The Last Word: High-interest Loan

To the good fortune of visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Hildesheim Cathedral in Germany is undergoing major renovation and has sent some of its most beautiful medieval objects to New York. The cathedral’s great bronze doors and famed column cannot travel, of course, but two monumental pieces have made the trip—the lifesize Ringelheim Crucifix (c. 1000) and a bronze baptismal fount (c. 1226) with extraordinarily detailed iconography—and they abundantly repay a visit.

Entering from the Medieval Sculpture Court, you come first upon the font, six feet high and resting on four kneeling figures representing the Rivers of Paradise. A relief scene of the baptism of Jesus, standing in a beautifully stylized Jordan River, evokes the power of the sacrament. Opposite it, a Virgin Enthroned is accompanied by the patron saints of the cathedral.

At the center of the gallery beyond is the crucifix, actually the corpus from a cross lost long ago. Once you have seen it, you will never forget it. Originally polychromed, the now-bare linden wood suits modern taste (the arms, added a century later, are of oak), and even though this is a cross of triumph—Christ’s eyes are open, and he seems more to stand before the cross than to hang on it—the rueful, questioning...

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About the Author

 

Leo J. O’Donovan, SJ, a frequent contributor to Commonweal, is president emeritus of Georgetown University.