Romanesque tympanum of Saint Mary of Vézelay

Romanesque tympanum of Saint Mary of Vézelay
Romanesque tympanum of Saint Mary of Vézelay

It is curious to note that there are many Romanesque churches that still keep their reliefs and sculptures representing the Last Judgment located in the back of the main nave. So somehow, the faithful when he left the temple saw these most gloomy scenes and was reminded that he should not commit sins outside the church.


Last Judgment of Saint Mary Magdalene of Vézelay

However, there are also other churches of the time, that the same type of scenes are located on the cover itself, so that they are a powerful, almost creepy, way of welcoming believers. This can be seen, for example, in several French churches that were part of the pilgrim routes. For example, it can be seen in the cathedral of Autun or the cover of the Basilica of Santa María Magdalena de Vézelay that concerns us here.

In Vézelay the whole representation of the Last Judgment is found in the semicircular tympanum above the entrance door.

The set of figures is dominated from the start by the presence of Christ, who not only occupies the center, but is on a colossal scale compared to the rest. And he also dominates the space even more with his way of opening his arms, which seems to be a gesture that expresses what awaits sinners. Although it can also be interpreted as an invitation to enter the temple.

TheThe rest of the tympanum is framed by four angels playing the very trumpets of the Last Judgment. And there everything is organized in three registers. A superior one that would be heaven, another intermediate one that is earthly life, and the inferior one that alludes to the dead.

You can see to the left of Christ how there is another angel and also a demon who are using the scales to weigh the souls and decide the destiny of each one. Sinners will obviously go to hell, and here he is represented by a great devil on the far right. That demon opens its jaws to mercilessly swallow the damned.

If we look closely there are many quite chilling details. For example, another demonic being that is under the scale is lifting the body of a dead person and is going to take it to be weighed. Or on the other side you see children trying to grab hold of angels to save themselves and get to heaven.

That is to say, it is a gruesome scene where lurid details are not spared, since the objective was none other than to impress the people and to behave according to the rules of the church.

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