Ecclesia and Synagoga
A Medieval Artistic Vision Updated for the 21st Century
In medieval art and architecture, Ecclesia and Synagoga were the symbolic representations of the Christian and Jewish faiths, portrayed by two female figures. Ecclesia, representing the Christian church, was proud and triumphant, with crowned head held high and bearing the cross. By contrast, Synagoga, representing Judaism, was shown downcast and forlorn in her defeat, bearing broken tablets and blindfolded -- illustrating her blindness to the "truth" of the New Testament. Many European cathedrals bear the statues of Ecclesia and Synagoga, and they are depicted in stained glass as well.
Mary C. Boys, author of Has God Only One Blessing? Judaism as a Source of Christian Self-Understanding (Paulist Press/Stimulus Books, 2000), found this representation troubling. She commissioned a new artwork to accompany her book. The new Ecclesia and Synagoga also appears on the cover of Friends on the Way: Jesuits Encounter Contemporary Judiaism, edited by Thomas Michel, S.J. (Fordham University Press, 2007). This interpretation by sculptor Paula Mary Turnbull, S.N.J.M., offers "a new depiction of Ecclesia and Synagoga, where both stand tall as representations of their faith communities."
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Originally published as an online web extra for The Grinnell Magazine, Spring 2008