Look at the pictures so that you may see what may be their secret

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Signs and symbols of the plan of salvation in the twelfth century at St. Mary’s Iffley.


This paper considers the symbolism of the sculptures on the South and West doorways of St. Mary’s church in Iffley and proposes that they represent the principal ingredients in the Plan of Salvation, as it was understood in the twelfth century. Salvation entailed descent and ascent both by Christ and by every Christian, culminating in the final ascent in the resurrection of both body and soul at the Second Coming. The South doorway’s somatic symbolism concerns temporal matters, principally Christ’s Incarnation, the Descent into Hell as an essential prerequisite of victory in the battle against the Devil, the need to struggle against temptation and the dangers of failure. The West doorway on the other hand is the door of the spirit, displaying part of Ezekiel’s vision in the Old Testament. It concerns the love of God for all mankind, of the new era of Grace after the Resurrection, the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the calling of the Church and therefore each soul to ascend towards union with God, as evoked most expressively in the Song of Songs.

The Interpretation of Symbols in Medieval Art

The quotation in the title is taken from a late twelfth century description of the paintings in the chapterhouse at Worcester Cathedral (“the Worcester Description”)[1]. The paintings, which are now lost but were probably on the vault, depicted a series of New and Old Testament scenes with figures of virtues and quotations from the Ten Commandments, essentially comprising a commentary on the Plan of Salvation. As the quotation suggests, the intentions of the patron or painter may be subtly different from meanings generated in the mind of the viewer, so one should not look for a “one interpretation fits all” solution to the “meaning” of Romanesque sculpture.

The “secret” or spiritual meaning which has to be unravelled at Iffley is more difficult to interpret than the Worcester chapterhouse because there are neither texts on the building nor a written description. The relative lack of space for sculpture on the doorways compared with the tympana often used in other doorways of the period, also requires that the meaning or assumed programme is effectively in what might be described as medieval shorthand, although paradoxically the shorthand used may contain more “messages” than a straightforward depiction might accomplish. But would a parish church such as Iffley have not only such an ambitious symbolic programme but also one that is so “hidden”? What does that suggest about the patron/sculptor and his audience? I will touch briefly on these questions at the end. [2]

An attempt at such an interpretation is fraught with dangers. “Art historians who attempt to impute specific meanings to these fantasies are usually regarded in much the same way that orthodox physicists regard para-psychologists.”[3] Rigorous principles have been enunciated designed perhaps to protect the scholar from attack by or ridicule from his peer group, rather than being firmly based on medieval literature or other evidence. The art historical (and historical) community effectively lifted the draw bridge against those who would seek to work in this field, unless they abided by a strict regimen which risked ruling out most interpretations of standing structures without direct supporting documentary evidence. It has been suggested that constraints imposed by the “scholarly community”, a “complex set of rules”, are essential to disciplined research, but, as Richard Evans wrote[4], “…surely the past does impose its reality through the sources in a basic way…. It is highly dangerous to make objectivity in this sense dependent on the existence of a scholarly community.” And here he referred to the scholarly community in Germany before World War II, which operated using a set of rules now considered seriously flawed.

Fortunately, a number of art historians have rowed against this tide. Perhaps somewhat grudgingly, Alan Borg[5] suggested we should not be “condemning out of … hand” one commentator, concluding that “It seems to me he had as good a chance as any one of understanding the meaning of these objects, and perhaps better placed than many of us for whom knowledge of the Middle Ages remains based entirely upon known facts and existing documents.”  More recently, a valuable contribution has been made by Mary Carruthers, who considers the meditative and other uses of images as an aide memoire and affective resource to be used alongside the readings of the divine scriptures and church fathers.[6] She explains the mental process as being akin to a journey, of “ductus”, by which one is led on by the images and the Worcester Description is itself headed “The Verses of the Chapterhouse, on a tour round the building”, culminating with the words above the door, the liminal point of entry and exit, “I am the entrance to Life, my people. Come into my kingdoms…” Michael Camille has argued for a reduction in the emphasis on the need for documentary support, pointing out that the Romanesque era was predominantly an oral one, whether in ritual, prayers, sermons or story telling. As I discuss below, surviving texts demonstrate that the minds of people in that period were full of images, and the magical significance of symbols should not be ignored, especially on doorways, which were “dangerous intersections of inner and outer, described in terms of bodily metaphors like orifices, eyes and mouths…” For the audience, as for the patron, Camille argued that symbols could have a number of meanings and that images were not adjuncts of texts but could have an independent existence.[7] Michael Curschmann has also demonstrated, specifically in the context of the Song of Songs, which is very important to my argument, when we look at the West doorway, that even miniatures apparently illustrating a text can be more than mere slavish illustrations.[8]

Yet the danger remains of cutting loose from restraints and applying interpretations without any methodology. As Richard Evans wrote[9], “Doing historical research is rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces are scattered all over the house ….and where once it is put together, a significant number of the pieces are still missing. …We imagine the contours in this situation, and have to speculate on quite a bit of the detail; at the same time, however, the discovery of the existing pieces does set quite severe limits on the operation of our imagination.”

So what are the “severe limits” which are set by the surviving pieces of the jigsaw on the operation of our imagination? First we have to assess what are the legitimate pieces of the jigsaw and this requires identification of both the “thing” depicted, e.g. a horse, and also its intended or accepted symbolic significance. Identification of the “thing” will sometimes be relatively simple but on other occasions less obvious. I am not going to enter the arena of what we would describe as “fantastic” beasts, for example the beakheads at Iffley; I think I probably have enough on my hands already.

Symbolic or “purely decorative”?

But I am already making the assumption that an image is one that can and does have symbolic significance. Is it reasonable to suppose that sculptured images of animals, flowers, beasts and men may have some symbolic meaning? Life in a secular society in the twenty first century perhaps explains the temptation apparently felt by many commentators to classify much of medieval art, especially what is sometimes called marginal art, as “decorative” or even “purely decorative”, in other words art with no symbolic function or meaning. And yet, I suggest, little art, especially but not exclusively in an ecclesiastical context, would have been considered purely decorative in the Middle Ages. The distinction between religious/symbolic and decorative would not in my view have been a part of anyone’s mental vocabulary[10], just as there would have been no real distinction between religious and secular life. For medieval man, there was one life combining at all times both the religious/supernatural/superstitious and (what we would call) secular aspects, and the temptation must be resisted to pray in aid St. Bernard’s famous fulmination against grotesque animals etc on the capitals of Cluniac cloisters. His was not a puritanical anti-image mentality – he used mental images extensively in his writings – but a shocked reaction because a Cluniac monk should be beyond such images for meditation and have risen to greater heights of contemplation.

In the religious and ecclesiastical sphere, the importance of symbolism is apparent throughout the Middle Ages, but perhaps especially in the twelfth century particularly from the writings of the Victorine school in Paris. Hugh of St. Victor wrote extensively regarding the universal symbolism of the world. From the time of St. Augustine in De Trinitate through the neoplatonists, including John Scot Eriugena who translated Dionysius the Areopagite, through to Hugh and beyond, the world was regarded as a sign of God.  John Scot Eriugena wrote that no material things are to be excepted from this rule: they are all signs of something incorporeal and spiritual. Hugh compared the natural creation to a book written by the hand of God, so that “single created things are like symbols instituted by God in order to manifest the wisdom existing in the invisible things of God.” “Everything on earth symbolizes something in heaven: and vice versa, everything in the world beyond – either in heaven or in hell – has its image and shadow here on earth.” In summary, everything, excepting only spiritual things – especially God and the Church as the body of Christ – was a symbol of something else.[11]

From the above summary, it will be apparent that the medieval mind was suffused with symbols. Some modern writers appear to have either found this difficult to accept or fallen into the trap of confusing our inability to interpret much of the intended symbolism with the conclusion that there is therefore no symbolic meaning. Rather, I would argue, the onus is on the proponents of the “purely decorative” school to present convincing evidence for this thus far unsubstantiated and perhaps unprovable assertion.

But it is necessary to take this a little further and look at the symbolism of history, especially of the Old Testament. There was a consistent extension of universal symbolism, under which all things are symbols, to include historical persons and events. Typology, as this is commonly called, goes back to early Christian times but is fully developed in the twelfth century by inter alia Hugh of St. Victor, into an elaborate foreshadowing, especially in the Old Testament but also in other writings, of the events of the New and of the Plan of Salvation. Thus for example the sacrifice of Isaac was a prefiguring of the Crucifixion, the crossing of the Red Sea of baptism.

Alongside this development of symbolism as a fundamental aspect of the religious thought world of the Middle Ages, we see the development from the early centuries of Christianity of an elaborate exegesis or explanation of the meaning of sacred texts. In summary, such exegesis was generally based on a fourfold interpretation of the scriptures. The first was the literal or historical sense. The second was an allegorical meaning “which, for a soul placed far from God, creates a kind of machine, that by its means [the soul] may be lifted to God”[12] The third meaning was tropological, or moral, to aid the Christian in his fight against the devil/temptation, and the fourth meaning was anagogical, relating to the things of the world hereafter and to the Second Coming of Christ. Each symbol could be interpreted using any or all four of these meanings. As the Worcester Description stated – “This distinguished house is replete with the lessons and testimonies of faith: here the historical meanings, and here the allegorical; here the Law shrouding, and here Grace revealing what was concealed.”[13]

An important aspect of this thought world is that “Typological and allegorical thinking … is of course based on the premise of timelessness, or perhaps one should call it simultaneous time in God’s realm.”[14] Thus the Descent into Hell is the literal descent of Christ into Hell after his death, but it is also allegorically symbolic of life on this earth, tropological relating to man’s individual struggle against sin, and anagogical being a forerunner of the Second Coming, when Christ will again descend in glory. It was also a sacramental symbol of the Eucharist in that each time the priest consecrated the Host, Christ descended again to earth and was sacrificed. Liturgy was fundamental to many symbolic interpretations as has been demonstrated, for example, in respect of the late twelfth century Klosterneuberg Altarpiece, which I refer to below.[15]

Although many now regard the search for a persuasive interpretation of medieval art as an interesting intellectual exercise, for the patron/sculptor and his intended viewer in the twelfth century, these symbols provided an opportunity for contemplation of and meditation on the divine. They were more than a dictionary of signs, a road map if you like for life; they provided a mechanism for the spirit to ascend towards the Godhead, as Gregory the Great suggested.

The evidence for symbolic meanings

If we accept that symbolic meanings were intended and were understood by contemporary viewers, in at least some of the sculptural work at Iffley, what evidence can we use for identifying such meanings? This is where the analogy of a jigsaw may be said to break down somewhat, although perhaps we should imagine a three dimensional puzzle, in which the surface puzzle concerns the identification of the symbol and the further dimensions concern which if any of the possible “meanings” were intended by the patron or could reasonably be inferred by the viewer. In assessing whether an interpretation or meaning may reasonably be used, I believe it is prudent to regard, as a “piece” of our puzzle, only an interpretation which has support from at least two independent sources.  The only exception would be where the one supporting ground can be regarded as almost incontrovertible, as for example Suger’s description of his great work at St. Denis. Regrettably, no such direct evidence is available at Iffley!

As for the supporting evidence, first and very importantly, there is the context and position of the depiction. The importance of context has general application but is perhaps particularly important with animal depictions because the sources tell us that these have both good and bad symbolic meaning. A snake or serpent is often “bad” but in certain contexts is extremely “good”, as with the Brazen Serpent of Moses as a type for the crucified Christ.[16] If the image is close to and apparently associated with another image, the possible interpretation postulated may therefore be enhanced by the fact that an interpretation of the other image is also consistent with that suggestion, although the risk of entering into a circular argument has to be kept in mind. In this regard, I agree with Amanda Luyster when she writes that “The iconographical elements of the porch (at Moissac), do not have to be read like a code with an unchanging one-for-one translation; rather, they may have a dynamic relation to each other, such that a reading of one element in a certain manner may yield echoes of the others. Yet such readings are not infinitely variable, for we can evaluate the strengths and resonances of possible readings, and some fit much better with the physical reality of the porch itself.”[17]

Secondly, we should look to the evidence from other churches, both the great churches and perhaps, most importantly, contemporary parish churches. The presence of symbols in similar positions and/or contexts to those we are considering may provide substantive support, on the basis that it is reasonable to assume that the fundamental motivation behind the design of parish churches is likely to have had similar roots.

Thirdly, there is textual and other manuscript evidence. Can we find evidence from the church fathers, from works such as bestiaries and/or from liturgical practice that a certain meaning can reasonably be proposed? This is where the drawbridge was raised. Countless quotations from homilies, exegetical texts and other material can be (and were in the old literature) quoted to suggest that this or that meaning should be adopted for any particular image, often irrespective of date or its place of origin as against the building in question. There is nevertheless a case for referring to texts and illuminated manuscripts, especially if they are more or less  contemporary with the image and if they were produced or copies were available within a reasonable geographical compass of the church under consideration. This is not to suggest that there may have been any direct connection, but only to provide evidence that the thought world of both that time and that area made such an interpretation plausible. I do not, however, rely on such texts or manuscripts alone.

In the case of the doorways at Iffley, I will set out supporting evidence from some or all of these categories, in arriving at the interpretation I propose below. Where there is evidence from all these sources, one can clearly be more confident about a proposed interpretation than in those cases where there is support from some only of the sources. The strongest case may be made when an overall theme or programme is reasonably discernible, recognising, however, that in the final analysis, it is a subjective judgment as to whether the evidence is sufficiently strong to support a particular interpretation.

The South Doorway at Iffley

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When we examine the South doorway, we find a plethora of images and I am going to concentrate on only a few, partly for reasons of space, but principally because I do not in my opinion need to (nor can I) explain every detail to establish a convincing case for an overall theme. As I suggested earlier, it is now and probably always will be impossible to establish the symbolic import of every image on the doorway.

The first image I consider is a large bird eating or attacking a snake, situated on the East side of the doorway. Although this image is less clear than others we are considering, I believe this identification is iconographically consistent with known examples. The second image is on the West face of the inner East capital, and depicts a man astride an animal, pulling open its jaws, which I suggest is Samson and the Lion. The third image is of two knights on horseback, on the South face of the inner East capital beside the man astride the animal. The fourth image is of a bridled and saddled horse being attacked, probably by a lion, on the East face of the outer West capital. The fifth image is on the East and South faces of the inner West capital and shows a centaur family with father, mother and child, the father trampling on an animal, probably a sheep. I also refer briefly to a siren close to the centaur capital.

The Bird and the Snake (Fig. 1)

There is a common and ancient tradition, still to be found in the twelfth century that this symbol represented the triumph of good over evil. Identifying the bird, perhaps an eagle, with Christ and the snake as the Devil is to be found in early Christian literature but becomes more common in pictorial imagery only from the tenth century, and especially in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. At Aston in Herefordshire, a tympanum depicts the Agnus Dei and, what was identified by Wittkower as the Bird and Snake. Where the symbol appears on the walls or doors of churches, he suggested that it has an apotropaic purpose to ward off evil.[18]

The iconographical type showing the bird in profile, as at Iffley (and Aston), rather than en face, is to be found in three of the surviving so-called Illustrated Beatus manuscripts of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, including the eleventh century St. Sever manuscript, Bib. Nat. Lat. 8878, folio 13 (Fig. 7). These manuscripts helped the dissemination of the image, Wittkower argued, from the East through Spain to Western Europe, especially France and England and the possible presence of Spanish influence at Iffley, perhaps as a result of the pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostela, would reflect what has been shown by George Zarnecki to be the case in the Herefordshire school of sculpture.[19] Support for such influence may come from the rather unusual way in which the Iffley doorways are set in a projecting bay (also to be seen at Kenilworth Priory and in some Worcestershire churches), a feature which, it has been shown, has its closest parallel in a number of small Romanesque churches in Northern Spain.[20]

The Beatus manuscripts contain a commentary on the Book of Revelation by Beatus of Liebana and an explanation, often in cruciform shape, of the image of the bird and snake. Just as a fabled bird in the East which covered itself in dirt and thereby deceived the snake into believing it was in no danger, so Christ hid his divinity under “the dirt of our flesh” and “human weakness” “to fight in the shape of man for the benefit of salvation.”[21] The Worcester Description alludes to this “trick”, when it refers to Christ “having entered this world concealed in Mary’s substance.” Thus, the symbol could denote not only the triumph of Christ over the Devil, but also the importance of the incarnation as the sine qua non for God’s redemption of mankind. The possibility that a reference to the trick of hiding in human flesh (the “Beatus” sense) was intended and understood at Iffley is strengthened by its association with the Descent symbol, as I discuss below.

Samson and the Lion (Fig. 2)

In the second image, that of the man fighting an animal, we have persuasive evidence from contemporary works of art including illuminated manuscripts, wall paintings, enamels and texts that, iconographically, this represents Samson and the Lion. A fine example is the Beatus initial of the Psalms in the Winchester Bible.[22] The man is astride the animal with his arms prising open the creature’s jaws. Such a depiction with the man’s arms similarly portrayed is to be found on other parish church doorways, such as Leominster priory and Stretton Sugwas, and is also found in the depiction of Samson in an Eton College manuscript (Fig. 8), the illuminations of which were probably based on the original decorative scheme on the vault of the chapterhouse at Worcester.[23]

The chapterhouse typological scheme, which is probably early twelfth century, includes a depiction of the Descent into Hell with Samson and the Lion prefiguring that event, as in the Winchester Bible. The Worcester Description states “On Samson and the Lion” “Samson’s strength brought down and conquered the lion. Christ defeated and bound the Tartarean Dragon”. The same typology is also to be found in the Klosterneuberg Alterpiece.[24] It seems likely that the Worcester programme influenced the tympanum at Quenington[25] in Gloucestershire, where the Descent into Hell is depicted on the North doorway (Fig. 9). The Anglo-Saxon inspired depiction of Hell’s mouth at Quenington echoes the Worcester Description’s reference to the dragon. The origins of the depiction of Christ breaking down the gates of hell, binding and killing the Devil so that “death brings death to Death” in the words of the Worcester Description, are to be found in early patristic and other texts which derived the concept from both New and Old Testament passages, even though there was little explicit reference to the Descent into Hell. From these early sources developed the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, sometimes called the Acts of Pilate.[26]

To today’s observer, it may be surprising that so much importance is attached to the Descent into Hell in the Middle Ages, but for medieval man, it was at the centre of his belief structure and ritual. At the geographical centre was the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the church of the Anastasis, of which there was a dedication in 1149 under Crusader rule, with an earlier Byzantine mosaic of the Anastasis or Descent in the apse.[27] That the Descent was fundamental to the Plan of Salvation is also evident from theological texts and sermons and from the rituals of the church, as well as from the number of instances of its portrayal in sculpture, manuscripts and other media. It may have been one of the earliest events in the church’s calendar to be dramatised in the Western liturgy[28] and remains to this day the icon for Easter in the Orthodox church.

The presence together at Iffley of the symbols of Samson and the Lion as well as the Bird and Snake, both of which could be interpreted as representing the Victory of Christ in His Descent into Hell, suggests that the Bird and Snake symbol alludes to something more, namely the concept of Christ “hiding” in human form in the Incarnation. The same combination is to be found in the Gerona Beatus, in which   there is an attenuated sequence of miniatures of Christ’s life. The image of the Bird and Snake immediately follows miniatures of the Descent into Hell and the rejoicing of the saints at the Resurrection and faces an initial A at the beginning of the commentary depicting the Alpha and Omega – Christ enthroned. Nothing perhaps could more clearly demonstrate the essential contribution of the Incarnation to the Plan of Salvation, or the centrality of descent and ascent to this Plan, both for Christ and for all mankind.[29]

An allusion to Christ “hiding” in human form probably refers to the theological explanation for the necessity of the Incarnation in the Redemption, that God could only take humanity back from the Devil after the fall “justly”. Augustine had written of the justice of God’s actions in De Trinitate and extracts of this were included in the Sententiae of Peter Lombard, a work which dates to the mid 1150s, and was perhaps the most successful and widely disseminated of theological textbooks in the twelfth century.  Despite the concern of theologians that God could surely not have stooped to a “trick” in the Redemption, reflected in Anselm’s works in the early twelfth century, especially Cur Deus Homo – “Why God became Man”, the “just” concept remained common for many years and was used by Robert of Melun, who was Bishop of Hereford in the 1160s, in his Sentences. The inclusion of the Commandment “Thou shalt not steal” on the Eton Roundels’ miniature of the Descent would also seem to reflect this belief. The Devil’s mistake in killing Christ, in whom the Devil found nothing worthy of death is related in dramatic Descent stories, including the Gospel of Nicodemus. A feature of this text, which remained popular throughout the Middle Ages, is the argument which rages between the Devil and Hell, who sees Christ descending and blames the Devil for their impending loss of humanity to God through his unjust killing of Jesus. The Devil’s excuse is that he thought Christ was human and had not seen anything to indicate his divinity, especially as He did not use His divine powers during the Temptations.[30]

The knights (Fig. 2)

Whilst theologians were uneasy about the idea that God would have tricked the Devil, they found the treatment of the Descent as depicting Christ as Victor over the Devil to be more acceptable, despite its dualist tendencies. For example, Peter Damian in the eleventh century described Christ’s work on the cross as a “battle” and wrote, in terms that might nevertheless seem to refer back to the trick, that “When our Redeemer entered the battlefield of this world to do battle, he equipped himself with a new kind of weapon, namely that he brandished what was weak and concealed what was strong.”[31]

The Descent into Hell was interpreted by the church typologically, so that in addition to its literal meaning as an Easter “event”, it was, anagogically, a prefiguring of the Second Coming, and a warning, as a tenth century Anglo-Saxon homily for Easter day, which treated of the Descent, concluded, that we should “… consider the needs of our souls while we may.”[32] Writers including, for example, Bede, considered it allegorically as a representation of Christ’s descent to the earth in the Incarnation. Hell in this analogy is life on this earth, so that sins and even sinful thoughts are a kind of hell for the living. For Bede, in one of his poems, “Hell is conceived of as the bitter law of the flesh.”[33] The raising of Adam and Eve from the jaws of Hell can therefore represent the salvation of mankind in this life; by subduing the Devil, Christ frees living sinners from captivity. This is achieved for the living sinner through the sacraments of the Church. In baptism, the descent into the waters was akin to Christ’s Descent into Hell and the ascent out of the waters is akin to Adam and Eve being drawn out of Hell by Christ. The Descent into Hell is therefore sometimes found on fonts, as at Eardisley in Herefordshire.[34] Furthermore, in the Eucharist, the living sinner receives Christ in a re-enactment of His Descent.

From Augustine onwards, however, it was clear that not all would be saved by Christ. Allegorically and tropologically, Christ’s descent to fight and defeat the Devil is therefore a paradigm for a Christian’s action in this life to save his soul (and body, which would be reunited with the soul at the Second Coming[35]) and it is this context to which I suggest the knights refer. The position of the knights on the main doorway used by parishioners and especially on the capital next to Samson and the lion would support such an interpretation. A similar image of knights is to be found on the doorway at  Barfreston in Kent. There is biblical authority, in Ephesians 6, for such an allegorical image – “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil…” Furthermore, Anselm (or a follower) wrote a piece in the early twelfth century entitled “Similitudo militis” or Resemblance to knights, in which the metaphor of the Christian being similar to a knight is explained in detail. One area he touches on is the knights’ need to control his horse with a bridle – and here he is alluding to the Christian’s need to control his body, to which I return shortly.[36] Metaphors of spiritual battle have been common since early Christian writers, perhaps especially Prudentius in  Psychomachia, the Battle for Man’s Soul. This work remained popular throughout the Middle Ages and the triumph of knightly Virtues over the vices was repeatedly depicted in every medium. A famous and excellent example of knightly virtues slaughtering the vices, but through Ecclesia, may be seen on the font at Southrop in Gloucestershire (Fig. 10).[37]

Perhaps the most persuasive evidence is to be found in the St. Alban’s Psalter, now in Hildesheim. This manuscript was made in St. Albans, probably in the second quarter of the twelfth century, perhaps for an anchoress, Christina of Markyate. On the opening page to the Psalter text, there is a scene of two knights fighting. What is especially helpful is that an explanation of this scene is set out on the page. “Just as these visible arms have been prepared with iron and wood, so that they may bring about evil and slaughter, likewise… it is necessary for each one of us who is established in war and penitence, to be armed with faith and love.”[38]

Whilst none of the texts referred to above can be shown to have directly influenced the patron/sculptor or their audience in Iffley, there can be little doubt that there existed a thought world in the mid twelfth century, in which the meaning of such symbolism, in the context in which it appears, would have been almost self-evident.

Bridled and saddled horse (Fig. 3)

The bridled and saddled horse is the only image on the outer capitals of the South doorway, and faces East. The horse is being savaged by an animal, probably a lion. The saddle and bridle on the horse establish that it is not a wild horse, but one that is broken and ridden. The St. Alban’s Psalter explanation of the knights quoted above continues: “And just as they are puffed up, bodily, with pride and malice, likewise we must be tamed, spiritually, in humility and divine blessing… Let each be sure in heart that… unless we kill our invisible adversary, we ourselves shall be killed. He who is victorious shall truly live; he who falls with his reins broken shall perish.” From Philo in the first century to St. Augustine in the fifth and into the Middle Ages, the analogy of the rider to the soul and the horse to the body was common. In the twelfth century, Peter the Chanter, who died in 1197, talked of the body as being “the ass”, one that we loved (because to do otherwise would be dualist), but one that, like a horse or ass, needed food, the stick to keep it under control and a burden to carry.[39]  Other examples of the association of body and horse may be found, for instance in connection with the church’s preaching of sexual sins. Alexander of Hales (c.1170-1245) wrote in his Summa: “For now that power (sex) has largely abandoned the command of reason… Therefore with its reins slackened, that power plunges…into pleasures that are offered to it… because of the defect of the restraining power. [It] should be understood in comparison with a sexually stimulated horse who runs more swiftly and impetuously after its harness is broken than when it is harnessed and held back by the horseman…”[40]

The analogy is also to be found, certainly in the thirteenth century, in the Debate between the Body and the Soul, a popular literary genre in this period, in which the soul argues with the body over their respective responsibility for the sinfulness of their life, as they find themselves on the road to hell and begin to see the visions of the torments to come. Interestingly, there is also found in such literature, the analogy of a lion to a knight’s pride and/or ambition and this could perhaps be the significance of the lion attacking the horse.[41]

The fallen horse may also allude to the need for penitence, of which the exegetes believed Psalm 32 to speak. Verse ** enjoins: “Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not keep with you.” In the twelfth century Canterbury Psalter, folio 53, the psalm is illustrated inter alia by a horse with reins and a mule being whipped and broken in.[42] We cannot be certain which one or more of a number of specific and subtle meanings may have been understood or intended in this capital, but there would seem little doubt that, in this context, it is a somatic symbol relevant to the theme of Redemption.

Such a symbol is also to be found on other church doorways. A bridled horse’s head may be seen for example on a voussoir of the doors at Quenington and South Cerney (Fig. 11), both in Gloucestershire. One of the corbels at Kilpeck has a similar image[43] and there are several at Dalmeny close to the Firth of Forth. There is also a bridled and saddled horse on the abacus of a capital of the cloister at Moissac, facing a goat, which is often associated with vice.

The centaur family (Fig 3)

This image is on two sides of the West capital opposite the capital with Samson and the knights. It is noteworthy that this is the only scene or image to be given more than one face, indicating that it may have been considered particularly important to the patron/sculptor.

The horse and rider analogy applies also to the half man half horse animal; again one can refer to St. Augustine and even earlier to Clement who saw man as a dual being like the centaur of classical myth, made up of body and soul. In the Physiologus, the origins of which are perhaps fourth century, but which was known in the medieval west and was the source for the bestiaries, sirens and centaurs are considered together, with a reference to Isaiah’s prophecy of the desolation of Babylon. Both are half animal, half human, but whilst sirens tempt mankind, mankind is warned not to be like the centaur, senseless animals who give in to temptation. Since classical times, centaurs had been associated with sexual licentiousness, the bow and arrow with ejaculatio seminis. This symbolism is clearly present on folio 127v of the late twelfth century Manerius Bible made in Champagne, where both sirens and centaurs feature in the margin of a scene of Christ healing the paralytic, whose genitalia are prominently displayed.[44]

One of the vices is of course gluttony and the centaur family image primarily concerns food and feeding. Whilst the father centaur feeds the mother, she in turn suckles the baby centaur. This is in opposition, so to speak, to the symbol, on the East capital of the doorway, of the Descent into Hell, endlessly re-enacted in the Eucharist, when the food of the body and blood of Christ was offered to the faithful, who would have entered through this door for the Mass. Gluttony was regarded as a particular danger and, for women, who were closely associated with food because of their familial duties, fasting was often a central aspect of the Christian life and one of the few means at their disposal to retain an element of independence from their menfolk. It could take on extremes, and some women refused to eat from their husband’s table. In the twelfth century, for example, Lawrence of Durham wrote in the Life of St. Bridget that the saint refused to eat any food other than the eucharist. In the thirteenth century, one woman was reported to have said to a prospective husband, “Go away from me, food of death, nutriment of villainy, since I am held back by another life.” [45]

One further aspect of the centaur family is that while feeding the mother, the father is trampling what appears to be a sheep. Sheep were of course symbolic of Christians, as it says in psalm 44:22, quoted in Romans 8.36, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered”. In a late twelfth century treatise on the Spirit and the Soul, the writer writes that  “if the flesh clings to forbidden lusts, it can in fact kill the soul through its corruptibility”.[46] It is I suggest not too speculative to see in the South doorway aspects of these issues in twelfth century Christian life, particularly for women, whose freedom was so constrained by social pressures to marry and for whom a desire for the spiritual life was seen as resulting in a love triangle between Christ, as spiritual bridegroom, the husband and his wife.[47] It is perhaps no coincidence that the siren on the doorway very close to the centaur capital is that of a merman, brandishing a sword, rather than the more common mermaid.


Caroline Walker Bynum has written that “all the religiosity of the period was animated in deep ways by the need to take account of (rather than merely to deny) matter, body, and sensual response.”[48] The emphasis on the body in the South doorway at Iffley would seem to represent an excellent example of this religiosity. The battle against the Devil reflects what Ron Baxter has identified in the structure of the Physiologus, the struggle between the spirit and the flesh.[49] Although one can have no certainty that our patron/sculptor or his audience would have had all these issues in mind or have been reminded of them in sermons, the suggestion of such a theme linking so many symbols, is persuasive and consistent with what we know of other doorways in this period. One very explicit example is at Aulnay in Western France, where a magnificent set of virtues defeat vices. The apparent opposition of the East and West sides of the doorway is also to be found on other doorways, including Moissac.[50] Each symbol taken on its own has generally accepted connotations, but it is the combination of these symbols, which provides, I suggest, a strong somatic theme, which is both negative in the context of sin and temptation, but ultimately positive because of God’s descent to become Man in the  Incarnation and the resultant Redemption.

As Camille wrote in Image on the Edge, “…the art of the Middle Ages… was rooted in the conflicted life of the body with all its somatic as well as spiritual possibilities.”[51] It is to those spiritual possibilities that we now turn.

West Doorway

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The doorway forms part of the magnificent West front perhaps most famous for its beakheads surrounding the whole entrance. These are surmounted by a hood with a chain motif containing a series of figures and beasts. Almost at the apex, but slightly to the South there is a haloed dove of the Holy Spirit, carrying a scroll, and facing North. Behind it “follow” the four winged symbols of the evangelists, of which all bar one also face North and hold scrolls. First, there is the lion of St. Mark, then the bull of St. Luke, the man of St Matthew, which is en face, and the eagle of St. John. Behind the symbol for St. Luke, there is a half figure of an angel, holding a scroll. On the North side, there are apparently three zodiac symbols, Aquarius, Pisces and Virgo. The Virgo is at the same level as the angel behind the bull of St. Luke on the south side.

The dove and the evangelist symbols (Fig. 4)

Evangelist symbols on church portals are usually to be found in a depiction of St. John’s vision of Christ in the Book of Revelation, the complete vision being depicted in such great masterpieces as those at Moissac and Beaulieu. At Iffley, we see another member of the Godhead, the Holy Spirit and as on the South doorway, there is the use of Old Testament typology for a New Testament concept. But I have found no comparable example on a church portal or indeed anywhere on a church.

In Ezechiel’s vision of God in Chapter 1, the symbols are described as “… the likeness of four living creatures” with the “form of men, but each had four faces”, that of a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. “I saw a wheel upon the earth beside the living creatures, one for each of the four of them…. When the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them.” The Iffley doorway represents, I suggest Ezechiel’s vision, when the creatures “each went straight forward; wherever the spirit would go, they went, without turning as they went.” The sculptor has used St. John’s description, in Chapter 5, of the symbols as individual creatures, rather than in the likeness of a man with four faces. The conflation of the visions from the Old and New Testaments is not unusual, the one being a type for the other, and may be seen, for example, in the frontispiece to the Gospel of St. John in the Bible of Floreffe, dated about 1156.[52] From a very early date, the four living creatures were associated by patristic writers with the evangelists and, because the Gospels were the Word of God, i.e. Christ, they became associated with various aspects of Christ – man in his incarnation, ox in his sacrificial death on the cross, lion in his resurrection and eagle in his ascension.

Ezechiel’s vision is used as a type for an element of the Plan of Salvation in the Worcester Description and the Eton Roundels (Fig. 12), in the same way as we have already seen with Samson and the lion as a type for the Descent into Hell. As at Iffley, only part of the vision is depicted in the Eton roundel (in that case the wheels) and has the words “In Ezekiel’s heaven poised” surrounding it, while the Worcester Description states that “The spirit of Ezekiel is lifted up to heaven.” The Ezechiel vision is a type for the unveiling of Synagogue, the replacement of the era of the Law (the Old Testament) with the age of Grace, when Truth shall become evident rather than seen only through metaphors. “See the truth… with the coming of faith” surrounds the depiction in the Eton Roundel of Synagogue, whose veil is being removed by a hand (of God?) from above,[53] a statement which could equally describe the Iffley doorway.

The use in this manner of the part of the Ezekiel vision which we see at Iffley, and the mixture of the Old and New Testament visions, may be traced back to Jerome. In a letter to Paulinus of Nola (which was well known in the Middle Ages because it was used as a preface to many latin bibles), he described an image strikingly analogous to that on the West doorway at Iffley: “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are the Lord’s team of four (quadriga domini), the true cherubim or store of knowledge… They hold together each by each and are interwoven with one another: like wheels they roll along and go withersoever the breath of the Holy Spirit wafts them.”[54] The quadriga symbols are arguably “interwoven” “like wheels” in the chain motif at Iffley.

This specific part of the vision described by Jerome and to be seen at Iffley is also illustrated in a Bible Moralisée made in Paris, and dated to the second quarter of the thirteenth century (Fig. 13).[55]  The theme in the Bible Moralisée is Pentecost and the birth of Ecclesia, the Church, the complex imagery of that birth including a depiction of baptism, through which a person is spiritually reborn into the Church. Much of the symbolism of the doorway at Iffley may be seen as relating to baptism, including the Zodiac symbols of Aquarius and Pisces. The four symbols of the Evangelists are found on fonts, as at Castle Frome in Herefordshire where they accompany the Dove, and represent the Word and the waters of the four rivers of Paradise. Annunciation scenes are also found on fonts, for example at Upavon in Wiltshire, the Virgin being the type for Ecclesia and the annunciation imagery considered below may be seen in this context. Especially, however, there is the gift of the Holy Spirit, which hovers over the Iffley doorway and, just inside the church, over the waters of the font, referring I would argue to the very beginning of creation in the first verse of Genesis: “…as the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters”. The Plan of Salvation entailed in the minds of medieval exegetes the recreation of the world at Easter, the very time at which the church considered the first creation took place. There is therefore recreation or rebirth of each Christian at Easter and in the Eucharist every Sunday.

It is not, however, in the Pentecost Eton Roundel, but in the final “scene” of the Eton Roundels that the four evangelist symbols appear (and arguably therefore also in the paintings which the Worcester Description records, although the symbols are not mentioned). This Roundel depicts the Coronation of the Bride, symbolising the final act in the Plan, the allegorical union of the Church as the Bride with the Bridegroom, Christ, and in the tropological or moral sense the union of each Christian soul with God. The Worcester Description states – “On Christ and the Church: Betrothed with the dowry of Faith, and made holy by her virtues, the Bride is crowned and united with God, the Bridegroom.” The Quenington South tympanum of the Coronation (fig. 14), with the Bride seated beside Christ on his throne, surrounded by the evangelist symbols, may reflect the Worcester cathedral chapterhouse. As Heslop has pointed out[56], the order of the evangelist symbols, which is unusual, is the same as that found in the Eton Roundel on folio 7v, supporting the idea of a common source.

The coronation of the Bride is drawn from the exegetical interpretation of the Song of Songs, the Old Testament book, which is a dialogue between lovers in the form of a poem. From Origen in the third century, the lovers were interpreted as being God and the Church or the Christian soul, and the courtship as leading to union with God. The Eton Roundel shows the Coronation with Christ and the Bride both in a cart and this is a further allusion to the Song of Songs. It is the chariot of Aminadab in chapter 6:11 of the Song of Songs, in which, as interpreted by early writers, Christ was drawn by the quadriga of the four evangelists, representing the spread of the Word throughout the world.[57] In complicated imagery, the four were also associated with and depicted as within the wheels, a reference back to the Ezechiel vision and echoing Jerome’s letter. The chariot was also illustrated in twelfth century manuscripts of the Commentary on the Song of Songs by Honorius Augustodunensis[58] and in a twelfth century stained glass window at St. Denis.[59]

The popularity of the Song of Songs reached its apogee in the twelfth century (certainly judging by the number of commentaries that were written in that century),[60] reflecting the “subjective” view “that redemption is that supreme love of Christ kindled in us through his passion.”[61] Devotion to the Virgin Mary reached new heights, with, inter alia, the introduction of the imagery of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. Honorius Augustodunensis probably wrote his first tract on the Song of Songs, Sigillum Sanctae Mariae, The Seal of Blessed Mary, at Worcester in the early years of the twelfth century. In that work he considered the liturgical readings for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin and wrote of the Bride of the Song as being the Virgin Mary, a type for Ecclesia, the Church.[62] Whether or not the evidence justifies George Zarnecki’s claim, supported now by Sandy Heslop, that the imagery of the Coronation of the Virgin Mary first developed in England, there is no disputing the importance of the Song of Songs imagery in this period. [63]  The crowning of the bride is an image from the Song of Songs – “Come from Lebanon, bride come from Lebanon, you will be crowned”[64], words redolent, as I discuss below, of an annunciation. Zarnecki suggested that a capital from Reading Abbey cloister depicted a Coronation of the Virgin Mary, postulating the existence of a tympanum or other major depiction of the scene elsewhere in the abbey, but now lost, and referring to the Quenington Coronation tympanum as a possible copy. The imagery of the Bride of the Song of Songs could equally, however, be of Ecclesia, the Church, as the Worcester Description states, and/or the individual soul. But whichever interpretation is correct, the importance of the Song of Songs in twelfth century thought (especially for our purpose at Reading Abbey) is demonstrable and a number of manuscripts of the period contain depictions of the heavenly Bridegroom embracing and kissing the Bride, in the initial O of the opening verse of the Song of Songs, “Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth.”[65] An image on a cloister capital of the Bridegroom crowning the Bride would be an apt subject for a monk’s contemplation, without it being necessary to allude to any specific exegetical identification.

The angel and Virgo (Figs. 5 and 6)

If at Iffley there is symbolism of the Descent into Hell and of Pentecost, as discussed above, there is no Coronation of the Bride, the finale if you will of the Plan of Salvation, as there is or was at Worcester, in the Eton Roundels, at Quenington and also, perhaps at Reading. Nor is there the imagery of embracing, kissing and crowning, which we have seen is associated with the Song of Songs in the twelfth century. I believe however, that there may be annunciation imagery, in the angel behind the ox of St. Luke and the Virgo symbol opposite on the North side of the West doorway, even if the evidence is rather less robust than for the other interpretations I have considered

The concept of a general annunciation to all is found in the St. Alban’s Psalter in the explanatory text on the Beatus Vir page: “The blessed psalmist David, whom God has chosen, has gushed forth the annunciation of the Holy Spirit. For in that holy zeal he has made known to us the way of salvation.”[66] Furthermore, the intermediation of an angel between God and Man, other than in the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary is not unusual in this period. In one of his Sermons on the Song of Songs, St. Bernard writes of the “soul’s angel, one of the friends of the Bridegroom, and by him commissioned to be the minister and witness of that secret and mutual exchange.” That angel is the “go-between for the lover and his beloved” who “sometimes, though rarely,.brings them into each other’s presence, either snatching her up to him, or leading him down to her.”[67] Aelred writes of a guardian angel in A Rule of Life for a Recluse: “Answer the temptor, I have God’s angel as my beloved and he watches over my body with jealous care.”[68]

An angel was also believed to be present, when the Eucharistic host was consecrated, the Holy Spirit descending in the Epiclesis as an angel to effect the consecration and to bear the gifts up to the celestial altar. Furthermore, the angel, who was considered by some, inter alia Honorius Augustodunensis, to be Christ himself as the “magni consilii angelus” was also a participant in the sacrament of baptism. Whether the angel was the third or the second Person of the Trinity, Peter Lombard in the Sententiae wrote when discussing the effect of a heretic consecrating the Eucharist that “unless the angel come, by no right can it be called missa. For even if a heretic should dare to undertake the mystery, why would God send an angel from heaven to consecrate his oblation.”[69] Whilst there is a close association of the angel with the dove of the Holy Spirit and the symbols of the Evangelists representing the Word, the fact that the angel at Iffley carries a scroll, indicating a message, makes it more likely, in my opinion, that the angel is at least primarily one of general annunciation, although the possibility that it was also intended to represent the angel of the Epiclesis should not be excluded.

Depiction of an angelic annunciation, other than to the Virgin Mary (and less commonly her mother St. Anne[70]) is rare, but there are two on the Klosterneuberg alterpiece, one being the annunciation of Samson[71], and such a scene also appears in a late twelfth century manuscript of Expositio super Cantica Canticorum by Honorius Augustodunensis (Fig 15). This work, which was probably written in the early 1130s, interprets the Song of Songs as relating to Ecclesia.[72] There is, however, no known manuscript of the work associated with an English library in the twelfth century and whilst it is known that Honorius was using well known sources, such as the Glossa Ordinaria (or both had a common source) in writing this work, I would not adduce this manuscript as directly influencing such imagery in Iffley.[73] An annunciation at Iffley would however be consistent with the context of the quadriga as bearing the Word and, more generally, of the nuptial imagery of the mid twelfth century.

The female figure on the North side of the doorway, would represent Ecclesia or the soul. The Zodiac sign Virgo, was a type for the Virgin Mary, Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue, verse 6 of which states “Now returns the Virgin, returns Saturn’s rule”, having been interpreted by Christian writers to be a prophecy of the Incarnation. The Virgin Mary, whose response to Gabriel contrasted with Eve’s disobedience, was the archetype for Ecclesia and thereby for each Christian.[74] Precedents for an annunciation across an arched space lie principally in the areas of Byzantine influence, such as the Cappella Palatina in Palermo,[75] and Iffley would therefore reflect such influence on English twelfth century art, as is also evident elsewhere, for example in the Winchester Bible.[76] However, examples are also to be found at Sagra di San Michele Abbey and Piacenza and, much closer to Iffley, there may have been an annunciation across the chancel arch at Halford in Warwickshire.[77]

There is therefore contemporary exegetical and artistic support for the proposition that at Iffley, the dove of the Holy Spirit, followed by the quadriga of the four Evangelist symbols, in the centre of which is the angel (or messenger) carrying a scroll, flying towards the Virgo figure on the North side of the doorway at Iffley, represented the spreading of the Word and the call to God. The annunciation initial discussed above begins the chapter in which Honorius explains the four ways of understanding Scripture by reference to Ezechiel’s vision of the four evangelist symbols and the wheels.[78] These, he states, prefigure the future state of the universal church. He exemplifies the methodology through the image of Solomon building the Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon being Christ, whilst the Temple is the Church (allegorically), the individual soul (tropologically) and the Heavenly Jerusalem (anagogically).[79]  As Curschmann wrote, “In its most general allegorical significance as predefined by Rupert (of Deutz) and Honorius, the quadriga is the vehicle of a missionary movement,” the gospels of Christ being propelled, in the words of Honorius in his commentary, through the regions of the world.[80] Perhaps the angel at the apex of the doorway at Kilpeck should also be viewed in this light.[81]

Zarnecki and others have suggested that the master mason and perhaps others who worked on St. Frideswide’s Priory in Oxford may have come from Reading Abbey and later moved on to work at Iffley.[82] Geographically, Iffley is on the Thames, up stream from Reading Abbey and down stream from Quenington, which is situated on the River Coln, a tributary of the Thames. There is therefore an intellectual, an architectural/sculptural and a geographical context for the use at Iffley of symbolism drawn from the Song of Songs, albeit that such an image is iconographically rare.


The existence of nuptial imagery in a parish church environment is not exceptional, as we have seen at Quenington and the imagery of the Song of Songs, which is to be found in both latin and vernacular poetry of the period, was familiar in a lay environment.[83] It is a prominent feature of  A Rule of Life for a Recluse written for his lay sister by Aelred, who died in 1167.[84] Nevertheless, the complexity of the symbolism, Augustine’s “useful and healthy obscurity”, requiring the mind “to be kept in motion”,[85]would suggest that the patron was a member of the highly educated elite. His or her purpose in facilitating the building of such a magnificent church is not known, but the elements of the sculpture which emphasise the importance of the body in the Plan of Salvation, may possibly reflect a desire to promote orthodoxy against heresy, which William of Newburgh reported had to be stamped out in the Oxford region in the early to mid 1160s.[86] If this were the case, the identification of the angel on the West doorway with the Epiclesis would be more persuasive, taking into account Peter Lombard’s comments discussed above and the heretics’ reported reviling of both baptism and the Eucharist.

The increasing importance attached to the body as an integral part of each person was reflected in the latter part of the twelfth century both in the development of the doctrine of the Virgin’s bodily (not only spiritual) assumption[87] and in the growing debate concerning the nature of Christ’s body, especially in the Eucharist. These provided further liturgical and exegetical contexts for the somatic and spiritual concepts, and for the importance of the Song of Songs, in the symbolism at Iffley. The related theme of descent and ascent, may be seen explicitly at Quenington, and elsewhere, for example at Shobdon in Herefordshire[88] and South Cerney (Fig. 16), with representations of Christ in Glory and the Descent into Hell.  The use of Old Testament types and other symbols provided the opportunity for a more complex conceptual scheme at Iffley, even if this may not be so apparent, especially to the modern audience.

In Benjamin Minor, Richard of St. Victor interpreted Jacob’s blessing of his sons Nephtalim and Dan in Genesis 49 by reference to the Song of Songs, Nephtalim “being chosen to strengthen the virtuous through representation of heavenly bliss, whereas Dan is selected for the work of countering temptations in the weak through depictions of hellish torment.” “Dan gives warning, Nephtalim coaxes.”[89] A similar “stick and carrot” approach is, I suggest, to be found in the South and West doorways respectively, reflecting the ideal of moving along the steps of humility, from fear of hell to love of God, but emphasising the importance of the body, the experience of the outer informing and strengthening the inner being.[90] In the putative annunciation at Iffley, we are looking at the courtship so to speak, an earlier stage than the Coronation in the ascent to union with God, which was not in any event attainable while the soul was in the body in this life but had to await the Last Judgment. As Aelred wrote, “True discretion is to put the soul before the body and where… the health of one can only be obtained at the price of suffering for the other, to neglect the body for the sake of the soul,” “in order that on the day of the resurrection, clad in the glory of the twofold robe, [Christians] may enjoy happiness of body and soul alike.” [91]

Ackowledgements: Figs. 8 and 12 are reproduced by permission of the Provost and Fellows of Eton College and fig. 15 by permission of The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore. I am grateful to Malcolm Thurlby for figs. 1 and 6.

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© Mark Phythian-Adams


[1] T. A. Heslop, “Worcester Cathedral Chapterhouse”, in P. Binski & W. Noel, New Offerings, Ancient Treasures, Stroud 2001, for the latin text and translation used in this article.

[2] At Malmesbury Abbey, which has a much larger doorway, voussoirs were used for a typological scheme incorporating Old and New Testament scenes.

[3] A. Borg, “The Gloucester Candlestick”, in Medieval Art and Architecture at Gloucester and Tewkesbury, The British Archaeological Association 1985, commenting on interpretations of fantastic beasts but reflecting the general antagonism to similar work on medieval symbolism.

[4] In Defence of History, London, 1997.

[5] Op. cit. note 3, commenting on Tschan, Bernward of Hildesheim, Indiana 1951.

[6] The Craft of Thought- Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200, Cambridge 1998.

[7] “Mouths and Meanings: Towards an Anti-Iconography of Medieval Art”, in B. Cassidy, Iconography at the Crossroads, Princeton 1993.

[8] “Imagined Exegesis: Text and Picture in the Exegetical Works of Rupert of Deutz, Honorius Augustodunensis, and Gerhoch of Reichersberg.” Traditio 44 1988, p. 145.

[9] Op. cit. note 4.

[10]Op. cit. note 6, p. 84 and p. 205.

[11] For this paragraph, including the quotes, see Johann Chydenius, The Theory of Medieval Symbolism, Helsingfors 1960.

[12] A quotation from Gregory the Great’s Exposition on the Song of Songs, which was extensively referred to in the Middle Ages, see op. cit. note 6, page 81.

[13] Op. cit. note 1.

[14] J. J. Campbell, “To Hell and back: Latin Tradition and Literary Use of the “Descensus ad Inferos” in Old English”, in Viator 13, 1982.)

[15] H. Buschhausen, The Sources of the Klosterneuberg Altarpiece, in The Year 1200: A Symposium, New York 1975.

[16] David Bernstein, The Mystery of the Bayeux Tapestry, London 1986, p221.

[17]“The Femme-aux-Serpents at Moissac: Luxuria (Lust) or a Bad Mother”, in S. R. Asirvathan et al, Between Magic and Religion, Lanham 2001.

[18]R. Wittkower, Allegory and the Migration of Symbols, London 1987.

[19] G. Zarnecki, Later English Romanesque Sculpture 1140-1210, London 1953.

[20] C. J. Bond, “Church and Parish in Norman Worcestershire”, in J. Blair, Minsters and Parish Churches The Local Church in Transition 950-1200, Oxford 1988, p.146. The South doorway projecting bay at Pirton church, pl. 44, is notably similar to that at Iffley.

[21] Sancti Beati Liebana in Apocalypsin Codex Gerundensis, Lausanne, 1962.

[22] W. Oakeshott, The Two Winchester Bibles, Oxford 1981, pl. 91. H. Buschhausen, Der Verduner Altar, Vienna, 1980, Pl. 36.

[23] Eton College Ms. 177, folio 6r, see A. Henry, The Eton Roundels, Aldershot 1990.

[24] Op. cit. note 1. For Klosterneuberg, see H. Buschhausen, Der Verduner Altar, Vienna, 1980, Pl. 36.

[25] Quenington is not securely dated but is perhaps around 1150, while Iffley may be dated 1155-1170.

[26] J. A. MacCulloch, The Harrowing of Hell, Edinburgh, 1930.

[27] J. Fulda, The Art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land, 1098-1187, Cambridge 1995 p.230.

[28] D. N. Dumville, “Liturgical Drama and Panegyric Responsory from the Eighth Century? A Re-examination of the Origin and Contents of the Ninth Century section of the Book of Cerne”, Journal of Theological Studies, N.S. XXIII 1972 p. 374. It is interesting that the Christ in the Quenington Descent seems to be depicted in liturgical vestments. The priest in any event represented Christ in the Eucharist.

[29]Op. cit. note 21.

[30] For the above, see C. W. Marx, The Devil’s Rights and the Redemption in the Literature of Medieval England, Cambridge 1995. The concept is also clearly alluded to in Aelred’s Rule of Life for a Recluse, written for his sister.

[31] J. Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology (600-1300), Chicago 1978, p.135.)

[32] R. J. Kelly, The Blickling Homilies, London, 2003.

[33] Op. cit. note 14.

[34] See 1Peter 3 and Romans 6:3-4.

[35] C. W. Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity 200-1336, New York, 1995.

[36] R. W. Southern & F. S. Schmitt, Memorials of St. Anselm, Oxford, 1969, p. 97.

[37] A. Katzenellenbogen, Allegories of the Virtues and Vices in Medieval Art, London 1939.

[38] For the translation, see Aberdeen University website, www.abdn.ac.uk/stalbanspsalter.

[39] C. W. Bynum, Holy Feast and Holy Fast, Berkeley 1987, p. 43.

[40] P. J. Payer, The Bridling of Desire, Toronto 1993, p.60.

[41] M. U. Vogel, Some Aspects of the Horse and Rider Analogy in the Debate between the Body and the Soul, Washington, 1948.

[42] M. R. James, Canterbury Psalter, London 1935.

[43] Op. cit. note 23, fig. 108.

[44] A. Grabar and C. Nordenfalk, Romanesque Painting, Lausanne 1958, p.174.

[45] For this paragraph, op. cit. note 41.

[46] B. McGinn, Three Treatises on Man, Kalamazoo 1997.

[47] D. Elliott, Spiritual Marriage: Sexual Abstinence in Medieval Wedlock, Princeton 1993, p. 232.

[48] Op. cit. note 40, p. 253.

[49] Bestiaries and their Users in the Middle Ages, Stroud 1998.

[50] Op. cit.  note 17.

[51] London, 1992, p. 160.

[52] J. F. Hamburger, St. John the Divine: The Deified Evangelist in Medieval Art and Theology, California 2002, plate 13.

[53] The concept of the quadriga representing Truth is unexceptional in the twelfth century and appears for example in the correspondence of Peter of Celle, in his letter to Nicholas of St. Albans in c.1180/81. See Ed. J Haseldine, The Letters of Peter of Celle, Oxford 2001, p. 580/581.

[54] M. Jacoff, The Horses of San Marco and the Quadriga of the Lord, Princeton 1993, p.14 et seq.

[55] Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, ms. Lat. 11560, folio 186.

[56] Op. cit. note 1.

[57] The imagery of a god being drawn in a chariot is, however, much more ancient, as can be seen in a strikingly similar description of the images of the gods (in Macrobius, Saturnalia I 230) being conveyed at the circus games, drawn by the most prominent men purified by long abstinence. “They are inspired by the divine spirit, carrying it not according to their own choice, but where the god pushes them.” Later the theme is taken up by Dante on Purgatory in Canto XXIX and Paradise in Canto XII.

[58] For example, The Walters Art Gallery, Ms. W. 29, folio 89v. Ill. in The Year 1200:The Exhibition, New York 1970, p. 286, athough Honorius interpreted the Song as alluding to the bride being in the chariot.

[59] L. Grodecki, Les Vitraux de St. Denis, Paris 1976, Pl. V.

[60] E. A Matter, The Voice of My Beloved, Philadelphia 1990.

[61] Abelard, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. Op. cit. note 31, p. 20.

[62] V. I. J. Flint, “Honorius Augustodunensis of Regensburg” in P. J. Geary, Authors of the Middle Ages – Historical and Religious Works of the Latin West, Vol. II, Aldershot, 1995.

[63] G. Zarnecki, “The Coronation of the Virgin on a capital at Reading Abbey” in The Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 13 (1950). T. A. Heslop, “The English Origins of the Coronation of the Virgin”, The Burlington Magazine, CXLVII December 2005. The interpretation of the Reading capital as representing the Coronation of the Virgin is debatable, particularly given its very damaged condition. The Bride could also be Ecclesia, who is shown crowned in for example, Dijon, Bibl. Mun., Ms. 14, folio 60: W. Cahn, Romanesque Bible Illumination, New York 1982, pl. 137. See also P. Verdier, Le Couronnement de la Vierge, Montreal 1980.

[64] Vulgate version, chapter 4, verse 8, op. cit. note 62.

[65] E.g. King’s College, Cambridge, ms. 19, folio 21v of Bede’s commentary on the Song of Songs, St. Alban’s, first quarter twelfth century:  R. M. Thomson, Manuscripts from St. Albans Abbey 1066-1235, Tasmania 1985 pl. 51. At Valenciennes, there are two bibles, one from the eleventh century, the other from the third quarter of the twelfth century made for St. Amand:- Valenciennes Bibl. Mun., Ms. 10, folio 113: W. Cahn, op. cit. note 64, pl. 70; Ms. 3, folio 137v: W. Cahn, op. cit, note 64, pl. 286. See also G. Schiller, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, 4,I, Die Kirche, Gütersloh, 1976.

[66] Op. cit. note 39 above.

[67] Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs II, Kalamazoo 1976, p.127.

[68] Aelred of Rievaulx, The Works Vol. I, Kalamazoo 1971, p. 66.

[69]J. A. Jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite: Its Origins and Development, 1951 Vol.II, p. 233, E. G. C. F. Atchley, On the Epiclesis of the Eucharistic Liturgy and in the Consecration of the Font, London 1935, pp. 161 and 186. J. Danielou, Th Bible and the Liturgy, Indiana 1956, p. 212-216.

[70] The annunciation to St. Anne is found less in Western than in Byzantine art of the high middle ages, but there is an example in the Winchester Psalter (J. Lafontaine-Dosogne, Iconographie de l’Enfance de la Vierge dans l’empire byzantin et en occident, 2 vols. Brussels 1965, Fig. 2 Vol. 2). I can see no persuasive reason to suggest that there is such an annunciation at Iffley.

[71] H. Buschhausen, op. cit, note 24, pl. 3.

[72] The Walters Art Gallery, Ms. W. 29, folio 10v.

[73] For the above discussion, see V. I. J. Flint, “The Commentaries of Honorius Augustodunensis on the Song of Songs”, Revue Bénédictine LXXIV 1974, p. 196 et seq.

[74] S. Benko, “Virgil’s Fourth Eclogue in Christian Interpretation”, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt. Ed. H. Temporini & W. Haase, Berlin and New York 1980. The lack of a halo is not unusual, see e.g. Valenciennes Bib. Mun. Ms. 10 f. 113.

[75] O. Demus, Byzantine Mosaic Decoration, London 1948, p. 25. E Borsook, Messages in Mosaic, The Programmes of Norman Sicily, 1130-1187, Oxford 1990, pl. III.

[76] Op. cit. note 22 and O. Demus, Byzantine Art and the West, London 1970.

[77] D. Kahn, “The Romanesque Sculpture of the Church of St.Mary, Halford, Warwickshire” in Journal of the British Archaeological Association, Vol. 133, 1980.

[78] Patrologia Latina, ed. J.P. Migne, volume 172, at 359B.

[79] Op. cit. note 77, 359C-D.

[80] Op. cit. note 8 at p. 155 and op. cit. note 77. For the importance of Honorius in relation to Quagriga imagery, op. cit. note 54, chapter 4.

[81] Illustrated in op. cit. note 45, fig. 60, where the angel also carries a scroll.

[82] R. Halsey, “The Twelfth Century Church of St. Frideswide’s Priory” in Oxoniensia LIII, 1988.

[83] Op. cit. note 60, Chapter 7.

[84] Op. cit. note 68.

[85] R. Fulton, From Judgment to Passion, Devotion to Christ and the Virgin, 800-1200, New York 2002, p.262.

[86] W. L. Wakefield & A. P. Evans, Heresies of the High Middle Ages, New York 1969, p. 245.

[87] Op. cit. note 84 and H. Mayr-Harting, “The Idea of the Assumption of Mary in the West, 800-1200”, in R. N. Swanson, The Church and Mary, 2004.

[88] Illustrated in op. cit. note 23 at p. 73-74.

[89] A. W. Astell, The Song of Songs in the Middle Ages, New York 1990, p. 33 and p. 85.

[90] J. Price (later Wogan-Browne), “ “Inner” and “Outer”: Conceptualizing the Body in Ancrene Wisse and Aelred’s De Institutione Inclusarum,” in Medieval English Religious and Ethical Literature: Essays in Honour of G. H. Russell, ed. G.Kratzmann and J. Simpson, Cambridge 1986, pp. 192-208.

[91] Op. cit. note 68, p. 70.