Art for the Christian Liturgy in the Middle Ages

  • Polycandelon with Crosses
    2002.483.7
  • The Attarouthi Treasure
    1986.3.1-15
  • Pyxis Depicting Women at the Tomb of Christ
    17.190.57
  • Situla (Bucket for Holy Water)
    17.190.45
  • Processional Cross
    1993.163
  • Processional Cross
    17.190.1406
  • Tip of a Pointer
    1997.235
  • Book Cover (?) with Ivory Figures
    17.190.134
  • The Cloisters Cross
    63.12
  • Segment of a Crosier Shaft
    1981.1
  • Jaharis Lectionary
    2007.286
  • Stole with Images of the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine
    64.101.1382
  • Liturgical Comb
    1988.279
  • Crozier with Serpent Devouring a Flower
    17.190.833
  • Chrismatory
    17.190.853
  • Bertinus Chalice
    47.101.30
  • Evangelists Mark and Luke
    2012.70.1,.2
  • Chalice
    47.101.26
  • Paten
    47.101.27
  • Straw
    47.101.28
  • Leaf from a Missal
    1992.238
  • Chasuble
    27.162.1
  • Chalice of Peter of Sassoferrato
    1988.67
  • Chalice
    1988.66

Essay

The term liturgy refers to the rites and ceremonies prescribed by the Eastern and Western Church for communal worship. The central focus of the liturgy is the Eucharist, in which Christians take consecrated wine and bread in commemoration of the Last Supper and Christ’s death. While liturgical practices were codified gradually over several centuries and varied locally, eucharistic vessels for the bread and wine, the paten, and the chalice remained indispensable (1986.3.1-15; 47.101.26; 47.101.27; 47.101.28). The liturgy in both the Eastern and Western Church necessitated a variety of additional objects such as books, often richly decorated (17.190.134), for prayers, music, and Old and New Testament readings (1992.238); crosses for the altar and to be carried in procession (63.12; 1993.163); censers for the burning of incense; and lighting devices for the sanctuary (2002.483.7).

Because of their sacred function, liturgical objects were often crafted of the most precious materials. In a written account of Justinian’s famed sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, one author tells of hundreds of vessels and furnishings made of pure gold with pearls and precious stones. Emulating the splendors of Byzantium in his lavish commissions for the royal abbey church of Saint-Denis, north of Paris, Abbot Suger exclaimed in the 1140s:

If golden pouring vessels, golden vials, golden little mortars used to serve … to collect the blood of goats or calves, how much more must golden vessels, precious stones, and whatever is most valued … be laid out … for the reception of the blood of Christ! Surely, neither we nor our possessions suffice for this service.

Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 2001

Citation

Department of Medieval Art and The Cloisters. “Art for the Christian Liturgy in the Middle Ages.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/litu/hd_litu.htm (October 2001)

Further Reading

Lasko, Peter. Ars Sacra, 800–1200. 2d ed. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.

McLachlan, Elizabeth Parker. "Liturgical Vessels and Implements." In The Liturgy of the Medieval Church, edited by Thomas J. Heffernan and E. Ann Matter, pp. 369–429. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University, 2001.

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