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Coming Face to Face: the Romanesque Portal

John X, 9: I [Christ] am the door. By me, if any man enters in, he shall be saved; and he shall go in and go out, and shall find pastures.

I Corinthians, XIII, 12: We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known.

Theophany: Manifestation of Divinity

Parts of a Romanesque Portal

Tympanum: the surface enclosed by the arch and lintel of an arched doorway, frequently carved with relief sculptures.
Archivolt: the molding fram an arch. In Romanesque and Gothic architecture, each one of a series of arches framing the tympanum of a portal.
Lintel: a horizontal beam spanning an openings, as over a window or door, or between two posts.
Trumeau: doorpost supporting lintel.
Jamb: the side of a doorway or window frame. The jambs of the portals of Romanesque and Gothic churches are frequently decorated with figure sculpture.



South Portal from the Church of Saint Pierre, Moissac, c. 1115-30.

Other websites: Jeffery Howe, A Digital Archive of Architecture ;Michael Greenhalgh's ArtServe; Alison Stones, Images of Medieval Art and Architecture: Moissac.

South Porch portal of Moissac: c. 1125/ c.1131; attached columns have figures on top with probably St. Benedict on the left and Abbot Roger on the right.

Maiestas Domini: Christ surrounded by the Apocalyptic Beasts and the 24 Elders

(See 4th and 5th Chapters of the Book of Revelation)





St. Paul from the Trumeau of Moissac



Right Wall: the Incarnation

Left Wall detail: The vices of Avarice and Luxuria

Lower left: Annunciation; Lower Right: Visitation; Above: Adoration of the Magi

Annunciation and Visitation

Detail of the left wall with the parables of the rich fool (below) (Luke 12:16-34) and of Dives and Lazarus (above)

Detail of the Incarnation: on the right: Presentation in the Temple; on the left: the Flight into Egypt.

Detail of the left wall: Dives and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Flight into Egypt


Detail of the left wall: Lazarus in the Bosom of Abraham

Detail of Incarnation: the Fall of the Idols of Egypt.


West Portal of St. Lazare at Autun, c. 1120-35

Other websites for Autun: Jeffery Howe, A Digital Archive of Architecture; La cathedrale d'Autun; Alison Stones, Images of Medieval Art and Architecture:Autun.

Last Judgment on Tympanum and Lintel. The Labors of the Months and Symbols of the Zodiac appear on the archivolts.

Last Judgement



West Portal of the Church of Ste. Foy at Conques

Alison Stones, Images of Medieval Art and Architecture:Conques

Other websites for Conques: L'art Roman;Conques

Last Judgment

Note the chiastic oppositions established between these images of eternal reward and eternal judgement. See the literary equivalent in the excerpt from Anselm's Proslogium below: From a native country into exile, from the vision of God into our present blindness, from the joy of immortality into the bitterness and horror of death.



Narthex Portal from the Church of Ste. Madeleine, Vézelay, 1120-32

Other websites dedicated to Vézelay: L'art Roman: Vézelay ; Alison Stones, Images of Medieval Art and Architecture:Vézelay

Mission of the Apostles.

People of the World: Pygmies using ladders to mount horses.

People of the World: People with big ears.

(Do your ears hang low, do they wobble....)


Jamb figures showing Sts. Peter and Paul.

Symbol of Zodiac: Pisces

Labor of the Month: February

Left Portal: Ascension with Supper at Emmaus below.


Incarnation Portal with Lintel showing the Annunciation, Visitation and the Nativity with the Adoration of the Magi represented in the Tympanum.

Capital from the Nave: Moses and he Golden Calf

Capital from the Nave: the Mystic Mill




Anonymous 12th c. author: "God cannot be seen directly. The contemplative life that begins on earth will only be perfect once God has been seen face to face. When a gentle, simple soul has been elevated to speculative heights and when, breaking the ties of the flesh, it has contemplated what lies in heaven, it cannot remain long above itself, for the weight of the flesh pulls it back down to earth. Though it is struck by the immensity of the light on high, it is quickly reminded of its own nature; yet the little it has been able to taste of the divine sweetness is of utmost benefit to it, and soon thereafter, inspired by great love, it hastens to resume its upward flight."

Anselm of Canterbury, Mediation I, "A Meditation to stir up fear":
"Barren soul, what are you doing? Sinful soul, why are you lying still? The day of judgment is coming, 'that great day of the Lord is nigh, it is near and comes quickly, day of wrath and day of mourning, day of tribulation and anguish, day of calamity and misery, day of darkness and shadows, day of clouds and eddies, day of trumpets and noises.' O bitter voice of the day of the Lord. O man, luke-warm and worthy to be spewed out, why are you sleeping? He who does not rouse himself and tremble before such thunder, is not asleep but dead."

Anselm, Proslogium, Chapter 1: Up now, slight man! flee, for a little while, thy occupations; hide thyself, for a time, form thy disturbing thoughts. Cast aside, now, thy burdensome cares, and put away thy toilsome business. Yield room for some little time to God; and rest for a little time in him. Enter the inner chamber of thy mind; shut out all thoughts save that of God, and such as can aid thee in seeking him; close thy door and seek him. Speak now, my whole heart! speak now to God, saying, I seek thy face; thy face, Lord, will I seek (Psalms xxvii.8). And come thou now, O Lord my God, teach my heart where and how it may seek thee, where and how it may find thee.

Lord, if thou art not here, where shall I seek thee, being absent? But if thou art everywhere, why do I not see thee present? Truly thou dwellest in unapproachable light. But where is unapproachable light, or how shall I come to it? Or who shall lead me to that light and into it, that I may see thee in it? Again, by what marks, under what form, shall I seek thee? I have never seen thee, O Lord, my God; I do not know thy form. What, O most high Lord, shall this man do, an exile from thee? What shall thy servant do, anxious in his love of thee, and cast out afar from they face? He pants to see thee, and thy face is too far from him. He longs to come to thee, and thy dwelling place is inaccessible. He is eager to find thee, and knows not thy place. He desires to seek thee, and does not know thy face. Lord, thou art my God, and thou art my Lord, and never have I seen thee. It is thou that hast bestowed upon me all the blessings I enjoy; and not yet do I know thee. Finally, I was created to see thee, and not yet have I done that for which I was made.

O wretched lot of man, when he hath lost that for which he was made! O hard and terrible fate! Alas, what has he lost, and what has he found? What has departed, and what remains? He has lost the blessedness for which he was made, and has found the misery for which he was not made. That has departed without which nothing is happy, and that remains which, in itself, is only miserable. Man once did eat the bread of angels, for which he hungers now; he eateth now the bread of sorrows, of which he knew not then. Alas! for the mourning of all mankind, for the universal lamentation of the sons of Hades! He choked with satiety, we sigh with hunger. He abounded, we beg. He possessed in happiness, and miserably forsook his possession; we suffer want in unhappiness, and feel a miserable long, and alas! we remain empty.

Why did he not keep for us, when he could so easily, that whose lack we should feel so heavily? Why did he shut us away from the light, and cover us over with darkness? With what purpose did he rob us of life, and inflict death upon us? Wretches that we are, whence have we been driven out; whither are we driven on? Whence hurled? Whither consigned to ruin? From a native country into exile, from the vision of God into our present blindness, from the joy of immortality into the bitterness and horror of death. Miserable exchange of how great a good, for how great an evil! Heavy loss, heavy grief heavy all our fate!

But alas! wretched tht I am, one of the sons of Eve, far removed from God! What have I undertaken? What have I accomplished? Whither was I striving? How far have I come? To what did I aspire? Amid what thoughts am I sighing? I sought blessings, and lo! confusion. I strove toward God, and I stumbled on myself. I sought calm in privacy, and I found tribulation and grief, in my inmost thoughts. I wished to smile in the joy of my mind, and I am compelled to frown by the sorrow of my heart. Gladness was hoped for, and lo! a source of frequent sights!

And thou too, O Lord, how long? How long, O Lord, dost thou forget us; how long dost thou turn thy face from us? When wilt thou look upon us, and hear us? When wilt thou enlighten our eyes, and show us thy face? When wilt thou restore thyself to us? Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, reveal thyself to us. Restore thyself to us, that it may be well with us, --thyself, without whom it is so ill with us. Pity our toilings and strivings toward thee, since we can do nothing without thee. Thou dost invite us; do thou help us. I beseech thee, O Lord, that I may not lose hope in sighs, but may breathe anew in hope. Lord, my heart is made bitter by its desolation; sweeten thou it, I beseech thee, with thy consolation. Lord, in hunger I began to seek thee; I beseech thee that I may not cease to hunger for thee. In hunger I have come to thee; let me not go unfed. I have come in poverty to the Rich, in misery to the Compassionate; let me not return empty and despised. And if, before I eat, I sigh, grant, even after sighs, that which I may eat. Lord, I am bowed down and can only look downward; raise me up that I may look upward. My iniquities have gone over my head; they overwhelm me; and, like a heavy load, they weigh me down. Free me from them; unburden me, that the pit of iniquities may not close over me.

Be it mine to look up to thy light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to see thee, and reveal thyself to me, when I seek thee, for I cannot seek thee, except thou teach me, nor find thee, except thou reveal thyself. Let me seek thee in longing, let me long for thee in seeking; let me find thee in love, and love thee in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank thee that thou hast created me in this thine image, in order that I may be mindful of thee, may conceive of thee, and love thee; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except thou renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate thy sublimity, for in no wise do compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree thy truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. for this also I believe, --that unless I believed, I should not understand.