The Living Cross in Lindar

"The Living Cross at Lindar“, Branko Fučić: Danica-6, pg. 81-86, 1951. (extract)

Among numerous medieval monuments of wall painting in Istria, an almost unknown work on the wall of the chapel of St. Catherine at Lindar draws special attention to itself. By both its painting characteristics and its content, it is unique in the heritage of our cultural and artistic history.
Although the central figure in the painting represents the crucified Jesus Christ, it does not depict the Crucifixion the way we usually see it in paintings in our churches. Here at Lindar, the Crucifixion is not presented as a historical event on Mount Calvary, where at the moment of Christ’s death you can see the Virgin, St. John, women, Jews and soldiers beneath the cross. The essential idea behind the Lindar painting is the contemplation of the redemptive sacrifice of JesusChrist. This central thought, which emerges from the Calvary cross, develops and performs a whole set of inter-related religious truths, Christian teachings, pious considerations, theological ingenuities and comparisons, all of which art presented in a figurative manner. The painting therefore, does not depict the historical moment of Crucifixion, but gives the event a figurative explanation. All that was, in the Middle Ages, believed, taught, contemplated, and cogitated, in relation to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, as the most important event in the History of Salvation, is retained in this painting. The thing that matters here is the idea. It underlies everything that can be seen in the painting: each character, exactly every single thing here functions as a sign, as a symbol of the idea.
The horizontal serpentine line, which marks the clouds, divides the painting into heaven and earth (1). Here, the painter wanted to demonstrate, at the same time and by comparison, what was going on in heaven and what was happening on earth. The actors of church plays performing at the stages of that period, used to present, at two levels and at the same time, the events on earth and in heaven in exactly the same way.

Let’s have a look at the way the sky is presented (2)! The bastion of the ‘’heavenly Jerusalem’’ town wall is depicted like side scenery flats, which allegorically had the function of representing Paradise. Over the walls you can see tree tops with branches bearing golden fruits: this is the way the painter’s imagination rendered itself the splendour and ease of the eternal kingdom of the blessed. There is probably a comparison hidden within these trees of the heavenly Paradise, pointing at the paradise on earth and the forbidden fruit.

The painting also depicts two angles: with crossed arms they observe how God-The Father (3), leaning over the walls of the heavenly Jerusalem, looks down on earth and with an outstretched right arm gives his blessing and accepts the atoning sacrifice on the cross.

While down, on earth, - as if it was on the lower level of the stage, - stands the cross. The crucified Christ hangs on it (4), death, his eyes closed, his head bowed: the act of Redemption has been completed.

The huge arms of the cross spread in all four directions, like an armature holding and connecting individual characters, which the painter positioned across the flatness of the painting. All the four arms of the cross turn into hands at their edges, and each hand – as if it were alive – performs something. This is the reason why such representation is called ‘’The Living Cross’’. 
Thus, the hand from the lower cross arm smashes the door of limbo using a hammer (5), while the upper cross arm opens the door of the heavenly Jerusalem using a big key(6).
By deploying such a simple and naive style, the painter wanted to express the idea that Christ, through his death on the cross, reconciled mankind to God, led out the souls of the righteous of the Old Testament, which had been waiting in limbo, and opened up Paradise.

The painter conceived Limbo (7) as a round turret. In the painting, it is presented like a barrel lacking the upper lid. The souls in it are those tiny naked human creatures, which are guarded by devils. One hairy devil uses an arrow and a bow, shooting at an arm which smashes a door.

At the same time, the hand from the left cross arm (which is right from the viewer’s perspective) stabs a woman, who is riding a donkey, in the head with a sword (8), while the right cross arm (left for the viewer) gives a blessing to another woman, who is crowned (9). The message that wanted to be conveyed by this is the one that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross marked the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament. The Old Testament is represented by a Synagogue, and the New Testament by a church. The painter depicts both of them as women.

The Synagogue (8) has her eyes tied: it stands for Judaism, which had been blind in the spiritual point of view, and blind it remained. It did not recognize the promised Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, stubbornly resisting, just like a stubborn donkey, which is ridden by the Synagogue, Judaism rejected Christ’s teachings.

The Synagogue holds a spear, which has a flag with a scorpion painted on it, in one hand, and a young goat in the other. Everything on this representation has a figurative, allegorical meaning, and so have the characters of scorpion and goat. The scorpion represents darkness and vices (here referring to the Synagogue of the scribes and Pharisees), while the goat represents the blood sacrifices in the Old Testament. The hand from the cross kills the Synagogue, which is abandoned, since any reason for its survival has been lost. Its real life has ended. A new life for the Christian church, which is the church for all nations and times, begins. Crowned — as ‘’the Bride of Christ’’— and saint (it has an aureole, a holy radiance around the head) — it is blessed by the hand from the cross (9).  
The church is being carried by four apocalyptical animals, which symbolize the Four Evangelists (10). There is the lion of St. Mark, the bull of St. Luke, the angel of St. Matthew and the eagle of St. John. The church kneels on their backs, which means that the Gospels are its foundations. The church points towards the crucified Christ, kneeling down on the Evangelists’ backs and holing a cross instead of a spear in the other hand. The cross has a flag on it, again with the sign of a cross. Here as well, the idea is obvious: it is the Church, which always directs to Christ and shows the road to Salvation.

While the painter puts the sign of the scorpion on the flag of the Synagogue, he paints the sign of the cross, which is the Christian symbol of victory, on the flag of the Church.

This is the content of ‘’the Living Cross’’, which is a collection of the main themes of this old medieval speculative representation. Yet, the Lindar painting has a couple of other characters around the cross. All of these are related to Crucifixion and have their own meaning. The painters would often, whilst depicting the Crucifixion, put the images of angel and devil above the cross, the angel on the right (the viewer’s left (11)), and the devil on the left hand side of the cross (the viewer’s right (12)). When painters depict Calvary, where Christ is crucified among two bandits, then the angel comes to take the soul of the good bandit, who gets salvation through Christ’s promise, and the devil takes away the soul of the impenitent one. However, even on depictions without bandits – such as this one at Lindar is - both characters appear.

The angel in the Lindar painting carries a fortress in his hands, while the devil blows his two trumpets towards Christ. The meaning of these characters must have inspired the medieval piety, who, through the character of the devil, wanted to express the resistance and struggle of Hell against Redemption. Therefore, the devil’s hooting would mean harassment, while the angel and the unconquerable fortress in his hand represent the heavenly comfort and strength. By representing the devil as a four-legged, tailed, and winged animal, the painter’s imagination has absolutely amazingly impersonalized all the hideosity in this barbed monster. In order for the nastiness to be even greater, the painter depicted – exactly according to the medieval concept - flatus expelled from beneath the devil’s lifted goat tail!

The character of St. Catherine (13), on the left border of the painting, does not belong to the concept of ‘’the Living Cross’’ at all. It was painted additionally, definitely after the people of Lindar, who had commissioned the painting, expressed the desire to have it included. The reason for this is the chapel dedicated to this saint. But, — although it was an addition to the already defined, complete theme: — the painter implemented it into the composition of the other characters just perfectly. Here, all the characters are positioned around the cross in a symmetrical, correct way, so that each character on one side has a corresponding character on the other side. If we compared this arrangement (composition) to scales, with Christ being their central figure, such scales would be perfectly balanced. The aim of this symmetry is not only about the compositional balance and strength, it also contains part of an expression, the general medieval way of reasoning and a set of concepts. Symmetrically, each concept has its counter-concept. Neither the arrangement of the characters around the cross is arbitrary: anything representing the concept of goodness is placed on the right side of the cross, while anything representing evil is placed on its left hand side. The painting has white unfolded scrolls, which bore inscriptions, visible on three spots near the cross. Eventually, these inscriptions have worn out and faded to such extent that today they are barely and only partially legible. They were written in Glagolitic script, the national script of ours, which was at the time used by the Slavic clergy. Hence, the scroll above the limbo bears in Glagolitic script the period when the painting was depicted. It says: year 1409. (14)


Branko Fučić

Ana Androšić, Lindar br. 3, tel. 052 640 006

Grad Pazin Općina Cerovlje Općina Gračišće Općina Karojba Općina Lupoglav Općina Pićan Općina Sveti Lovreč Općina Sveti Petar u Šumi Općina Tinjan

Copyright Central Istria 2022. Privacy and data protection