Fulcher's Bestiary at the door of the holy sepulchre

Avital Heyman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The southern façade of the Holy Sepulchre was adorned until 1929 with two carved lintels, distinct in their iconographies (exhibited ever since in the Rockefeller Museum). Whereas the western Christological lintel represents the narrative of the last days of Jesus in Jerusalem (albeit in breach with the narrative sequence), the eastern peopled-scroll lintel is a non-narrative representation of a variety of beasts, birds, and naked male figures, some of whom are obscenely pointing to their genitalia. The puzzling iconography of this bestial world includes the conspicuous images of a bird-siren and a centaur. Rather overlooked by past scholarship, it would seem implausible that the most important holy site in Christendom and a meta-pilgrimage church would have been decorated with meaningless imagery. This paper contextualizes the eastern lintel within crusader concepts of history and mytholog y, biblical symbolism, liturg y and patronage. The eastern door gave way to the funerary chapel of the crusader kings, located beneath the Calvary Chapel. An examination of the funerary context reveals that sirens played part in such schemes, endowing the lintel with an apotropaic vitality. A remarkable chapter in the chronicle of Fulcher of Chartres, illustrating the curiosities of the Lands of the Saracens, is suggested as a major conceptual notion for the understanding of the non-narrative lintel, which actually stands within the Bestiary tradition. The lintel thus becomes a liminal site, where all polyvalent layers meet, meant to show the opposition of good and evil forces. This opposition is established by installing a historiated Christological lintel to the west, embodying a liturgical vision of the New Jerusalem recently established by the Franks and, to the east, an image of the conquered beasts of the Saracens, doomed to hell, signaling Latin victory, on the one hand, and promising an apotropaic protection for the departed, on the other. The patronage of Queen Melisende, in collaboration with the crusader Church, is then analyzed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-147
Number of pages49
JournalAd Limina
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Apotropaic imagery
  • Beasts
  • Bestiary
  • Calvary Chapel
  • Centaur
  • Center of the world
  • Chapel of Adam
  • Children of Israel
  • Christological lintel
  • Crusader Jerusalem
  • Crusaders
  • Franks
  • Fulcher of Chartres
  • Funerary context
  • Good and evil forces
  • Holy Sepulchre
  • Lands of the Saracens
  • Liminal imagery
  • Liturgy
  • Odyssey
  • Palm Sunday Procession
  • Peopled-scroll lintel
  • Pilgrimage culture
  • Queen Melisende
  • Romanesque sculpture
  • Santiago de Compostela
  • Siren
  • St.-Sernin of Toulouse

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy
  • Religious studies
  • History
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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