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Art, Prophecy, and Drama in the Choir of Salisbury Cathedral

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image of Religion and the Arts

The former painted cycle over the vaults of Salisbury Cathedral represents one of the great losses of thirteenth-century English art. This paper focuses on the imagery over the three-bay choir, which features twentyfour Old Testament kings and prophets each holding scrolls with texts prefiguring the Coming of Christ. The content of the cycle derives from a sermon, well known in the Middle Ages, by Pseudo-Augustine: Contra Judaeos, Paganos et Arianos. Yet the most immediate sources lie in twelfth and thirteenth-century extrapolations of the Pseudo-Augustinian sermon in liturgical drama, the so-called Ordo Prophetarum, or prophet plays. This observation leads to a discussion of the relationship of imagery to its liturgical setting. It is argued that the images on the choir vaults were also to be understood allegorically as types of the cathedral canons, who originally sat in the choir stalls below. A reading of the choir as a place of prophecy is located within traditions of liturgical commentary, which allegorize processions through churches as processions through Christian history. This leads to a discussion of the allegorization of the church interior in the Gothic period.


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