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Michelangelo - 1508 Sistine Chapel - 10 The Four Pendentives 3

Identifier

024453

Type of spiritual experience

Background

In each corner of the chapel is a triangular pendentive filling the space between the walls and the arch of the vault and forming the spandrel above the windows nearest the corners. On these curving shapes Michelangelo has painted four scenes from Biblical stories that are associated with the 'salvation of Israel' by four great male and female heroes of the Jews: Moses, Esther, David and Judith.

  • The Brazen Serpent
  • The Punishment of Haman
  • David and Goliath
  • Judith and Holofernes

One can read these scenes as literal stories of course, but none of these symbolically is what it seems.

All represent key methods or approaches that propel one along the spiritual path.  Challenges that one faces and which have to be overcome in order to proceed and progress spiritually.

A description of the experience

Judith and Holofernes

The Book of Judith is a deuterocanonical book, included in the Septuagint and the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Christian Old Testament of the Bible, but excluded from Jewish texts and assigned by Protestants to the Apocrypha. The name Judith (Hebrew: יְהוּדִית, Modern Yehudit, Tiberian Yəhûḏîṯ; "Praised" or "Jewess") is the feminine form of Judah.

The entire book is a form of allegory and the allegory of Judith and Holofernes is the symbol of beheading.

In order to obtain spiritual experience,  there is the need to minimise any threats, opportunities, obligations and desires

One of the major sources of all of these is the body itself. Via the nervous system and the autonomic system sensations are constantly being received that simply serve to distract.  They stimulate the Will into action and once it is racing along being fired up by the huge meal we have just eaten or the vague stirrings of a relaxed willy, the urgent callings of a full bladder and the petulant messages from sore feet, not only are we unlikely to get any form of spiritual experience at all, but we are very unlikely to ever be able to replace the personality with the Higher spirit [if that is our goal].

If, however, you have managed to master the art of subduing all the sensations that are coming from the body so that they no longer bother you, you have symbolically been ‘beheaded’ – managed to divorce yourself from your body.

So the symbol incorporates quite a large number of possible activities - dietary moderation, healing yourself of ills, sensory deprivation, and temporarily cutting out sex.

The source of the experience

Michelangelo

Concepts and Symbols used in the text or image

Activities