Ecclesia and Synagoga were the names given to the symbolic personification in medieval Christian art of Christianity's triumph over Judaism. This early type of anti-Jewish propaganda, which first appeared in the 11th century, was common decoration in the sculptures, paintings and stained-glass windows of churches and cathedrals, and in the decorations and bindings of Bibles and prayer books.

A pair of female statues decorated many Gothic cathedrals and churches (usually outside the building) in Europe, especially in France, England and Germany. Ecclesia, representing the victorious, triumphant Church, takes the form of a proud, erect maiden, crowned and holding the cross. Synagoga, symbolizing the defeated Synagogue, is blindfolded (symbolizing blindness to the truth of the New Testament) and dejected, and her characteristic appurtenances are a broken staff, [1] broken tablets of the Law (symbolizing the Old Testament), and a fallen crown.

The best known statues of this type are on the exterior of the cathedrals of Strasbourg and Bamberg. They are also found in Rheims, Paris and Bordeaux. In England, they figure (generally in mutilated condition) in churches in Rochester, Lincoln, Salisbury and Winchester.

Depicted to the right is the Synagoga statue which stood in front of the Liebrauen Church, Trier, Germany (built c.1250); it presently stands in the Bischoefliches Museum in Trier. Synagoga is blindfolded, holds a broken staff and overturned tablets, and her crown is fallen.

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These two figures on the left stand at the church of St. Severin, Bordeaux (erected 1264). While Ecclesia (left) stands erect and crowned, Synagoga (right) is blindfolded (a serpent covering her eyes), and the fallen crown lies at her feet.


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An example of Ecclesia and Synagoga's appearance in medieval manuscripts, may be found in the 13th-century missal illustration (below) from the abbey of St. Pierre, Ghent (now displayed at the Bylcke Museum, France). The haughty maiden representing the Church holds a standard and chalice in her hands. Synagoga, in contrast, is bent and distorted; her crown is falling off, and she holds the Tablets of the Law, a broken scepter, and the head of a goat, symbol of the devil.[2]


[1] based on OT, Corinthians 3:14 [back]
[2] Paradoxically, the representation of the blindfold synagogue was reflected even in Jewish manuscript art, as for example in the miniature of the blindfold Torah with her spouse, the People of Israel, in a 14th cent. manuscript prayer book from Hamburg. [back]

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