Adam and Eve in the Garden
Hildesheim, Cathedral of St. Mary
He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”
Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat?
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”
The cathedral of St. Mary in Hildesheim, Germany possesses some of the earliest examples of bronze doors in post-Roman Europe. The doors were commissioned by Bishop Bernward of Hildesheim in 1015. They stand at the beginning of the revival of European art following the trauma of the Viking disturbances of the later ninth and tenth centuries and which led on to Ghiberti’s great bronze doors for Florence Cathedral four hundred years later.
The doors show scenes from Genesis, from the creation of Adam to the murder of Abel by Cain, on the left panels and scenes from the life of Christ, from the Annunciation to the encounter between the Risen Jesus and Mary Magdalene, on the right panels. The most often reproduced of all the scenes is the immediate aftermath of the Fall. In the scene, God is questioning Adam about his disobedience. Adam, attempting to cover his nakedness with one hand, still manages to point to Eve in order to shift the blame. Eve, in her turn, shifts the blame to the somewhat dragon-like serpent at her feet. You can almost hear their voices saying “It’s not my fault!”
How great a comment did the Ottonian craftsman who designed the scene make on human nature! And how little does human nature change! Who among us has never tried to shift the blame to the one who caused our troubles, whether they be troubles of life or money or society. But, just as Eve and Adam were responsible for their own actions in eating the apple, so are we. Just as they did we use our free wills to follow that snakish voice that says to us “you will be like gods”. And when we are caught in our folly, we say “the serpent tricked me”. Original sin, anyone!
© M. Duffy, 2008