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FEAST - Two Saints for the Day (August 31): Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


medieval-religion - Scholarly discussions of medieval religious culture <[log in to unmask]>


Wed, 31 Aug 2016 07:04:50 +0000





text/plain (1 lines)

medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

In the 2001 version of the Roman Martyrology today (31. August) is the day of commemoration of Sts. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (d. 1st cent.); formerly Joseph alone was commemorated (on 17. March).  In churches using the Byzantine Rite Joseph and Nicodemus are commemorated, after the Holy Myrrhbearers, on the Third Sunday of Pascha; other commemorations of Nicodemus in this rite are noted in the next paragraph.

In medieval Christianity these two Gospel figures were remembered primarily for their roles in the recovery of Jesus' body after the Crucifixion and in its subsequent entombment.  Starting at least with the Gospel of Nicodemus their acta were enlarged and embroidered upon.  By the tenth century there was an Eastern tradition, preserved in a text in Georgian said to have been translated from Syriac, that Joseph was the founder of the church of Lydda.  In the later Middle Ages he was reputed to have arrived in Provence with Lazarus, Martha, and Mary and to have gone on to evangelize in, depending on what text one is reading, parts of today's France, Spain, Portugal, and England.  The righteous Pharisee Nicodemus was said legendarily to to have removed the crucifixion nails from Jesus' body.  In the legends of the Finding of St. Stephen Protomartyr he is said to have been buried by Gamaliel in Stephen's secret grave, into which were also placed Gamaliel's son Abibus and, when his time came, Gamaliel himself.  Liturgical commemoration on 2. or 3. August of this supposed discovery insured Nicodemus' ongoing if not entirely robust construction as a saint in both the Eastern and Western Middle Ages.  In the originally tenth-century Synaxary of Constantinople Nicodemus is also commemorated separately on 8. October.  From seemingly the eleventh century onward Nicodemus was credited with the creation of that famous crucifix, the Volto Santo of Lucca.

One of the monuments in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is the Stone of Anointing on which Joseph of Arimathea is said to have prepared Jesus' body for burial:



Another is the so-called Tomb of Joseph of Arimathea (a pair of rock-cut grave shafts):



Some period-pertinent images of Joseph of Arimathea and/or Nicodemus:

a) Joseph of Arimathea (holding Jesus) and Nicodemus (lower right, with forceps and vessel) at the Deposition as depicted in the late eleventh- or early twelfth-century so-called Gospels of Matilda of Canossa in the Museo diocesano d'arte sacra e benedettino at Nonantola:


b) Joseph of Arimathea (on the ladder, holding Jesus) and Nicodemus (at lower right, with forceps and vessel) at the Deposition as depicted in the later twelfth-century frescoes (1164) in the church of St. Panteleimon at Gorno Nerezi (Skopje municipality) in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia:

c) Joseph of Arimathea (holding Jesus) and Nicodemus (on the ladder) as portrayed in Benedetto Antelami's relief of the Deposition from the Cross (ca. 1178) in Parma's cattedrale di Santa Maria Assunta:



Detail view:


d) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as depicted in panels of successive full-page illuminations in the late twelfth-century so-called Bible of Saint Bertin (ca. 1190-1200; Den Haag, KB, ms. 76 F 5):

1) Joseph of Arimathea (lower register at center, holding Jesus at the Deposition; fol. 20v, sc. 2B )


2) Nicodemus, presumably (at center; anointing Jesus' body) and Joseph of Arimathea (lower register at far right) at the Entombment (fol. 21v, sc. 1A):


e) Joseph of Arimathea (lower right, asking Pilate for Jesus' body) as depicted in the late twelfth-century Navarre Picture Bible (1197; Amiens, Bibliothèque Louis Aragon, ms. 108, fol. 189v):


f) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (flanking the Cross) as portrayed in statues in the earlier thirteenth-century wooden Deposition (ca. 1220-1330) in the basilica cattedrale di San Lorenzo Martire in Tivoli:


g) Joseph of Arimathea (holding Jesus) and Nicodemus (at the foot of the Cross) at the Deposition as depicted by Enrico di Tedice in a later thirteenth-century panel painting (1260s) in the Museo nazionale di San Martino in Pisa:


h) Nicodemus as depicted (in the illumination in the right-hand column; at the invention of Stephen, Gamaliel, Nicodemus, and Abibus) in a late thirteenth-century copy of French origin of the _Legenda aurea_ (San Marino, CA, Huntington Library, ms. HM 3027, fol. 90r):


i) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as depicted in two illuminations in the late thirteenth-century Livre d'images de Madame Marie (ca. 1285-1290; Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 16251):

1) Joseph of Arimathea (upper register at center, holding Jesus) and Nicodemus (lower register at right, removing nails) at the Deposition (fol. 40r):


2) Joseph of Arimathea (at Jesus' head) and Nicodemus (at Jesus' feet) at the Entombment (fol. 41v):


j) Joseph of Arimathea (second from right) and Nicodemus (at far right) at the Lamentation as depicted by Giotto di Bondone in an early fourteenth-century fresco (betw. 1303 and 1305) in the Arena Chapel (Cappella dei Scrovegni) in Padua:


k) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as depicted by Pietro Lorenzetti in two earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1320)  in the lower church of the basilica di San Francesco in Assisi: 

1)  Joseph of Arimathea (center left) and Nicodemus (right, with forceps) at the Deposition:


2)  Joseph of Arimathea (at left) and Nicodemus (center right) at the Entombment:


l) Nicodemus as depicted (at left; at right, St. Petronia / Petronilla) in a slightly degraded October calendar portrait in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. ca. 1312 and 1321/1322) of the monastery church of the Theotokos at Gračanica in, depending on one's view of the matter, either Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija or the Republic of Kosovo:


m) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as depicted in four scenes, in three different different locations, in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) of the church of the Holy Ascension at the Visoki Dečani monastery near Peć in, depending on one's view of the matter, either the Republic of Kosovo or Serbia's province of Kosovo and Metohija:

1)  Joseph of Arimathea (at right) asking Pilate for Jesus' body:


2)  Joseph of Arimathea (at left) and Nicodemus( at upper right; the smaller figure at lower right is presumably an assistant) at the Deposition:


3)  Nicodemus (rear left) and Joseph of Arimathea (rear right) at the Lamentation:


Detail view:


4)  Nicodemus (center left) and Joseph of Arimathea (center right) carrying Jesus at the Entombment:


Detail view:


n) Nicodemus as depicted (nimbed; along with the also nimbed Gamaliel, Stephen, and Abibus in their uncovered grave at the Finding of Stephen) by Bernardo Daddi (attrib.) in one of his mid-fourteenth-century predella paintings devoted to St. Stephen (ca. 1345) in the Pinacoteca Vaticana (from the point of view of the clerical discoverers Nicodemus is probably the first or the third corpse from left, as the one between these is clearly identifiable by vestment as the presumed deacon Stephen and the relatively youthful corpse at far right will be Abibus):


For a different identification of the four nimbed corpses, see this from the Musei Vaticani, where the painting is titled the Ritrovamento dei corpi dei Santi Luciano (the person to whom the long-dead Gamaliel had appeared in a revelatory dream and thus one of those involved in the Finding), Abibo, Nicodemo, and Stefano:


o) Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus (second and third from left; at right, Pilate) as depicted in a later fourteenth-century copy of part of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1370-1380; Paris, BnF, ms. Nouvelle acquisition française 15940, fol. 56r):


p) Joseph of Arimathea (holding Jesus) and Nicodemus (removing nails) at the Deposition as depicted in an earlier fifteenth-century _Bible historiale_ (ca. 1430; Den Haag, KB, ms. KB, 78 D 38 II, fol. 195v):


q) Joseph of Arimathea (holding Jesus at the armpits) and Nicodemus (holding Jesus' lower legs) as depicted by Rogier van der Weyden in his earlier fifteenth-century Deposition Altar (ca. 1435) in the Museo del Prado in Madrid:


Detail views:



r) Joseph of Arimathea (at Jesus' head) and Nicodemus (at Jesus' feet) at the Lamentation as depicted by Petrus Christus in a mid-fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1450) in the Metropolitan Museum in New York:


s) Joseph of Arimathea (at Jesus' head) and Nicodemus (at Jesus' feet) at the Entombment as depicted in two panels of a later fifteenth-century glass window (bay 6; ca. 1467-1469) in the Lady Chapel of the cathédrale Notre-Dame in Évreux:


t) Joseph of Arimathea (behind Jesus) and Nicodemus (at Jesus' left) at the Lamentation as depicted by Hugo van der Goes in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (ca. 1470) in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna:


u) Joseph of Arimathea (lower register at left) and Nicodemus (lower register at right) at the Lamentation as depicted by Simon Marmion in a later fifteenth-century panel painting (early 1470s) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:



v) Joseph of Arimathea (at far left) and Nicodemus (second from right) as portrayed by Guido Mazzoni in statues in a later fifteenth-century glazed terracotta Lamentation (ca. 1477-1480) in the chiesa di San Giovanni Battista in Modena:


Detail view (Joseph of Arimathea):


Detail view (Nicodemus):


w) Joseph of Arimathea (top center) and Nicodemus (center right, with vessel) at the Deposition as depicted in a late fifteenth-century icon from northern Russia in the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow:


x) Nicodemus (at left) and Joseph of Arimathea (at right) as portrayed at the Entombment in a late fifteenth-century polychromed wooden sculpture (ca. 1485) in the abbaye Saint-Pierre at Moissac:


y) Nicodemus (at left) and Joseph of Arimathea (at right) as portrayed in relief at the Entombment in a late fifteenth-century wooden sculpture (1496), attributed to Conrat Meit or to Hans Seyfer, in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Munich:



z) Joseph of Arimathea (on the ladder) and Nicodemus (holding Jesus) at the Deposition as depicted in a panel of an earlier sixteenth-century glass window (bay 0, panel a4; ca. 1520-1530) in the église Saint-Remi in Ceffonds (Haute-Marne):



John Dillon


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