Last week I had a chance to visit The Cloisters museum in northern Manhattan.
The Cloisters—described by Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris, as "the crowning achievement of American museology"—is the branch of the Metropolitan Museum devoted to the art and architecture of medieval Europe. Located on four acres overlooking the Hudson River in northern Manhattan's Fort Tryon Park, the building incorporates elements from five medieval French cloisters—quadrangles enclosed by a roofed or vaulted passageway, or arcade—and from other monastic sites in southern France. Three of the cloisters reconstructed at the branch museum feature gardens planted according to horticultural information found in medieval treatises and poetry, garden documents and herbals, and medieval works of art, such as tapestries, stained-glass windows, and column capitals. Approximately five thousand works of art from medieval Europe, dating from about A.D. 800 with particular emphasis on the twelfth through fifteenth century, are exhibited in this unique and sympathetic context.
As a personal highlight, I encountered St. Jacobus Intercisus (or James who was torn to pieces) depicted on a silver-stained roundel as part of a stained-glass window from around 1520 A.D. in Southern Holland. This roundel depicts the martyrdom of St. Jacobus (d. 420 or 421 A.D.) with his hands and his feet cut off.
The collection at The Cloisters is complemented by more than six thousand objects exhibited in several galleries on the first floor of the Museum's main building on Fifth Avenue. A single curatorial department oversees medieval holdings at both locations. The collection at the main building displays a somewhat broader geographical and temporal range, while the focus at The Cloisters is on the Romanesque and Gothic periods. Renowned for its architectural sculpture, The Cloisters also rewards visitors with exquisite illuminated manuscripts, stained glass, metalwork, enamels, ivories, and tapestries. ( The Cloisters overview )
This saint is not so well-known in the Latin-rite of the Catholic Church. So, I decided to research his story given his martyrdom and the effort of others to record his heroic deeds in ecclesial art. I discovered that “intercisus” means “cut up”. St. Jacobus was a Persian tortured, dismembered into 28 pieces and decapitated for openly declaring his Christian faith and by refusing King Yazdegerd’s order to offer incense to “the god of the sun”. (Wow, and today many Christians prefer to “sleep in” on Sunday mornings! St. Jacobus’ martyrdom is a great witness to Our Lord Jesus Christ and to the Church!)
St. James was a Persian who lived in the fifth century. He was a great favorite of King Yezdigerd I. When this king began to persecute Christians, James did not have the courage to confess his faith. He was afraid of losing the king's friendship. So he gave up his faith or at least pretended to. James' wife and mother were broken-hearted. When the king died, they wrote a strong letter to him to change his ways. This letter had its effect on James. He had been a coward, but at heart, he was still good. Now he began to stay away from court. He blamed himself openly for having given up his faith.
St. Jacobus’ feast day in the Maronite Church (Eastern-rite Catholic) is November 27th.
The new king sent for him, but this time, James hid nothing. "I am a Christian," he said. The king accused him of being ungrateful for all the honors his father, King Yezdigerd, had given him. "And where is your father now?" St. James calmly answered. The angry king threatened to put the saint to a terrible death. James replied, "May I die the death of the just." The king and his council condemned James to torture and death. But his fears had gone. He said, "This death which appears so dreadful is very little for the purchase of eternal life." Then he told the executioners, "Begin your work." All the while, he kept declaring his faith that his body would one day rise in glory. ( St. Michael Center , Honolulu, HI)
Image: Martyrdom of St. Jacobus Intercisus ; One of Nine Silver Stained Roundels; Leiden, North Lowlands, ca. 1520; Glass with silver stain and vitreous paint The Cloisters Collection, 1991 (1991.291.2); (Creative Commons)