idle, are already rejoicing at her imminent demise.
In our miniature, painted a thousand years ago, we see one Apostle grasp Jesus’ shoulder by the hand and give him a vigorous shake to wake him up. And, just as Saint John Paul II rightly said, “We are all co-responsible for the Church,” this hand seeks to awaken us as well, inviting us not only to add the cry of the prayer of the faithful to its action, but also to oppose the unleashing of the forces of evil with the holiness of our lives.
Christ Calming the Storm, miniature from the Gospels of the Abbess Hitda of Meschede, c. 1040, Cod. 1640, fol. 117 r°, Master of Hitda’s Gospel Book, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Darmstadt, Germany. © Artothek / La Collection.