By Anya Burgo
Cambridge Undergraduate History Journal, Vol.1:3 (2011)
Abstract: This article examines the rhetorical function of architecture in the ‘image of the church’, an illumination accompanying a text by the Irish reformer, Gilbert of Limerick and dated circa 1190 from Durham. Focusing on the use of the architectural analogy, this article attempts to place this relatively unaccounted for northern English product within its twelfth-century pedagogical context, linking it specifically to the Victorine School in Paris. The edifice in the image is recognized as a visual mediator, acting as a model for spiritual or mental building. By showing how its appearance on the page is designed for its assimilation by the mind, the article aims to reveal the direct relationship made between edifice and edification.
Introduction: The fully coloured imago ecclesiae or Image of the Church now found in Cambridge University Library’s MS.Ff.I.27 (figure 1) is a picture not easily accommodated by the modern mind. It is only via a reading of its accompanying text, de statu ecclesie, by the Irish reformer Gilbert of Limerick that the illumination is even revealed as showing the hierarchy of the church, along largely recognizable European lines. Structured and contained by an architectural elevation of what looks like gothic arcading, the image offers an intriguing interpretation of Gilbert’s architectonically useful employment of the word ‘pyramid’ to articulate his system of working up from the smallest to largest units of church organization, from parish to Pope. Indeed it is this interpretation that makes use of the architectural metaphor that the present study endeavors to explain.