Beyond human grasp: the funeral of the Virgin on the "Wirksworth Stone" (Derbyshire)

Variant title
Za hranicí lidského chápání: znázornění pohřbu Panny Marie na kameni z Wirksworthu (Derbyshire, Anglie)
Source document: Convivium. 2021, vol. 8, iss. 1, pp. [72]-101
Extent
[72]-101
  • ISSN
    2336-3452 (print)
    2336-808X (online)
Type: Article
Language
English
License: Not specified license
Rights access
fulltext is not accessible
Abstract(s)
The lid of an Anglo-Saxon burial found in St Mary the Virgin at Wirksworth (Derbyshire, England) displays scenes of the life of Christ and the Virgin Mary that reflect a hope for eternal salvation; many of these scenes have eastern models. Going beyond a quest for iconographic models, however, this study examines the scenes featuring the Virgin, particularly her Funeral and Assumption, in the context of interchanging ideas, beliefs, and artifacts between the eastern Mediterranean Basin, continental Western Europe, and Anglo-Saxon Britain in the seventh and eighth centuries. This conjunction resulted in a funerary monument on which the Virgin's supernatural transition from earth to heaven was memorialised despite being underpinned only by current beliefs, rather than by Scripture or theology. Analysis of the scenes featuring the Virgin aims not only to contextualise them in the visual and religious cultures of the Mediterranean and beyond, but also – since they are the earliest in the West – to draw attention to their novelty. The connections with the eastern Mediterranean may also help to better define the stone's chronology. Referring to the figure of the Jewish priest lying below the Virgin's bier with hands "dried up" as a consequence of his sacrilege in attempting at overturn her body, the study contends that the scene of her Funeral is a vivid reminder that the mystery of her transition into heaven lies beyond human grasp and can only be apprehended through a mystical approach that transcends the senses.
Summary language
Note
  • I wish to thank the anonymous readers and the following scholars for their useful comments, criticism, and bibliographic help on this text: Rosemary Cramp, Michael Hare, Jane Hawkes, Beatrice Leal, Michael Mackay, John Mitchell, John Moreland. Any errors in the text remain my own. Four Oaks, June 2020.