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The TETRAMORPHS - - -
fatherwatson
We were all (well, me anyway) talking about "tetramorphs" a couple of weeks ago in our Study Hour after Mass.   All my life I have loved logos, visual symbols, coats-of-arms (heraldry), mascots, trade-marks, and graphic insignia of every kind.  I resonate on/at  deep personal aesthetic level to the idea of each of the Four Blessed Evangelists having their own artistic symbol-- especially since the symbols are actual "things" and not just pretty, intricate, and geometric "shapes."

The highest acclaim accorded to the Word of God is bestowed upon our Lord's own Gospels as written by the Evangelists: Sts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.   One might say that since their individual testimonies (as inspired and made infallible by God the Holy Ghost) come straight from Christ-- His Person and Work, i.e. from His cruciform salvific atonement, it is very fitting that they are many times found appearing in the four quadrants of His Cross or Crucifix.



But even better than having four "pictures" of books emanating from a cross, how much more vivid to have "living things" proceeding from HE Who is Life Himself!

In approaching the designation of particular animals or other symbols to individual saints, it must be remembered that the background of such a choice is verbal rather than pictorial.  The "beasts" which appear in Ezekiel and the Revelation of Saint John originated as word-pictures rather than as two-dimensional drawings.

Specific attention will be afforded each of the individual Evangelists in succeeding posts (in the days and weeks to come), but for today I would like to just give you a visual treat of some very nice pictures of the tetramorphs.   The word itself, "tetra-morph" means four shape(s).  A brief synopsis (with a couple of nice photos) can also be found at wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tetramorph


Here is the modern representation which I shared with my class:
 


The Eagle (upper left) represents Saint John, the Ox (upper right) stands for Saint Luke.  The Lion in the lower right is the symbol for Saint Mark, while the Man (usually the "winged man" or angel; in fact all of the tetramorphs are usually portrayed with wings) is the icon for Saint Matthew.




Above are some clip-art discs of the Four Gospel writers.




The Eastern Orthodox Chuch has also many "icons" utilizing the exact same animals as our Church of the West.  Above are color reproductions.  It is, sadly, difficult to see clearly the animals above each of the respective Evangelists (here, left to right: John, Matthew, Mark and Luke)



Another more modern view (above)


The image directly below is arranged in the angles formed by the arms of the cross.  From the base of the sumptuous reliquary known as the "Cais de las Agatas," on acount of its agate decoration, which was given to Oviedo Cathedral by Fruela II and his Queen Nunilo in 910 A.D.



This next one (below) is a public-domain reproduction after the drawing in the ninth-century Book of Armagh in Trinity College, Dublin.  The Celtic imagination has produced exceptionally powerful images of the Living Creatures in Gospel manuscripts, combining characteristic  linear vitality with solemnity and grandeur equal to the verbal descriptions in Saint John's Revelation.



Next (below) we have the symbols of the Four Evangelists from a low-relief Lombard carving in cream marble, now part of the eight-sided baptismal font of Callistus in the Baptistery at Cividale.  According to the inscription it was a gift from the patriarch Sigvald in the eighth century.  The panel is simply carved with little modeling but a strong sense of pattern.  The Four are represented as half-figures derived from hippocampi, winged and without haloes, grasping their Gospel books with miniscule arms.  Formal trees and pillars flank the cross while below, other symbolical beasts confront the Tree of Life.



And lastly, for now, (below) is a picture of Christ in His Glory surrounded by His beloved Gospel Writers.  This is from the carving at the head of a grand seventh-century tomb at Jouarre.  This grave is reputed to be that of Agilbert, a distinguished Frankish ecclesiastic who became a Bishop of England before returning to his native France.  The design of this panel has unusual features as the four tetramorphs face outwards from the beardless Christ in a wreathed mandorla, flanked by long-stemmed starry flowers.



We are truly a people of FIVE senses, and the Lord has blessed His people with the gifts of many visual arts as well as those salutary auditory ones. 
But for me, personally, I just think the Four Creature-symbols for the Evangelists are striking, memorable, and very cool.  (cool, not being a confessional or liturgical denominator however  :)   )

Deo Vindice,
Father Watson SSP


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