Feminae: Medieval Women and Gender Index

  • Title: Vision of St Bernard
  • Creator:
  • Description:

    In this image, a monk and a nun kneel at the foot of the cross with the monk embracing Christ’s legs while the nun holds the cross. Christ hangs on the cross, head slumped, with vividly colored blood flowing from his wounds and down his body. Christ wears the crown of thorns and has a halo colored with blood. The monk, who kneels at the left of the picture, is tonsured (a shaving of the head representing a dedication to God) and wears the Cistercians’ white robes. He has a green halo behind his head and a jeweled crozier resting in the background, suggesting that he is both a saint and an abbot. The figure is likely intended to represent St Bernard of Clairvaux. A nun kneels on the left with her arms embracing the cross. The page is a single sheet intended for individual prayer and meditation. Hamburger identifies the artist as a woman working in the Rhineland, most likely a nun who may have made the expressive drawing for her own devotions.

    This image has been identified as the Vision of St. Bernard, also referred to as the amplexus (embracing), a variation on a popular devotional theme from the thirteenth century. In the original story from the late twelfth century, Herbert of Clairvaux writes that a monk stumbled across Abbot Bernard praying alone in the church at Clairvaux. As Bernard prayed, Christ on the cross appeared and leaned down to embrace him. This Vision of St. Bernard became a popular devotional theme in the later Middle Ages and was linked with the emerging cult of Christ’s wounds. It appears, for example, in the late 15th-century Antidotarius animae, in which Nicolaus Salicetus claims to reproduce the prayer that prompted Christ to embrace Bernard. The prayer includes devotions on each of Christ’s five wounds in turn, focusing particularly on the blood falling from the punctures:

         “Wounds of blood-red ruby droplets,
         Driven deep-set as in goblets:
         These inscribe upon my heartbeat,
         Make my joining to you replete—
         At every moment loving you.

         Whoso comes to you to drink deep
         And embraces these your pierced feet,
         Healed of want, departs from this source
         Granted grace of lasting recourse;
         With kisses wets your feet anew.” (trans. Sheryl Francis Chen)

    While the flow of blood is profuse, Bildhauer observes that the two worshipers are pristine, indicating a distinction between the bodily and the spiritual. The manuscript image of St. Bernard and a nun embracing a blood-soaked Christ should be understood as part of a devotional tradition that saw the wounds and suffering of Christ as a focus for deep and empathetic emotions ranging from sorrow to joy. Through prayer and meditation, believers moved along the path to salvation.

  • Source: Julian Picard's Portfolio:
  • Rights: Labeled for non-commercial reuse.
  • Subject (See Also): Bernard of Clairvaux, Theologian, Saint Blood, Image of Crosses and Crucifixes Devotional Objects Devotional Practices Monasticism Nuns Visions
  • Geographic Area: Germany
  • Century: 14
  • Date:
  • Related Work: The Crucified Christ embraces St. Bernard
    Devotional woodcuts by Michel of Ulm
    The Heart as a House, illustration by a nun artist, in Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-Preu ischer Kulturbesitz, Handschriftenabteilung 417
  • Current Location: Cologne, Museum Schnütgen, Inv. No. M 340
  • Original Location: Lower Rhine, Germany
  • Artistic Type (Category): Digital Images; Drawings;
  • Artistic Type (Material/Technique): Paper; Ink; Colored washes;
  • Donor:
  • Height/Width/Length(cm): 25.5/18/
  • Inscription:
  • Related Resources: Bildhauer, Bettina. Medieval Blood. University of Wales Press, 2006;
    Bynum, Caroline Walker. Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007;
    Chen, Sheryl Frances. “Bernard’s Prayer before the Crucifix that Embraced Him: Cistercians and Devotion to the Wounds of Christ,” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 29 (1994): 24-54;
    Cyrus, Cynthia J. The Scribes for Women's Convents in Late Medieval Germany. University of Toronto Press, 2009;
    Hamburger, Jeffrey F. Nuns as Artists: The Visual Culture of a Medieval Convent. University of California Press, 1997. Pages 1-5;