CFP: CRUX TRIUMPHALIS – Calvaries and Rood Beams between the Middle Ages and the Council of Trent, Deadline 31st March 2022

The 1st Colloquium on Art and Liturgy: CRUX TRIUMPHALIS. Calvaries and Rood Beams between the Middle Ages and the Council of Trent will take place in Cádiz during 13-15 October 2022.

We invite the academic community to submit abstracts in Spanish, English, Italian and French consisting of a 500-700 words summary highlighting the innovative nature of the paper together with the chosen session and a brief curriculum vitae before the 31st of March 2022 to the following address:

The organising committee shall acknowledge receipt of submissions and select those considered most closely aligned with the meeting objectives. The selection will be made public before the 15th of May. Following peer review, these papers will be published in a monograph. Texts should be sent by the 15th of November 2022.

During the Middle Ages and even the Early Modern period, the biggest eye-catcher for those who entered into a church was an image of Christ crucified, frequently flanked by the Virgin and Saint John, supported by a beam. This beam, located on the triumphal arch’s imposts, became -together with the altar steps- the element that pointed out the frontier between the space for the faithful and the one intended for the clergy. Due to its prominent position at the entrance of the presbytery, the crucifix became a focus for the faithful’s gaze. This image increased their spiritual involvement in liturgical celebrations, particularly during Mass, because they were persuaded through the transcendence of the mystery that occurred at the altar. That mystery, which was the miraculous and bloodless repetition of the Calvary’s sacrifice, also was the very same iconographical depiction that the faithful could distinguish at the top of the beam.
Like any other church furniture, the origin of the rood beams can be traced back into the early Middle Ages or even Late Antiquity through Archaeology and documentary evidence that go back to the patristic literature or the Liber Pontificalis. The High Medieval sources that mention these wooden structures and their calvaries are even more numerous, for instance, Sicard of Cremona or Guillaume Durand treatises, which not only had a significant impact but were also strongly connected with this kind of works.
It is still possible to locate many rood beams throughout Europe, showing their past abundance. However, the Hispanic reality is much different. Scarcity of preserved examples, together with the lack of academic interest in this topic, could lead to a false image of a past where these structures would have been irrelevant. Nevertheless, documentary evidence and sculptural remains permit us to reconstruct a different reality where the visual power of these beams would have decayed only at the end of the 15th Century, in parallel with the extraordinary development of the great altarpieces. The unprecedented growth of altarpieces in the Iberian Peninsula and the consequences of certain theological developments would became catalyst that provoked both the fall into disuse of rood beams and also their academic oblivion.
The aim of the first Expert meeting on Art and Liturgy, to be held in the University of Cádiz with a commitment to continuity, is to restore the memory of these singular pieces in its architectural, sculptural and pictorial dimension within the visual and functional context for which they were conceived. In order to provide a forum for debate on these issues, the Colloquium will count with renowned experts such as Teresa Laguna, Justing Kroesen or Eduardo Carrero, among others.

Session I. The Triumphal Cross in liturgical and historical sources. Study of patristic texts and medieval liturgical books, pastoral visits, other literary sources such as periegesis and chorography, as well as contractual and accounting documentary sources. In addition, graphic evidence of beams and calvaries: drawings, engravings, descriptive painting and historical photography.

Session II. Spanish Calvaries and Rood Beams in the European Context. Origins and typological relations with similar elements: screens, retrochoirs, jubé… Spatial configuration and formal development. Iberian world. Local particularities.

Session III. The decline of a typology. The emergence of the great altarpieces and the last beams. Disuse and dismantling of beams and calvaries. Functional, liturgical and maintenance issues involved in the disappearance process. Singular examples preserved: survival and revival.

Session IV. Image, piety and devotion. Devotional implications in the cult of medieval crucifixes and calvaries after their descent. Altars, altarpieces and chapels devoted to “Beam Christs”. Medieval prestige in the baroque context.

For more information, please click here.


Published by Ellie Wilson

Ellie Wilson holds a First Class Honours in the History of Art from the University of Bristol, with a particular focus on Medieval Florence. In 2020 she achieved a Distinction in her MA at The Courtauld Institute of Art, where she specialised in the art and architecture of Medieval England under the supervision of Dr Tom Nickson. Her dissertation focussed on an alabaster altarpiece, and its relationship with the cult of St Thomas Becket in France and the Chartreuse de Vauvert. Her current research focusses on the artistic patronage of London’s Livery Companies immediately pre and post-Reformation. Ellie will begin a PhD at the University of York in Autumn 2021 with a WRoCAH studentship, under the supervision of Professor Tim Ayers and Dr Jeanne Nuechterlein.

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