Priory of Saint-Pierre

Priory of Saint-Pierre

Date ca. 1115-30 (cloisters ca. 1100)

Movement Mature Romanesque

Located at Moissac, France


The practice of creating religious symbolism was hotly debated during this time, with proponents arguing its importance in helping to communicate themes to the illiterate; the portal here certainly fulfills this purpose. Here in the tympanum of the south portal of the Moissac Abbey, Christ in Majesty dominates the tympanum and is surrounded by two angels, four beasts and twenty-four elders—their abstract, fervent expressions are borrowed from those seen in the Utrecht Psalter. The jambs are scalloped—a Muslim practice; perhaps this was a way of paying homage to Muslim architects, or a way of showing domination over that religion.


The form of the trumeau prophet is a perfect example of Romanesque architectural figures— elongated and elegant, fitting just perfectly into his or her space (or, his or her compartment shaped just to fit the figure it houses). Three pairs of snarling, zig-zagged lions comprise the face of the trumeau; certainly their influence is Near Eastern, though the use here, instead of protecting those within, is to remind visitors of their mortal fate.


As in the doors of Bishop Bernward at the Hildesheim Cathedral, the portal flanks here are didactic, counterbalancing each other in theme. The Annunciation, The Visitation, and the Adoration of the Magi fill the arcade, while scenes from Christ’s early life fill the frieze above; in the opposite flank, the personification of the vice of lust is depicted, and her sinfulness is counterbalanced in the salvation that Mary brings, opposite. The counterposing of figures can be seen in the trumeau lions, and even here—note especially the symmetrical forms of Mary and her cousin, Elizabeth, in the lower right panel.


Sculpted capitals of the cloister’s arcade at Saint- Pierre depict biblical tales, foliage, birds, animals and creatures–a common theme in Romanesque architectural sculpture.