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Katherine Werwie: Visions Across the Gates: Materiality, Symbolism and Communication in the Historiated Wooden Doors of Medieval European Churches

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Katherine Werwie:  Visions Across the Gates: Materiality, Symbolism and Communication in the Historiated Wooden Doors of Medieval European Churches

Church doctrine compelled medieval viewers to equate the church door with the gate of heaven—the simple act of passing through could enact salvation. This significance marked the threshold as a potent site; one whose meaning was often articulated with complex cycles of imagery that have long attracted the attention of art historians. And yet, relatively little work has addressed the doors themselves. My dissertation examines the ten wooden doors carved with figural imagery that survive in Europe (from Iceland to France and Germany to Croatia) from the High Middle Ages. I seek to better understand the functions of these doors in their specific sites by examining the liturgy and rituals that incorporated them, their understudied plastic and mobile qualities, and the relationships between their materials and the natural and social environments around them. With recent advancements in our understanding of medieval materiality, I also identify the meanings that the organic medium of wood lent to the completed objects. By returning focus to the doors themselves, my dissertation reveals an essential component of the medieval church-going experience and furthers debates on the intertwined nature of craft, ritual, and the natural world.

 

[Caption: Detail of left door, (formerly) north conch, Convent of Santa Maria im Kapitol, Cologne, oak and walnut, 1042-1065 (photo: Werwie)]

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