Major French cathedrals have rows of sculptured kings. At Notre Dame de Paris, they stand above the main doors, at Amiens at the halfway point, and at Rheims at the top. At Rockefeller, their equivalents are at the top, but instead of standing in a horizontal line, they follow the line of the gable, integrated into the the structure of the building. Intended to represent a parade of religious figures across time and place, they range historically from Abraham to the time of the Reformation, with Plato and Zoroaster representing traditions outside of the Jewish and Christian traditions which dominate the choice of figures.
This March of Religion comprises, from west to east, Abraham, Moses, Elijah (founder of the prophetic order), Isaiah (greatest of the literary prophets), Zoroaster, Plato, John the Baptist, Christ, Peter, Paul, Athanasius, Augustine, Francis, Martin Luther, and John Calvin.
Flanking the summits of the side buttresses nearest the south face are idealized figures representing statesman and scientist, artist and philosopher. Flanking the summits of the two buttresses that enclose the window are figures of the New Testament evangelists, each with his emblem: Matthew with an angel, Mark with a lion, Luke with an ox, and John with an eagle. These symbols go back to the four living creatures mentioned in the book of Ezekiel, and were applied to the evangelist by Irenaeus in the second century after Christ.
At the spring of the south window arch are female figures symbolizing music and devotion. Cecilia, patron saint of music, holds a musical instrument. Monica, known best as the mother of Augustine who has much to say about her in his Confessions, here represents devotion.
The three pairs of figures below Monica and Cecilia are (at the bottom) the apostles James and John; the prophets Amos and Hosea; and the martyrs John Huss and William Tyndale.
Continuing downward, across the parapet above the front doors, eight kneeling angels bear the arms of nine privately founded American universities (from left to right): Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, Chicago, Johns Hopkins, Stanford, Northwestern, and Cornell, with winged dragons to the left and right.
Winged figures at the spring of the doorway arch represent the angels Gabriel and Raphael, with the archangel Michael at the center.
August 7th, 2012
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