Marie’s maternity as seen on a Breton church tympanum.

A down-to-earth sculpture dating from the XVth century, above the church main  porch on the tympanum , shows Marie either lying down before delivering her baby or on the brink of giving birth to baby Jesus. That’s what we can imagine nowadays,  but, … in fact, and according to what I read about the sculpture of Marie ( in Louis Le Guennec‘s book “Le Finistère monumental”, tome II, Brest et sa région*), she was breast-feeding her baby and her breast was mutilated by a prudish priest who must have thought the scene was much too daring 🙂 Always the same story, I’m afraid! Doesn’t it ring a bell to you? 

In French, the sculptures of Marie shown on her birthing bed  are called “Vierges en Gésine”, meaning giving birth and Joseph is always nearby,  a bit helpless ;-), the donkey and the ox being represented there too ( they are part of  the storytelling relevant to people’s lives and to the  papal ‘s directives of the times ; -)   )

One mustn’t forget that our rich stone statuary on, in or outside (calvaries) our churches were stone books intended for the religious education of the mostly illiterate population in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. To be efficient, the sculptors had to interpret the gospels so that the viewers could identify themselves with what was represented. Most of the statues and sculptures are represented wearing clothes worn by people when they were carved,  undoubtedly to enhance the identification process.

Don’t be mistaken, those sculptures were not carved by naive peasants. The stone carving sculptors belonged to important workshops famous in the north of Europe from the Netherlands to our western shores in France.

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* ” le porche, du XVème siècle, est remarquable par le nombre et la finesse des statuettes qui ornent ses voussures. Dans le tympan on voit une belle représentation de la Nativité de Notre Seigneur qui, hélas, a été stupidement mutilée. La Vierge couchée devait autrefois allaiter le Saint Enfant Jésus. On se demande ce que pouvait avoir de choquant une telle représentation: toujours est-il, cédant à une pruderie inconcevable, un iconoclaste a fait couvrir la nudité de la Vierge, transformée aujourd’hui en momie égyptienne.”