Sunday, November 2, 2014


Joshua stands before the people and says, "Choose." (Joshua 24:15). The jamb sculptures of the south portal of the Strasbourg (France) Cathedral make the same demand of the people they face. Choose: God...or not God. What is interesting at Strasbourg is that the jamb sculptures are not of Joshua and the people of Israel. Nor do the sculptures depict Yahweh or other gods of the region. The two options are, instead, embodied in the wise and foolish bridesmaids of the Gospel lesson of Proper 27A/Ordinary 32A/Pentecost +22 (Matthew 25:1-13).

Standing at either side of the south portal on the cathedral's west facade are representative bridesmaids: three wise and three foolish. The wise maids are at the right. Jesus stands closest to the door ("I am the door"), blessing the wise maids who hold their prepared lamps. He almost ushers them into the church building.
At the left (in Latin, left is sinister) are the foolish bridesmaids. Their lamps hang upside down or are dropped entirely. These three female figures are also accompanied by a male figure, who is certainly no Jesus. Standing regally, with handsome dress and face is the Prince of the World. He holds an apple (surely a reference to Genesis) and has already enticed the maid next to him to turn away from the church. She has dropped her lamp entirely and tilts her head flirtatiously. What she cannot see (but we can in this photo) is that while the Prince presents a beautiful face, his back is decomposing and crawling with snakes, lizards and frogs. Clearly this warning is unheeded by the foolish maids, but the sculpture is placed so those standing outside the church can see the truth of choosing "the world".

The requirement to "choose" is as clear on this church facade as it was for the people facing Joshua. Choose rightly, enter the church door, prepare for heaven and when bridegroom comes and the door is closed against latecomers, you'll be inside enjoying the party.

For Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg, see:

A similar arrangement of wise and foolish maids is found at St. Sebald's Kirche in Nuremburg, Germany. In this arrangement, sculptural figures of all ten maids are placed on either side of the door, For the Prince of the World (Furst der Welt) at St. Sebald, see:

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