The Middle Ages
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Throughout the Middle Ages, but especially in the Gothic period (the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries), churches were decorated with numerous works of art, including stained glass windows, paintings, free-standing and architectural sculptures, altars, liturgical objects, choir stalls, textiles, and tapestries (like that from the Cathedral of Toledo in Spain over the staircase). The fragments displayed in this room are placed to approximate their likely location and use in a Gothic church.
Worshippers usually entered the building through a portal in the west façade, or through a smaller door on the north or south façade. The large central area where the congregation stood, sat, or knelt to hear mass is called the nave. It was often flanked by aisles with side chapels or altars dedicated to Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint. Here worshippers could pause for prayer addressed to Christ or a saint, before, after, or even during mass.
Coming upon this full-length figure wearing a crown of thorns, dressed in a loincloth and long cloak, with exposed wounds in his side, hands, and feet, the medieval viewer would immediately have recognized Christ as the Man of Sorrows. With its original paint and gilding, this figure must have been a moving depiction of the suffering Christ. Medieval Christians believed that Christ was fully divine and fully human. The faithful were encouraged to meditate on events in Christ's earthly life (especially his birth, passion, and death), and to appeal in prayer to the God who had known the trials of human existence.
Man of Sorrows (Imago Pietatis)
Workshop of Tilman van der Burch
Cologne/Lower Rhineland,
late 15th century
Rood screen and altars

Basin with Agnus Dei and Inscriptions Reliquary Bust of a Female Saint Crucifixus Dolorosus
Germany, 15th-16th century Cologne, c. 1350 Cologne, late 14th century
Brass Walnut Walnut and beech

The choir screen (rood screen) is suggested here by a hanging fabric drape. The choir screen (crafted of stone, wood, or metal) would have partially hidden from the congregants' view the priest (indicated here by his chasuble) as he celebrated mass at the high altar. During the Middle Ages the mass was conducted in Latin, a language familiar to most lay people through regular attendance at mass and the sacraments, though they did not speak it as they spoke a vernacular language like German. The priest said mass facing the altar, with his back to the congregation, as if leading a procession toward God. This position and the choir screen thus veiled many of the priest's gestures and muffled most of his words. The mass could nevertheless be a rich devotional experience for the lay congregation who listened, watched, walked up to the choir screen's central entrance to receive communion, milled around the nave and its side altars, and prayed privately to God, the Virgin, and saints.
The high altar
The objects shown here might have been found on the altar of a medieval church during mass or other liturgical celebrations. Only members of the clergy would have seen these objects at such a close distance, as they lit the candles, censed the altar with incense, read aloud from the scriptures, prepared and blessed the bread and wine at the consecration, and received the consecrated bread and wine as holy communion.
The next small room simulates a church treasury. The collecting of medieval objects began during the Middle Ages in church treasuries, where objects, like candlesticks, vestments, altar linens, reliquaries, liturgical vessels and portable altars gradually accumulated, and were usually displayed on shelves or in cabinets. Churches received valuable objects as gifts from persons wishing to gain divine or church favor. Churches also collected sacred relics, which may have been the remains of the bodies, clothing and possessions of the saints, or of Christ's cross or clothing, for use and display in their treasuries and on their altars.
A church might have received this candlestick (left) from the person or family whose coat of arms is enameled on its base. When such objects were donated as gifts to the church and, thereby, to God, they acquired additional meaning in their presumed ability to raise the status of the donor in the next world. The aesthetic qualities of even the most finely crafted objects were less important than their spiritual functions as a means by which to approach God.

As a medieval person lay sick or dying, a priest was called to administer the last rites: the final communion, called the viaticum because it was understood to be the food for the journey into death. The priest could have attached this cross-shaped container (right) to his belt through the bolts on the short ends and carried it to the bedside. The three smaller boxes inside held consecrated hosts and oil. There, the priest would hear the last confession, absolve the person of sins, administer the last communion, and anoint the body. He may have held this image of the Crucified Christ before the dying person to encourage him or her to meditate on the Redeemer.
Candlestick with Coats of Arms
Limoges, after 1250
Champlevé enamel and traces
of gilding on copper

Cross-shaped Vessel for Anointing the Sick
Northwest Germany (Westphalia?), c. 1400
Gilded copper
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