The Ark being carried into the Temple, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry by Limbourg Brothers

Limbourg Brothers

The Ark being carried into the Temple, from Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, Fifteenth century, Illumniation on vellum, Le musée Condé, Chantilly, France, MS 65, fol. 29, Photo: René-Gabriel Ojéda © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY

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‘Lift up your Heads, O Gates!’

Commentary by
Read by Chloë Reddaway

This illumination appears within one of the best-known manuscripts of the later Middle Ages. It was made for the Duc de Berry, who was one of the most illustrious collectors and patrons of art of his day. The miniature depicts the Ark of the Covenant being carried in procession into the Temple at Jerusalem, and accompanies one of the psalms that were interspersed throughout Books of Hours.

Here, the Temple is shown as a Gothic church, with a rose window, carved stonework portal, and flying buttresses. The Ark is represented as a gilded metalwork reliquary, itself in the shape of a miniature Gothic building.

The psalm in question is Psalm 24 (23 in the medieval numbering of the Psalms), verse 7 of which declares ‘Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors! That the King of glory may come in’. The titulus (the text in blue and gold that explains what is about to be seen in the book) reads: ‘David in spirit sees the gates of the Temple closed when the ark is being carried there and cries out “O gates lift up your heads”’.

The text ‘Lift up your heads, O gates!’ was used liturgically for the dedication of a church, and for the entry of the procession into the church on Palm Sunday. This links the psalm included at this point in the Book of Hours to the narratives concerning David of 2 Samuel 6, and Chronicles 13, and Chronicles 15–16 , as well as forward to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s triumphal entry (Matthew 21:1–11; Mark 11:1–11; Luke 19:28–44; John 12:12–19). It ensures that the reader of this Book of Hours would have understood the Christian liturgy as linked to, and fulfilling, these Old Testament texts.

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