A medieval riddle

Today, the people in the S-Bahn solve a Sudoku. Previously, the people imbibed the immense picture program of the Catholic Church.

Andrej Abplanalp

Andrej Abplanalp

Historian and communications chief of the Swiss National Museum.

In our time, people who want to improve their logic skills might do a Sudoku while commuting on the urban railway. In medieval times, people would spend their time decoding the immense iconographic programme of the Catholic Church, which included not only Biblical figures and saints, but also legendary creatures with no religious connotations. The creator of the “Enclosed Garden” that can be seen on a precious tapestry from the chapel of Ried in what is today the canton of Schwyz drew on the early Christian natural history treatise known as the “Physiologus”, which states that a unicorn can only be captured by a virgin. From a Christian viewpoint, the virgin is Mary and her touching the unicorn’s horn is an allusion to the immaculate conception.

Interpreting this scene correctly was tricky, but within the capabilities of medieval churchgoers. In contrast, they were less adept at understanding written letters and numbers.

“Hortus Conclusus” church tapestry, 1480, wool, silk, gold and silver thread, arrased.

The church tapestry is origin from the Kreuzkapelle in Lachen, Canton of Schwyz.

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