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Heaven

angels god christian saints

A topic of much discussion among early Christian and medieval theologians, heaven has been defined and pictured in a variety of ways in medieval art and literature.


In the Genesis *Creation narratives, *God is described as creating the heavens and placing within them the sun, moon, and stars . Heaven is thus understood to be the visible sky, as well as the realms beyond it; it is sometimes seen as the dwelling place of God and *angels, whose edge humans may glimpse in dream visions (e.g., *Jacob’s Ladder) and from which God may emerge or descend . It is also the realm into which special individuals may be taken from earth at God’s will .


The concept of heaven as a place of reward for the righteous developed later; *Ezekiel’s visions of the *Heavenly Jerusalem, for example, and the *prophet *Daniel’s description of the *Resurrection of the Dead provided important foundations for the evolution of the Christian conception of heaven as the place of salvation promised to the just. Heaven thus becomes the polar opposite of *hell, the place of suffering and punishment for the wicked.


The structure of heaven and the process of entry into it were discussed copiously by early Christian and medieval authors (e.g., Saints *Augustine, *Thomas Aquinas) eager to correlate the description of the *Last Judgment at the end of timewith teachings such as Jesus’ parable of *Dives and Lazarus (in which judgment and heavenly rewards are implied as immediate upon *death). In 1336 Pope Benedict XII proclaimed that the rewards of heaven, as well as the states of hell and purgatory, were, in fact, obtainable upon death.


In art of the early Christian period, heaven may be symbolized in a variety of abbreviated forms. Such images as the * Agnus Dei standing on a hill from which flow the Four Rivers of Paradise, and *orant figures standing in landscapes with palm trees and *vines may be seen to represent heaven and salvation while more detailed depictions of heaven (with *Christ, or the *Madonna and Child enthroned, surrounded by *saints and angels) also appear in the early Christian period. Heaven may also be symbolized by the figure of *Abraham, holding *souls in a cloth upon his lap. Choirs of angels and rows or circles of saints surrounding God or Christ symbolize heaven in illustrations of *All Saints and the * Majestas Domini , and large-scale compositions detailing the pleasures and peaceful rewards of heaven feature prominently in Romanesque and Gothic depictions of the Last Judgment. While the wicked are tortured in hell, the blessed sit calmly and happily in the presence of God, angels, and saints, welcomed into heaven by Saint *Peter. The souls of martyrs and other holy figures are often shown carried up to the clouds of heaven by angels, and in scenes of the *Assumption and *Coronation of the Virgin, the heavenly setting may be indicated by angels, the figures of God, Christ, or the *Trinity. The apocalyptic battle between Saint *Michael and the dragon of evil may be shown taking place in the heavenly sky, as well as the   *Fall of the Rebel Angels who plummet out of heaven. Visions of heaven were described and illustrated also in the works of medieval mystics and fully detailed in texts such as *Dante’s Paradiso .

Heaviside, Oliver [next] [back] Heatley, Norman (George)

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