The iconography of the Merovingian cross-page : apotropaic and cosmological symbolism in early mediaeval art
Small, Thomas W. A.
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In the Christian world, the cultus of the Holy Cross reached its peak in the seventh and eighth centur ies. During this period, the Merovingian art of Northwestern Europe reflected the contemporary belief in the sign of the Cross as a protective, apotropaic symbol. During this time, Merovingian manuscripts began to display large 'cross-pages,' combining the sign of Christ with a large archway. Such architectural motifs may have been intended as a means of signalling the 'entrance' to the text, which was protected by the Cros The iconography of the Merovingian frontispieces is similar to apotropaic images on architectural thresh olds, funereal monuments, and liturgical objects. The Cross, combined with eschatological symbols, had a two-fold purpose: it protected the book from profanation, as it reflected the sanctity and power of the text. The beasts which are heraldically placed around the Cross reiterate the themes of protection and power, as they show submission to the Cross, and symbolically 'guard' it. The Merovingian cross-pages recall the Early Mediaeval belief in the Cross as a cosmological symbol, reflecting the cruciform framework of the universe. Thus, the Cross functioned as a kind of cosmic map, representing Christ as ruling from the center of the celestial axis. The overall subject of both the apotropaic and cosmological symbolism of the Cross has been studied by various scholars. In light of such studies, this thesis seeks specifically to clarify the iconographic sources and function of the Cross in Merovingian manuscripts.