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Mass of St Gregory the Great, The

  • Object:

    Roundel

  • Place of origin:

    Amsterdam (possibly, made)
    Leiden (possibly, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1520 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Stained glass with painted details

  • Museum number:

    1015-1905

  • Gallery location:

    Sacred Silver & Stained Glass, Room 83, The Whiteley Galleries, case S2

The Mass of St Gregory the Great roundel illustrates a legend that arose in the late Middle Ages concerning the Real Presence in the bread and wine consecrated at the Mass. According to this, two pagans questioned whether the bread and wine actually become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at the consecration. St Gregory, when celebrating Mass at the altar, prayed to God to help these pagans. God granted him a vision of the Resurrected Christ displaying his wounds. The blood from Christ’s side poured into the chalice and the bread, the Host, was infused with his body. The on-looking pagans were converted to the Christian faith by these signs.

St Gregory the Great was pope between 590 and 604 and was instrumental in devising the liturgy of the Mass. The earliest known reference to these miraculous legends dates to about the middle of the 13th century.

By the end of the Middle Ages, a strong devotion had arisen associated with the wounds that Christ incurred during his Crucifixion. These were the marks of the nails left in his hands and feet, and the wound in his side, caused when a Roman soldier stuck in a spear to see if he was still alive.

In this roundel, Christ is surrounded by the Instruments of the Passion (events leading to his death). These include the Crown of Thorns, the spear, the column to which he was tied and the whips used to scourge him. This type of imagery is known as the 'Image of Pity' or 'The Man of Sorrows'. It was meant to create an emotional response in the viewer to the sufferings of Christ.

Physical description

Pope Gregory, his head tonsured, appears in the centre holding a chalice over an altar. Behind the altar Christ is seen emerging from his tomb and directing the flow of blood from the wound in his side into the chalice. Two assistants in clerical dress appear to the left and right of Gregory, one is holding a long candle. Two men in the right background appear to be discussing what has just occured. In the centre background above there is a fenestration composed of diamond-shaped quarries.
The Instruments of the Passion are seen: the Cross, the spear, the column he was tied to, the scourges, the Crown of Thorns.
The whole executed in black/brown pigment and silver stain.

Place of Origin

Amsterdam (possibly, made)
Leiden (possibly, made)

Date

ca. 1520 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Stained glass with painted details

Dimensions

Diameter: 23.2 cm sight, Height: 26.0 cm framed, Width: 25.8 cm framed, Depth: 3.2 cm framed, Weight: 1.18 kg framed

Object history note

H. G. Wayment considered this roundel to be from the workshop of Jacob Cornelisz van Oostsanen. However, as described in the Luminous Image catalogue, the style appears to be more related to Leiden than to Amsterdam and details, such as the facial features, ears, drapery patterns reflect a familiarity with Lucas van Leyden's engravings of the 1520s.

Historical context note

The Doctrine of Transubstantiation was defined as an article of dogma at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). This is not when it first appears but, rather, a long tradition of belief in the real presence in the Mass was defined at this time.

Pope Gregory the Great, amongst other early Church leaders, insisted that the Mass in its essential nature must be that which Christ Himself characterized as a "commemoration" of Him (Luke 22:19). He was instrumental in creating the form of the Mass as practised in the Catholic Church today.

In the middle of the 13th century, a Dominican monk, Jacobus de Voragine (later archbishop of Genoa), compiled a manuscript of stories currently in vogue on the lives of the saints of the Church. The proclamations of the Fourth Lateran Council, especially that of transubstantiation, quickly found their way into the popular imagination and into contemporary literature.

Jacobus records in his chapter on St Gregory:
A certain woman used to bring altar breads [that she had made] to Gregory...one Sunday, when the time came for receiving communion and he held out the Body of the Lord to her, saying 'May the Body of Our Lord...' she laughed...he asked her why...'Because you called this bread, which I made with my own hands, the Body of the Lord'. Then Gregory, faced with the woman's lack of belief, prostrated himself in prayer, and when he rose, he found the particle of bread changed into flesh in the shape of a finger. Seeing this, the woman recovered her faith.

By the early 15th century, another legend appears or it could be a modification of the one recorded by Jacobus, of a Roman matron who doubted the real presence. In this story, the wine in the chalice changes to the blood of Christ.

Another late legend relates that Gregory the Great was once saying mass in the church of Santa Croce in Gerusaleme in Rome when some pagans entered the building and began mocking the ceremony. Praying for a sign to show the unbelievers that the mass was a divinely instituted service, a vision of the Crucified Christ appeared above the altar, surrounded by the instruments of his Passion.

Images of the Mass of St. Gregory the Great do not seem to depict a clear or specific narrative, serving instead as a general representation of a miraculous event meant to confirm the doctrine of transubstantiation, that Christ truly is present in the bread and wine of the mass.

Descriptive line

Stained and painted glass roundel depicting the Mass of St Gregory. Made in the Netherlands, c.1520.

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Williamson, Paul. Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in the Victoria and Albert Museum. London, 2003. ISBN 1851774041
A.E. Popham, "Notes on Flemish Domestic Glass Painting," Apollo, IX (1929)
Timothy Husband, The Luminous Image: Painted Glass Roundels in the Lowlands, 1480-1560, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995
Hilary Wayment, "The Master of the Mass of Saint Gregory Roundel", Oud Holland Jaargang, vol.103 (1989)
Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend. Readings on the Saints, trans. by William Granger Ryan, Princeton University Press, 1993
James Clifton, The Body of Christ in the Art of Europe and New Spain 1150-1800, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 1997
Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars. Traditional Religion in England 1400-1580, Yale UP, 1992

Labels and date

The Mass of St Gregory
Christ appears to Gregory in a vision as the Man of Sorrows. He is surrounded
by the Instruments of the Passion and blood spurts from the wound in his side into the chalice below. This legend was believed to confirm the doctrine of transubstantiation, that during the Mass wine is transformed into the blood of Christ.

Amsterdam or Leiden, the Netherlands, about 1520
Clear glass, with paint and silver stain
Museum no.1015-1905 [(PW) 2004]

Production Note

Painted by the same hand as 5634-1859

Materials

Glass

Techniques

Painting; Silver staining

Subjects depicted

Spear; Column; Monk; Cross; Altar; Crown of Thorns; Church; Transubstantiation; Chalice

Categories

Stained Glass; Christianity; Religion

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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