Ecclesia and Synagoga in Bamberg

March 20, 2011

The Fuersten Gate at Bamberg Cathedral with the statues of Ecclesia and Synagoga on both sites of the arch and the backwindows

Bamberg Cathedral dedicated 999 years ago in 1012, with its four massive towers shapes numerous of Old Town views of Bamberg, rated as World Cultural Heritage of the UNESCO in 1993. In the church, according to tradition, is the common grave of Emperor Henry II and his wife Gwendolyn – both are advertised everywhere in the city in one way or another. Today’s widely admired stately tomb was indeed created some 500 years later. Well-known features of the Cathedral  include the grave of Pope Clement II (1005 – 1047), who had been Pope only some years before his death and was known as Count Suidger of Morsleben. Suidger apparently died from lead poisoning. In Christian circles, up to 19 Century it was somewhat customary to use water-soluble lead (II) acetate to sweeten wine. Of course there were many casualties. Among the prominent (sweetened) deaths in 1827 also was Ludwig van Beethoven.

At least likewise prominent  are the two statues at the prices-gate, one depicting the Christian church proper, the other the synagogue of the Jews. Both statues do not refer to a specific Bamberg situation, both – from a Christian standpoint of course – have in view Christianity and Judaism “in general”, namely as rivals. And surprise, surprise: Judaism comes off badly and Christianity comes off well in the comparison whose criteria never were unknown and no subject of any discussion. However, to express the result of the finding, both rivals are portrayed separately as female statues. The „Synagoga“ statue is characterized by a blindfold over the eyes, symbolizing the „blindness“ of the synagogues, respectively Judaism in general. Also her wand or rod is broken, allegedly in the meaning  that “the” synagogue (resp. Judaism) has no worldly power anymore. Contrary to that the wand of the other statue is intact and the eyes of the „Ecclesia“ (Latin: Church) have no blindfold. And that does mean to say: Christianity has eyesight as well as power. At least that is what “they” say today, they, the Christians. However, the figurative “comparison” of Ecclesia and Synagoga is no particularity of Bamberg and its cathedral but is a somewhat common stony way of propaganda to be seen in many other old Christian cathedrals and illustrations, for instance in Paris, Strasbourg or Freiburg, however almost all in German lands.

Until today the depiction at times is very controversial since many regard it as “Christian arrogance” or pretension – after Auschwitz of course a kind of “no-go” or at least a bit more difficult to justify than before. Advocates on the other hand of course at least try to argue in favor of the “history of art” and oppose the often demanded removal of the statues, maybe in hope for a better acceptance of the original understanding in a later future.

However, at least the current Bamberg version may contribute its share to alleviate the problem or conflict. Although the Synagoga still has bandaged eyes – which not necessarily need to cause blindness in a physical sense – and her wand still is broken. On the other side of the huge and elaborate portal with many other figures the Ecclesia however meanwhile has lost her hands. Probably long before 1936 when the original statues were removed inside the cathedral and were replaced by copies, the arms were hew off or they were to ponderous to endure modern times.

However, from a more traditional Jewish point of view which has no problem to admit some aspects of “blindfold-ness” in contemporary Judaism in Germany, it also is easy to see the hew of arms of the once hostile Christian church and to say that the bottom line is that we now are even. The blindfold Synagoga still has hands and just needs to remove the bandage from her eyes and to return to the teaching of Talmud and Tora. Ecclesia however, whose eyes by the way make an impression of blindness as a physical condition, since there seems to be a kind of veil which covers the pupils, to make things worse: has no more arms. Her maybe still unbroken wand is useless, since she may not hold it any longer, because it had disappeared, her former power is broken physically, more to say it has vanished (or sold), since she now is a crip who needs constant help to look for her own personal needs and outcome. Maybe her former rival unless not deaf meanwhile may help her, may help both.