‘Look now on the face that most resembles Christ,
for nothing but its brightness
can make you fit to look on Christ.’
St. Bernard describes the order of the Rose, and points out many of the Saints.—The children in Paradise.—The angelic festival.—The patricians of the Court of Heaven.
Saint Bernard, who is now guiding Dante through the Empyrean instead of Beatrice, explains the structure of the White Rose and the heavenly ranks. The highest seat is taken by the Virgin Mary, then Eve sitting at her feet, then Rachel and Beatrice in the third rank, then Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, Ruth and many other women from the Old Testament. They make up the vertical radius of the Celestial amphitheatre.
On the left, where all the seats are already taken, are those who believed in Christ before he came, whilst on the right, where some seats are still empty, sit those who believed in Christ after he came. Higher up sits Saint John the Baptist. Below him appear Saint Francis, Saint Benedict and Saint Augustine, theologians and founders of religious orders. Both sides of the Empyrean will be occupied by the same number of blessed souls, as the same number of seats has been reserved for the chosen ones of the Old and New Testament.
The White Rose is divided horizontally as well. The top half contains the souls of those who saved themselves through their actions, whereas in the bottom half sit the souls of the children who died before reaching the age of reason. In the early days, children reached salvation thanks to either their parents’ faith – from Adam to Abraham – or circumcision – from Abraham to Christ. After Christ, though, christening became a requirement without which children would be sent to reside in the Limbo. Saint Bernard then asks Dante to look upon Mary, who appears surrounded by angels. Meanwhile, Archangel Gabriel repeats, warbling, the words of the Annunciation: “Ave Maria, gratia plena”. The Saint then resumes his presentation of the blessed souls of the Empyrean, showing his disciple the chosen ones who are nearest to the Virgin. At the end, he states that they must invoke the Virgin’s help before turning their eyes towards God.
In this Canto St. Bernard shows Mary’s Face to Dante, highlighting her likeness to her Son. This part of the Comedy honours Christ’s Mother and will reach its peak with the famous Oration to the Virgin at the beginning of Canto XXXIII. Dante was inspired by the three splendid images of the Virgin Mary in Ravenna: the bas-relief of Santa Maria in Porto (the Greek Madonna, the protector of the city), the Mosaic Madonna which was housed in the apse of the Metropolitan Basilica – the Ursian Basilica – which is now preserved in the Archiepiscopal Museum and the Madonna placed in the apse of Santa Maria Maggiore, which has since disappeared. The latter was similar to that in the Archiepiscopal Museum, but probably bigger. Popular devotion to Our Lady of Tumours is practised in this Church.
Traduzione a cura della classe 5aC A.S.20/21 del Liceo Scientifico A. Oriani di Ravenna
Canto adopted by Avv. Daniela Zattoni
For further information on Santa Maria Maggiore