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Rites of Passage: Exile and Return in Pictorial Narratives Featuring the Sacraments

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This paper examines the place of sacraments in pictorial narratives that recount exile from and return to Christian community. The main focus is on the extraordinary body of bas-de-page pictorial narratives in the Smithfield Decretals (London, BL, Royal 10 E IV ), a canon law manuscript that was illuminated in London c. 1340, and in particular on images of Sts Eustace, Jehan Paulus, Thaïs, and Mary of Egypt; the legend of the Three Living and the Three Dead; and the romance Octavian. It argues that in narratives describing journeys that are simultaneously physical and spiritual, sacraments, and especially baptism and the eucharist, can operate dramatically and also didactically as rites de passage. Taken together, such tales seem to prompt the viewer to consider the sacraments as moments of rupture and also reconciliation.

This talk is part of the Medieval Art Seminar Series series.

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