Publican in Notre-Dame

I wrote before of the high reliefs on the back of the choir stalls in Notre-Dame de Paris, a set of reliefs that together depicts the life of Christ. Today, as I noticed, the way in which the choir stall reliefs depict Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (i.e. Palm Sunday) corroborates a reading that my college friend Jasmin Borja gives of a page of the St Albans Psalter, in her unpublished mini-thesis, of a man in a tree in that scene being Zacchæus.

Unfortunately, I can find no pictures of these choir stalls that show enough detail, but I can decribe the scene briefly. There are three people in the centre: Jesus, facing right, mounted on an ass; a man in the tree to Jesus’ right; and a man at the foot of the tree laying down an article of clothing upon the road before the ass. In the St Albans Psalter’s version of this scene, Jasmin identifies the man in the tree as Zacchæus; in the version in the Notre-Dame choir stalls, Jesus makes a speaking gesture with his left hand, which seems to be directed toward the man in the tree. The only such man mentioned in the Bible, a man in a tree to whom Jesus speaks, is indeed Zacchæus.

Furthermore, this scene in the choir stalls is flanked by a Cana miracle to the left and Last Supper to the right, both of whose depictions put battlements under the feet of the feasters (obviously intended to link those two scenes and perhaps also the one intervening scene). If this does anything to the interpretation of the Triumphal Entry scene, the effect is perhaps twofold: to suggest further that Zacchæus is the man in the tree (via the common thread of eating) and to put the viewer in the place of Zacchæus with respect to Jesus’ call:

And when Jesus reached the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchæus! Hurry down, for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and received him joyfully. And when the people saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’ And Zacchæus stood and said to the Lord, ‘Behold, Lord, half of my goods I am giving to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I am restoring it fourfold.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation is come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham: for the Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost.’

Since this piece of evidence is something Jasmin has surely never seen before, it independently supports her reading.


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