The Healing of the Blind Man and the Raising of Lazarus by Master of Santa María de Taüll

Master of Santa María de Taüll

The Healing of the Blind Man and the Raising of Lazarus, c.1125, Fresco, Ermita de San Baudelio de Berlanga, Caltojar, Soria, Spain, Pictures from History / Bridgeman Images

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Drawing Near

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In the Spanish peninsula in the tenth to eleventh centuries, the border between the Muslim Caliphates and the re-captured territories (reconquista) was close to the river Douro in Castile. As the power of the Moors was diminishing, a hermit monk took refuge near Berlanga de Duero where finally a church was built (in 1050) that was later (c.1125) decorated with frescoes that reflect a unique combination of Romanesque and Mozarabic influence.

The paintings were executed by the Catalan Master of Tahull in cooperation with two other painters. Originally they formed a complete cycle depicting the life of Christ above a series of hunting scenes and representations of various exotic animals.

Most of these frescoes have been removed over time, though some remain in situ. Among some that were removed to the USA in 1927 is a fresco representing Jesus healing the blind man.

Jesus is shown with short red hair, a beard and a halo surrounding his head. He wears an orange tunic and a blue mantle. The blind man is shown kneeling before him. His blindness is symbolized by his closed eyes, which Jesus is touching.

What is striking is the close physical contact between the two men. Jesus not only smears the ointment—made from his spittle—on the eyes of the blind man; he lays his hands on his shoulder. For a blind man these gestures of touch provide the assurance that Jesus is close. Subsequently in the history of the Church the laying on of hands has become a symbol of Christ’s nearness.

It is notable that the adjacent fresco of the Raising of Lazarus also portrays a significant moment of physical contact—and unusually for visual treatments of this scene, Jesus is shown touching Lazarus’s body (he more often points towards him).

This portrayal of Jesus’s close physical contact with other human beings conveys a twofold message: it challenges the Romanesque concept of Christ as King and Ruler of the World—a rather distant and remote figure to ‘normal’ people. It also supports the Christian concept of a God who, though invisible, reaches out to the world not only through his word but through acts of physical contact and nearness. A God who is close to those who suffer.

 

References

Adams, P. R. 1963. ‘Mural Paintings from the Hermitage of San Baudelio de Berlanga, Province of Soria, Spain’, Cincinnati Art Museum Bulletin, 7. 2 : 2–11

Factum Foundation. 2016. San Baudelio De Berlanga: An Architectural Jewel Remade; Exhibition Prospectus (Madrid: Factum Foundation), available at https://www.factum-arte.com/resources/files/fa/exhibitions/dossier/san_baudelio_prospectus_02.pdf

Frinta, Mojmir S. 1964. ‘The Frescoes from San Baudelio De Berlanga’, Gesta, 1.2: 9–13

Garnelo, J. 1924. ‘Descripción de las pinturas murales que decoran la ermita de San Baudelio en Casillas de Berlanga (Soria)’, Boletín de la Sociedad Española de Excursiones, 32: 96–109


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