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FEAST - Saints for the Day (Dec. 24): The Holy Forefathers


John Dillon <[log in to unmask]>


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


Thu, 24 Dec 2015 23:46:17 +0000





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medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture

Today (24. December), the Vigil of the Nativity, is the feast day of: "All the holy ancestors of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham, son of Adam, that is, the Fathers who were pleasing unto God, who were found just and who died according to the faith, and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh..."

That's my translation of the bulk of the first elogium for today in the Roman Martyrology (rev. ed., 2001), where previously one found an entry for the Vigil of the Nativity. Some might think that this elogium's use of exclusively masculine-gendered terminology to refer to those from whom Christ was born according to the flesh signals either an unusually weak grasp of human reproductive biology or else a studied relegation of women to a position of inferiority. Perhaps to counter such impressions, Roman Catholic dioceses in Italy and elsewhere follow tradition in calling this feast a Memorial of Saints Adam and Eve and of all the holy ancestors of Jesus Christ ('Santi Adamo e Eva e tutti i santi antenati di Gesù Cristo'), sometimes shortened on diocesan websites to just 'Adamo e Eva' (vel sim.).   Some Orthodox churches celebrate Jesus' forefathers on the second Sunday before the Nativity; the Italo-Albanian church (which is Byzantine in its liturgy) celebrates them on the Sunday immediately preceding the Nativity.

A few period-pertinent images of the Holy Forefathers, mostly in Trees of Jesse (NB: Latin-rite practice adheres to the genealogies in Isaia and, esp. Matthew; Greek-rite practice also treats other patriarchs as forefathers):

a) as portrayed in high relief (panel at upper left) on the earlier twelfth-century bronze doors (ca. 1138) of the basilica di San Zeno in Verona:


b) as depicted in the first volume of the perhaps mid-twelfth-century Lambeth Bible (?ca. 1146-1154; London, Lambeth Palace Library, MS 3, fol. 198r):


c) as depicted in a later twelfth-century copy of St. Rabanus Maurus' _De laudibus sanctae crucis_ (Douai, Bibliothèque Municipale, ms. 340, f. 11r):


d) as depicted in the fourth volume of the later twelfth century Capuchins' Bible of Saint-Bertin (ca. 1180; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 16746, fol. 7v):


e) as depicted on the seemingly late twelfth- or early thirteenth-century ceiling (ca. 1190-1220; restored, nineteenth century) of the St. Michaeliskirche in Hildesheim:


f) as depicted in the earlier thirteenth-century Psalter of St. Louis and Blanche of Castile (ca. 1225-1235; Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 1186, fol. 15v):


g) as depicted in a mid-thirteenth-century psalter from Würzburg (ca. 1240-1240; Los Angeles, J. Paul Getty Museum and Library, ms. Ludwig VIII 2, fol. 7v):


h) as depicted by T’oros Roslin in a later thirteenth-century Gospels from Armenian Cilicia in the Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (1262; Walters Ms. W.539, fol. 15r):



i) as depicted in the later thirteenth-century Grandisson Psalter (1275; London, BL, Additional MS 21926, fol. 25v):


j) as depicted in the late thirteenth-century Bible of Clement VII (Bolognese origin; Paris, BnF, ms. Latin 18, fol. 342v):


k) as depicted by Eutychios and Michael Astrapas in the late thirteenth-century frescoes (ca. 1295) on the triumphal arch in the church of the Peribleptos (now Sv. Kliment Ohridski) in Ohrid:









l) as depicted in an earlier fourteenth-century copy of Guiard des Moulins' _Bible historiale_ (ca. 1300-1325; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 152, fol. 467v):


m) as depicted by Michael Astrapas and Eutychios in a ring of somewhat degraded earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (items d-l1-11 through d-l1-22; betw. ca. 1313 and 1320) in the dome of the King's Church (dedicated to Sts. Joachim and Anne) at the Studenica monastery near Kraljevo (Raška dist.) in Serbia:


n) as depicted in the earlier fourteenth-century frescoes (betw. 1335 and 1350) in the nave 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:

entire composition:


individual segments:


o) as depicted on the late fourteenth-century ceiling (ca. 1390) of the Lady Chapel in St Helen's Church, Abingdon:




p) as depicted by the Master of the Hours of Johannette Ravenelle in a late fourteenth- or early fifteenth-century composite bible (between 1395 and 1401) chiefly drawing on Guiard des Moulins' _Bible historiale_ (Paris, BnF, ms. Français 159, fol. 175r):


q) as depicted in an early fifteenth-century copy of Guiard des Moulins' _Bible historiale_ (Paris, BnF, ms. Arsenal 5058, fol. 451r):


r) as portrayed in high relief in a mid-fifteenth-century sculpture over the south portal of the St. Lambertikirche in Münster:


s) as depicted in a late fifteenth-century copy of Vincent of Beauvais' _Speculum historiale_ in its French-language version by Jean de Vignay (ca. 1480-1490; Paris, BnF, ms. Français 245, fol. 84r):


t) as depicted by Geertgen tot Sint Jans in a late fifteenth-century panel painting (1480s) in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam:


u) as depicted in a late fifteenth-century breviary for the Use of Clermont (?after 1486; Clermond-Ferrand, Bibliothèque du patrimoine, ms. 1978, fol. 3):


v) as portrayed in high relief (surrounding Sts. Joachim and Anne) by Gil de Siloé on his late fifteenth-century great altarpiece (betw. 1486 and 1492) in the capilla de Santa Ana in Burgos' catedral de Santa María:


detail view (Jesse):


w) as portrayed in high relief in a late fifteenth-century house sign (1490s) in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris:


Detail view:


x) as depicted in a late fifteenth-century glass window (s. 3; 1497) in the choir of the evangelisch-lutherische St. Jakobskirche in Nürnberg:


y) as depicted (two sets; note the presence of foremothers) in the early sixteenth-century frescoes (1502) by Dionisy and sons in the Virgin Nativity cathedral of the St. Ferapont Belozero (Ferapontov Belozersky) monastery at Ferapontovo in Russia's Vologda oblast:

1) nos. 11-14 here:


2) nos. 7-10 here:


z) as depicted in an earlier sixteenth-century printed missal for the Use of Langres (1517; Chaumont, Mediathèque de Chaumont, impr. 3 J 7 Y, fol. G5r):



John Dillon


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