Saturday, 2 August 2008

The Adoration's Traditions

Having spent the last month or so researching roodscreens I now plan to turn my attention to the Adoration and the presence of the Black Magi as the piece is an abstraction of The Adoration story – V&C, The Star of Bethlehem and the three Kings - in four panels.

One word that sticks out above all others in my readings on the Adoration aka The Epiphany aka The Story of the Three Kings aka The Nativity whatever you prefer to call it, that word is - tradition.

‘Tradition’ ,as I see it, is a euphemism for:
[W]e know the story isn’t really true or ever actually hppened, as we have no proof and if you stress us we believe it’s a total fabrication but can’t say so too loudly as this may offend too many people.

The Adoration has several traditions developed from the story in Mathew's Gospel (Mat 2:1 ff)

For the detail see the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the Magi

Here are the ‘traditions’ I’ve noted…..:

  • The Star of Bethlehem
The star was only visible by those who knew where to look and what to look for as Herod asked the ‘wise men’ confidentially where the star was (Mat 2.4) despite the fact he knew the star was in the ‘east’ (Mat 2.2). Herod would have had his own astronomers so knowing the ‘star’ was in ‘east’ should have been enough as it would have been a new celestial event so, it wasn't very bright.

For the detail see the Encyclopaedia Britannica on the Star of Bethlehem

  • There Wise men
There were three gifts gold, and frankincense, and myrrh (Mat 2.11) which through ‘tradition’ meant there were three wise men, the Eastern Orthodox church has 12 wise men - another 'tradition'.

  • Magi
Magi - the plural of Magus - astrologers from the Persian court, for the detail on Magus see the Encyclopaedia Britannica

  • Kings
They first became ‘kings’ in about 200 AD thanks to one of the Elders of the African Christian Church ,a Carthaginian called Tertullian who read Pslam 72 9:10 as foretelling of the Adoration (Trexler, pg12). It wasn’t until 6th century it became a ‘tradition’.(The Oxford Companion of Christian Art).

  • Three Kings
It was difficult to reconcile three kings from one country so they became three generations as well as being given names : Gaspar (aka Caspar aka Jasper) - the old white bearded king ; Balthasar - the middle black bearded aged king ; the third Melchoir - the beardless, fickle, foppish youthful king. Al being in ornate attire.

  • Symbolism (Hall’s Dictionary of Subjects and Symbols in Art)

Gold – Homage to Christ’s kingship
Frankincense – homage ot Christ’s divinity
Myrrh - used in embalming foreshadowing Christ’s death
Submission of temporal power (earthly kings) to divine spiritual power (Christ the King of kings)
Gentiles – the wise men were the first non Jews to visit Christ
Three kings – three parts of the known world (Europe Asia and Africa)

It’s that last symbol I’ll consider in my next post.

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