'Shield of the Passion', in 'The Desert of Religion'
Medium: Ink and pigments on vellum
Allegory, or extensive use of symbolism in a moralising story, has a long tradition in Christian literature. 'The Desert of Religion', a poem in a northern English dialect, uses the symbol of a forest to expound the daily spiritual battle of virtue and vice. This copy has tinted half-page drawings of devotional figures with verses inscribed around them. Facing them, diagrams in the shape of trees bear the names of virtues and vices on their trunks and leaves, giving visual form to the poem's allegory. The book was made for a religious community, the location of which is now unknown.
With verses of 'The Desert of Religion' on the left, the right side of the page bears a picture of a nun praying in the 'desert'. She looks upward at an open scroll, inscribed, 'Arm me Jesus with your shield,' referring to the caption below, 'the shield of the passion.' Above her, an angel holds a red shield bearing a green cross around which are arranged the instruments of the passion (flail, sponge, spear, crown of thorns, nails, etc., used in Jesus' crucifixion). The instruments of the passion were revered relics and objects of intense devotion, images of them functioning as aids to spiritual experience. The nun's black cape, worn by Benedictine monks and nuns, suggests that the book was made for a Benedictine community.