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Royal Relics, Blood and Faith: The Painting of 'Doubting Thomas' in Westminster Abbey

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In 1936, the sepulchral monuments of Poet’s Corner were re-arranged to accommodate new tombs inside of Westminster Abbey. As the great baroque stones were lifted from the wall of the south transept, a gigantic pair of vibrantly coloured Gothic Wall Paintings was revealed. They are in good condition and have survived unbeknownst to art historians for over 700 years. These two paintings, portraying “Doubting Thomas” and “St. Christopher Carrying the Christ Child”, are visual manifestations of the cult of relics in thirteenth century Westminster. Since this discovery, this important aspect of these works of art has been overlooked. My talk will focus on the Westminster “Doubting Thomas”, which depicts St. Thomas as he nervously plunges his hand into the bloody side of the resurrected Christ. King Henry III , who built Westminster Abbey in 1269, had a special devotional connection to the arm relic of St. Thomas. I will explore the extant relationship between the physical presence of the saint in the nearby arm relic and this adjacent pictorial portrayal. As he rebuilt Westminster Abbey, I believe Henry expressed his personal piety by visually inserting his personal devotion into the artistic agenda. This Plantagenet king consciously craved a connection to the divine; he hoped to channel this power in his holy relics and project it through ostentatious commissions of art. The painting of “Doubting Thomas” demonstrates this desire while confirming that it is attainable.

BIOGRAPHY :

Before coming to Pembroke to pursue an MPhil in the History Art, Emily Guerry double majored in Art History and Medieval History at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she specialized in the gothic iconography of martyrdom in the Sainte-Chapelle of Paris. Now, she is exploring the imagery of devotion in Anglo-Norman martyrologies and reliquaries. After this year, she will continue as a PhD student in Gothic Art History with the generous support of a Cambridge Overseas Research Studentship.

This talk is part of the Ivory Tower Society, Pembroke College series.

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