Friday, February 22, 2019

The Crowned Woman

Sculptures of "The Church," left, and
"The Synagogue.," right.  c. 1230.
(Strasbourg Cathedral, Strasbourg, France.
Originals are housed in the
Musée de l'Oeuvre Notre-Dame, Strasbourg) 

Copyright © Edward Riojas

The Grand Dame of the Christian Church may not be who you think.

One of many symbols for the Christian Church is the Crowned Woman, but there are at least two inherent problems which have forced it to be rarely depicted. This is a bit odd, given the number of times it is referred to, not only throughout history, but also in Holy Scripture itself.

Ephesians 5, among other passages, describes the Church as Christ’s Bride. He presents “the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” If Christ does the presenting, it stands to reason that it will go well beyond our usual notion of a blushing bride. She is radiant. She is regal. Hence, the Church has sometimes been depicted as a Crowned Woman.

During the Middle Ages, this notion was expanded. In the Strasbourg Cathedral, for example, the Crowned Lady appears, holding a Chalice and a cross-topped staff. Countering her presence is a symbol of the Synagogue – a blindfolded, stumbling woman. In some instances, the Synagogue is shown with a crown slipping off her head.

Problems, however, arose in the visuals of Roman Catholicism. When Mary, the Mother of our Lord, became prominent, she was often shown wearing a crown. Sometimes she was shown without the Infant Christ, creating confusion with the Crowned Woman. As if confusion wasn’t enough, the idiotic notion that nuns are somehow mystically betrothed to Christ was thrown into the mix.

There is another inherent problem in depicting the Church as the Bride of Christ: What does she look like? The usual visual interpretation of her is a woman of beauty. She is, after all, “without blemish,” according to the Word. I am pulled, however, to the prophecy contained in the Book of Hosea. Painting Israel as a whore-wife named Gomer is pretty harsh, but Biblically clear. The case can be made that the Church parallels Israel in the same way – we are not always the picture of beauty. The world, in fact, takes pleasure in rubbing our noses in that fact. But Hosea was no ordinary husband, and neither is Christ.

It is difficult to show a Crowned Woman with beauty, when we know the real complexion is decidedly different. We may even join, unawares, in the self-deprecating comment, “I can’t, for the life of me, understand what He sees in Her!”  We are, however, not the Groom.The Lord will show mercy on whom He may. For His life alone, given and shed for Her sake, Christ sees everything in His Bride, the Church.

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