Faith and Art

If you are looking for something faith-filled to do this weekend, there is an exhibition at the Morgan Library and Museum on “Illuminating Faith: The Eucharist in Medieval Life and Art.”


Art was an important part of Medieval life.  Since there were many people who were illiterate, as Pope Gregory I said in the early Middle Ages, “”Illiterate men can contemplate in the lines of a picture what they cannot learn by means of the written word.”


Since this exhibition combined two of my favorite topics–religion and Medieval life (I majored in Medieval Studies in college), it was something I definitely wanted to check out. 




Unlike today, medieval people did not receive communion on a weekly basis, so the Elevation of the Eucharist was an important part of the Mass.  It was fortunate if people received the Eucharist on a yearly basis.  In the above reproduction of “Elevation of the Eucharist,” in the “Della Rovere Missals,” (1485-1490), the priest is shown with the Eucharist above his head. 


During this time, chalices were made of the best materials, ornate and large, so that people could see the Eucharist during the Mass.  It was not uncommon for people to travel from church to church to see the Elevation as much as possible. 




The Last Supper was a prevalent theme in Medieval art. This reproduction, from a Leaf of a Gradual (a liturgical book used for hymns and chants) was kept in the monastery of Stana Maria degli Angeli in Florence, Italy, from around 1392-1399. The name of the church is Italian for St. Mary of the Angels. This illuminated leaf shows the betrayal of Judas at the Last Supper—he is seen in the front of the table, directly across from Jesus, with a halo of black around his head, and a bag colored red signifying the blood money he would receive for his betrayal. 




This reproduction shows “Good and Bad Communion” in a Book of Hours believed to be from Veneto, Italy around the year 1430. The Book of Hours includes prayers to individual saints. People in the Middle Ages received communion perhaps once a year, so there was a great deal of reverence surrounding it. However, there was also a great deal of superstition in Medieval life. Peasants believed that if you were to receive communion in a state that was unfit, a demon would enter your body, as depicted above. 


I am so glad that I went to this exhibition because it sparked my interest and love in my faith, and brought back wonderful memories of things I learned in college. 


Is there a work of art that you feel particularly brings you closer to your faith? Please share. 


2 thoughts on “Faith and Art”

  1. Hello! thanks for this lovely reflection. Although there are so many wonderful and moving “religious” paintings, i find Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” moving and thought provoking. i heard a lecture one time that pointed out that the “movement” in the painting brings your eye up to the heavens — and i think that is so true…i am moved every time i stand in front of that painting.

    Of course, Michangelo’s “Pieta” is incredibly moving as well.

    thanks, as always, for your thoughtful reflections…
    Happy 4th of July!

    PS I love to go and walk around the Morgan Library and your notes today have made me want to get over there asap


    1. I never thought about the “Starry Night” in that way, I will definitely have to give that one another look. Thanks for that suggestion! The exhibition at the Morgan is really lovely, with some fascinating information on some of the manuscripts they have on display.


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