As the Son of Man is in the midst of the candelabra, so is Christ in the midst of the Church
Caesarius of Arles
Video: Romanesque South Porch Tympanum Saint Pierre de Fronsac
An Artsymbol Production
Music by Martin A Smith
The Romanesque Tympanum of La Lande-de-Fronsac is situated above the south porch entrance to The Benedictine priory church of Saint-Pierre. La Lande-de-Fronsac lies fifteen miles north east of Bordeaux on the northern banks of the Dordogne river on the Tours Road to Compostela.
Its portal relief sculpture is singular in being the only monumental representation of the first theophanic vision from the Book of Revelation in Romanesque sculpture.
A partially legible inscription surrounding the semi-circular relief reads, “Johes VII eccliis que sunt … Ter VII candelabra aurea” references the text which is the source of the image.
On the lintel below we can read another inscription, “Principiu sine principio sine fine” meaning “beginning without beginning without end”, an amplification of the Alpha and Omega of the text.
The striking image at Fronsac shows the hieratic image of the Son of Man in a full length tunic standing with arms outstretched. From the left side of the head emerges a sword.
Immediately on the right of this dramatic figure is a circle containing seven daisy-like flowers, beneath which cowers Saint John the Divine.
Represented here is John’s vision on the island of Patmos addressed to the seven churches of Asia which are depicted on the relief next to his cowering figure.
According to the text, John is hearing a voice behind him which describes itself as the Alpha and Omega standing amid seven candlesticks. To the right of the figure of Christ amid a complex entwined vegetal motif one can make out the representation of the candelabra.
The crude execution of the stone carving only serves to enhance the elemental severity and latent violence of the image.
This is in keeping with the tone of the text which describes the Son of Man as having, “eyes as a flame of fire; and his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.”
This was an image of the deity, the sacrificial Lamb itself, as the agent of the sacrificial act.
The medieval exegesis to be found in the commentaries on the Apocalypse by Beatus of Liebana, Caesarius of Arles and Walafrid Strabo, explained this passage from Revelation as a representation of Christ’s sacerdotal role as the Priest Messiah.
Accordingly, the hieratic representation of the Son of Man with the sword emanating from the mouth indicated Christ’s priestly sacrificial function.
The seven stars, the seven candelabra and the seven churches were all symbolising the Church in its various forms, historical, spiritual, cosmic and Christ’s omnipresent permeation of it. This notion is represented on the Fronsac tympanum by the motif of the vine which extends into every space of the relief.
For Caesarius, Asia represented humanity and “As the Son of Man is in the midst of the candelabra, so is Christ in the midst of the Church”.
For Strabo, the attributes of the Son of Man in the vision, the tunic, the gold belt and the sword were attributes of priestly power and the son of Man was the underlying principle of the Father and the Holy Ghost.
The lintel inscription implied even more than the Alpha and Omega, that the Son of Man preexisted the beginning and continued after the End.
Biblio and Sources: Guyenne Romane, Pierre Dubourg-Noves, Zodiaque. “Les sept églises et Le fils de l’homme au tympan du portail sud au prieuré benedictin de la Lande-de-Fronsac” Mireille Mentré , Cahiers de Saint Michel de Cuxa 8 1977 89-103