March 26, 2007

The not-drowned Lady of Riga

The aprocryphal Protoevangelium of St. James (ca. 150AD) is one of the earliest -maybe the oldest- texts claiming the perpetual virginity of Mary. The Nativity taking place in a cave, which has survived until now, is also depicted there, among many other stories concerning the Holy Family. One of these stories, namely the Trial of the bitter water occurs there.

The Trial of the bitter water is based upon Numbers 5:11. The Torah prescribes a woman under suspicion of adultery to drink water bittered with pulver of the temple. If she were guilty, her thighs would rot and her womb swell; in case of innocence, she won't even notice the bitterness of the water.

According to the Protoevangelium of St. James Mary undergoes such a Trial to dismiss gossips and accusations. Mary is found obviously and miracously not guilty.

(The only plastic art work I know depicting this Trial is a fresco in Castelseprio, although it was a common theme among misteries, theater and to some extent literature pieces, for example the N-town Pageant series, a 15th century English manuscript.)

A variation of this trial emerged in the Middle Ages: the Trial by water. Women under witchery suspicion were trown to the water, because there was the belief that witches could float. If it occured the woman to float, then she was found guilty and executed. If she were innocent, she would very sadly die by drowning.

When the Hanseatic League waned, Riga became the aim of many religious aspirations. The Reformation succeed in 1522. Two years later, a popular and venerated statue of Mary was denounced as a witch, so she underwent the Trial of water. As the statue floated on the river Daugava, perhaps because it was made of wood, she was found guilty. So she was taken out and burned in Kubsberg.

Personally I would rather have prefered the statue sinking and me going to Riga, scuba-diving in the Daugava, and founding the already deteriorated statue. Unfortunately this is never going to happen. Despite this perhaps is Riga still worth a visit...


Anonymous said...

You know,Enrique,the biggest worth to visite Riga is to see,meet and to feel close live subject,flesh,circulation of blood,metathesis of warm...look of buoyant butterfly...only of this reason(for You) is worth to visite Riga...,but if you want to see wooden dolls or big,moraly empties(without people it is like that)boxes of bricks,than choose other direction!
So think,come and find me!

Marce said...

"obviously and miraculously" seems to hide an incongruency... oder?

Enrique G de la G said...

I would rather say, it is an oxymoron and an irony (at least it was so intended).