Benedictine Abbey of Saint-Gilles: Front facade--the frieze (page 3 of 4 pages on the frieze)

(Note please: these images are arranged on this page as they appear on the facade from left to right.)

Frieze (lintel) of the central portal depicting the Washing of Peter's feet and the Last Supper

Betrayals occupy both sides--on the left, Jesus' prediction of Peter's denial and on the right the kiss of Judas.

Prediction of Peter's denial

Here Jesus and Peter are seated with a rooster at Peter's feet. To the side are overlapping seated figures facing the central drama. Although these are interesting figures (in terms of their style--the wonderful folds and the anatomy revealed through the clothing), it is not clear (to me) what their function is in the narrative.

Washing Peter's feet

Described in John 13, this scene is part of the Last Supper when Jesus rose from the table and began to wash his disciples' feet. Peter, sitting on a very low stool, is undoubtedly protesting at Jesus' humbling himself--as the Gospel suggests. This Peter is less anatomically correct than the one of him around the corner.
O'Meara believes that the moment depicted here is when Jesus announces his imminent betrayal (since John is sleeping in the scene) not the more usual symbolic portrayal of the institution of the Eucharist (145). )See John 13: 21-26. Thus this event on the lintel relates very clearly to the scenes of betrayal that bracket it on each side--Jesus' prediction of Peter's betrayal on the left and Judas' kiss on the right. O'Meara also relates this theme of betrayal to heresies which had troubled southwestern France in this period.

The Last Supper

Left: Jesus is surely the figure in dead center and a disciple leans on him almost down to the table. This "should" be the beloved disciple John, but this bearded figure looks older than a young John. The figure next to the leaning figure points at himself. Is this Peter? Or Judas?

The Arrest of Christ

This nicely preserved relief depicts the crowded and dramatic scene of Jesus' arrest. Not only does Judas kiss Christ--to identify him to the soldiers, but at the left, Peter slices off the ear of the High Priest's servant Malchus.

The cutting off of Malchus' ear and the kiss of Judas


Rounding the corner: Three soldiers

These soldiers must complete the scene of the surrounding of Christ. One of the soldiers, behind the two front ones, is in shallower relief.

Go to page 4 of the frieze.

Works consulted or quoted:
Carra Ferguson O'Meara. The Iconography of the Facade of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard. New York: Garland, 1977.
Whitney S. Stoddard. The Facade of Saint-Gilles-du-Gard: Its Influence on French Sculpture. Middletown, Conn: Wesleyan UP, 1973.

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© 2007 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.