La nuova e centrale attenzione al sacramento eucaristico in quanto naturaliter carne di Cristo si lega al dramma della Passione, tanto in ambito liturgico quanto in ambito laico, informando sia le pratiche di preghiera, individuale e collettiva, sia le azioni devote e le rappresentazioni (artistiche e performative) di fedeli e clero. Il corpo di Cristo in passione («passionato») diviene, in questo modo, ‘modello’ e ‘rappresentazione’ dell’amore divino. A questo tema è stato dedicato il primo Simposio internazionale di studi sulle Arti per il sacro, tenutosi a Brescia il 5 aprile 2003, del quale questo numero di «Comunicazioni sociali» raccoglie gli interventi.
The representation of the body of Christ during the first three centuries of the Christian era was influenced
by a number of closely intertwined questions which, taken together, delineated a structured dialectic between
apparent ugliness and higher beauty, the latter being accessible to the gaze of the believer. The theological
reflection put forward by authors such as Justin, Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian or Origen is linked not only to
the social implications of a Christ who is reviled and devoid of any beauty, according to Isaiah 53 but, equally,
to the mystical tensions of reunification with the elected Bridegroom of Psalm 45 and of the Canticle of
Canticles. The mystical conviction of assimilation and intellectual contemplation that was characteristic of
the Alexandrian tradition was however destined to be progressively reduced to the credence of a narrow circle
of followers; in the vaster body of the church it would be overshadowed by the cult of the martyrs and
relics, as a visible testimony of the imitation of the suffering Christ and his wounded body. This is the background
from which there sprang the medieval reflection that arose with Francis.
Written in the late thirteenth century in the dialect of Milan, Bonvesin da la Riva’s Book of the Three
Scriptures is an eschatological poem composed of three parts. The poem begins with the Black Scripture,
which opens with the doctrine of the contemptus mundi and describes the twelve pains of hell. The Red
Scripture, which is placed at the center of the poem, describes Christ’s passion and highlights the pain experienced
by Christ’s tormented body. The last part of the poem is the Golden Scripture, which describes the
twelve glories of heaven. The Book of the Three Scriptures grants enormous attention to the human body as
a crucial component of the person, and stresses the significance of physical pain as the instrument that allows
the transformation from the decaying earthly and infernal body, initially described in the Black Scripture, to
the splendor of the glorious body, finally praised in the Golden Scripture. Through the figure of Christ and
Mary, in particular, the Red Scripture presents a form of physical pain that can be embraced as a productive
opportunity for meaning and change.
This study was inspired by a frescoed lauda in the former church attached to the S. Maddalena Hospital in
Bergamo, set beneath a Christ in pietà. The association of this lauda with the granting of indulgences prompts
an enquiry into late medieval contemplation of images of the Passion, which aroused the faithful’s empathy
and identification with the sufferings of the Redeemer. The enquiry also focuses on the relation arising
between painted or sculpted figures and sacred representations, which enable the beholder to maintain the
memory of the event constantly present.
In Lombardy, Depositions and Laments seem to have been dominated by a figurative and historicalnarrative
dimension, as documented by the late XIIIth and early XIVth century frescoes in S. Giorgio at
Almenno San Salvatore and the Lament dating from the first half of the XIVth century in S. Francesco a
Brescia. The painted crucifix in the same church, characterised by the realistic physicality of Christ, can be
correlated with the wooden Crucifixes preserved in other local churches and dating above all from the fifteenth
century. Particular mention is made of those held in the Cathedral of Salò, and of S. Maria del Carmine
and S. Giovanni Evangelista in Brescia.
With regard to the Laments, in which a more explicit affective and theatrical component can be discerned,
attention is directed to the important examples of Carmine and Bagnolo Mella in the district of
Brescia, examined here together with those now held in the provinces of Mantua, at Medole and Canneto
The drama of the Assumption of Mary, based on apocryphal stories, endeavoured to transpose and adapt
scenes from the canonical Gospels that had already been dramatised in ancient times. Concretely, one notes
a pronounced parallelism with the passages of the Passion of Christ, which constituted the foremost stage performance
in the Gothic era. The dramatic rendering of the Passion first arose through the humanisation of the
Christian religion in the wake of spiritual changes taking place in the XIIIth century, ushered in above all by
the preaching orders. Just as the triumphant figure of Christ the King of the Romanesque era became the suffering
and sorrowful Christ of the Gothic age, his mother underwent a change of role: from the hieratic throne
of the son she was transformed into the progenitrix who suffers the agony of Christ during the Passion and
bewails the loss of her son after the Ascension.
Such coincidences can be observed in the most ancient dramatic mysteries of the Iberian Peninsula on
the death and assumption of Mary: the Mystery of the Cathedral of València (around 1420) and that of Elx
(around 1475). These mysteries begin with the Virgin’s passage through the holy places, that is to say the
places of the Passion and the Death of Christ: the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prayed, sweat drops of
blood and was captured, the Golgotha where he was crucified, and the sepulchre where he was buried. The
Mystery of Tarragona (around 1388), on the other hand, begins with a conspiratorial meeting among the Jews
who are plotting to seize the body of the Blessed Virgin, thereby reflecting the «Consilium contra Christum»
of the Passion. The angel that comforts Mary with the branch of Paradise and the annunciation of her death
has a correspondence in the anglic consolation (with chalice and cross) that Jesus receives in Gethsemane.
The drama of theAssumption gathers the apostles around Maria, with the exception of Thomas, similarly to
the apostolic gathering at the Supper-table, after the Resurrection of Christ, during which Thomas was likewise
absent. The «Judgement scene» which appears in Tarragona and Elx during the burial of Maria translates
the scene of the arrest of Christ, including the brawl between Peter and the Jews. Finally, the burial accompanied
by the singing of the hymn In exitu Israel de Egipto, and the assumption and incoronation of the Virgin
are dramatic adaptations of the respectives scenes of the burial, resurrection and ascension of Christ.
The paper analyses the work Specchio di croce, written in the vernacular by the preacher Brother Domenico
Cavalca around 1330 for a lay public of devoted faithful. Firstly, the catechetic nature of the work is highlighted,
showing that it appears as a descriptive summa of Christian doctrine. This is followed by careful
focus on what can be seen as the main objective of the work, namely nothing less than a reform of the affections,
to be achieved by starting from the image of the Crucifix. Attention then turns to the theological and
psychological presuppositions of this affective pedagogy, also identifying the different phases and the constant
reference to the Augustinian and Cistercian traditions.
This essay aims to demonstrate that the political ethos of pietas and the theatrical rendering of pain, studied
in particular by Hannah Arendt and Luc Boltanski, are rooted not only in Christian compassion of the origins
but also in medieval drama centring on pietas. By providing a highly realistic and moving representation of
the agonized body of Christ, Medieval Christian society sought to convert sinners and to awaken the fervour
of the faithful, but it also kindled the disinterested and concrete help of the faithful towards the poor, the sick,
the unfortunate as well as towards pilgrims, through associations, care institutions and hospitals. The martyred
body of Chriust was seen as a specific denunciation of social injustice, of the afflictions and sufferings
of the body politic, the Church and the State. The fundamental difference between the ethos of pietas in the
Middle Ages versus the modern age consists in the transition from local perception of the unfortunate to a
decidedly universal view. Over the centuries the ethos of pietas was intensified through the gradual inclusion
of all men in the category of the unfortunate to succour, sweeping away any discrimination based on family,
local or regional rivalry, ethnic or social concerns, racial prejudice or religious bias.