The Saint-Vaast Bible, politics and theology in eleventh-century Capetian France
By Diane J. Reilly
PhD Dissertation, University of Toronto, 1999
Abstract: Arras BM MS 559 (435) is a three-volume Bible of grand dimensions produced during the first half of the eleventh century at the monastery of Saint-Vaast, in the city of Arras in Northem France. It indudes an elaborate programme of twenty-four figural scenes illustrating many parts of the Old and New Testaments. There is no precedent for a work of this kind surviving from the earlier, Carolingian scriptorhm of Saint-Vaast, and no contemporary Bible from Northem Europe offers as complex a programme. This thesis is the first contextual study of the programme as a whole.
The Saint-Vaast Bible is the first of a series of Bibles produced in Northem France in the eleventh and early twelfth centuries within monasteries connected to the reform of Richard of Saint-Vanne. All of these Bibles lack the Gospels and Psalter, and several indude evidence that they were created specifically for the newly revived pradice of choir and refedory reading in reformed monasteries. The Saint-Vaast Bible’s pictorid programme reflects another aspect of Richard of Saint-Vanne’s monastic reform, his willingness to submit his monasteries to the authority of the local bishop, through its depiction of a glorified bishop before the Book of Jeremiah.
Much of the Bible’s cycle of images parallels the writings associated with Bishop Gerard of Cambrai, particularly the Acta Synodi Atrebafensis and the Gesta Episcoporum Cameracensium. Both texts encapsulate Gerard’s belief in the divine origin of the offices of king and bishop. an ideology then under attack with the rise of feudalism. The artists of the Saint-Vaast Bible’s pictorial programme used the images of prototypical Old and New Testament leaders to visualize this belief by investing these figures with Christological attributes and anachronistic regalia.
The Arras Bible also indudes a series of images of Old Testament women who embodied the virtues of an idealized queen, according to Carolingian and contemporary Capetian beliefs. Using biblical women who were interpreted as types of Ecclesia in biblical exegesis and writings on queenship, the artists attempted to underline the appropriate duties of a queen as the wife of the king, himself a type of Christ.