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Entry into Jerusalem

century branches christ donkey

All four Gospels describe *Christ’s arrival at Jerusalem on the Sunday before his *Crucifixion (which took place on the Friday of the same week). The Entry into Jerusalem can be seen as the first episode in the Passion of Christ and was celebrated liturgically with Palm Sunday processions from as early as the fourth century in the east. The earliest pictorial representations of the event also date from the fourth century, and the subject appears consistently in art throughout the medieval period. With some variation in details, the image traditionally shows Christ astride a donkey (or, in some Byzantine examples, riding side-saddle), accompanied by a varying number of disciples walking (normally behind him), being greeted by several figures, or a larger crowd, some of whom spread garments and palm branches on the ground before him signalling their recognition of him as *God’s anointed (or Messiah), as per the prophecy of *Zechariah. The Gospel of *Nicodemus describes children breaking olive branches from a tree and following the crowd; hence children, and other figures climbing trees to break branches and to observe, may be in- Page 79  cluded. The city or city gate of Jerusalem is frequently shown in schematic or more detailed form; understood also as the *Heavenly Jerusalem, it can be seen to symbolize Christ’s triumph over *death. With rare exceptions, the pictorial action progresses from left to right. The subject is found in ivory carving, manuscript illustration, on sarcophagi and architectural sculpture, and in fresco and panel painting. Life-size free-standing wood sculptures of Christ riding on a donkey (placed on boards with wheels) were drawn in processions from at least the tenth century; a number of examples survive from the later medieval period in the west.
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