Monday, January 26, 2009

A Bishop, Vikings and The Ark

mosaic in the oratory of Germigny-des-Prés

Do you remember Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark? In the movie, the Nazi Germans are trying to find the Ark of the Covenant in the belief that whoever possesses it would never be defeated in combat. This assumption is based on several references to the Ark in the Bible as the “strength and glory of God.” (source: Wikipedia). The Israelites consulted and carried it with them during battles, helping them gain victory over their enemies. The most famous is the crumbling of the walls of Jericho after carrying the Ark around the city for seven days, allowing the people of Israel to enter and take the city. However, the Nazis forgot that there are also Bible accounts saying that looking into the Ark or even merely touching it would result in death. So, even when they got possession of it near the end of the film, it was only short-lived. They even weren't able to use for they met their death upon opening the Ark to "test " its might before presenting it to the Führer. And Indiana Jones and his friends were saved from their clutches, and the Ark was safely sealed and stored in a secret place, along with other religious and mythical relics.

Well, if one believes in the power of the Ark and link it to the survival of the oratory of Germigny-dès-Pres during the tumultuous Middle Ages, then one can write a good story, even a novel about it. When Vikings raided the town by the end of the 9th century, everything except the sanctuary was destroyed. And what is inside this chapel that exempted it from being torn down? --- a beautiful mosaic of the Ark of the Covenant with two cherubim guarding over it. Like the Mosta Dome in Malta, its survival can be considered “miraculous”. Can it be due to the presence of the Ark, even if it is just an image? Maybe. And with the two sentinel angels which seem to be almost a replica of the ones on the Ark’s cover, perhaps it is a representation of the double protection of the Ark and the place it is housed in. Bishop Theodulf might have foreseen the destruction of the villa and sought to protect it by having the mosaic created in his private chapel. Or more likely, the Scandinavians spared it for being a place of Christian worship. During that time, many Norsemen were being converted to Christianity and this may have contributed to the oratory’s preservation.

Whatever the reason (and all these are just my conjectures), the fact remains that the mosaic has survived twelve centuries and is still visible up to the present. The oratory might have been renovated with indifference to the original materials used, but at least the mosaic is preserved. The Spartan atmosphere inside the church emphasizes the warm, golden colors of this beautiful religious artwork. And maybe, it can inspire you to write a historical-mystery novel about the whereabouts of the real Ark of the Covenant or the fate of Bishop Theodulf who was a prominent theologian and member of the court during Charlemagne’s reign but end up in exile for treason and was believed to be poisoned on his way back to Orléans upon his release. Or better yet, a romantic story between a Viking knight and a lady of the Frankish kingdom during the siege of the town *winks.*

The Latin inscription below the mosaic reads:

As you gaze upon the holy propitiatorium and Cherubim, beholder,
And see the shimmering of the Ark of God's covenant,
Perceiving these things, and prepared to beset the Thunderer with prayers,
Add, I beg you, Theodulf's name to your invocations.'
- Source: Wikipedia

(Germigny-des-Prés part II, see part I)


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