The Annunciation

14th-15th century
Apse, Church of San Salvador, Villar das Donas, Spain

The apse in the Church of San Salvador in Villar das Donas, Galicia, Spain. The images of the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary are on either side of the central window.

Traditional Annunciations picture the moment of Incarnation, when the Son of God became human and "the Word was made flesh" (John 1:5). They signify the Incarnation by picturing a dove flying to Mary on a sunbeam from Heaven. But the San Salvador fresco departs from the tradition and presents a moment after the Incarnation. There is no dove, no sunbeam. Mary is already what the inscription proclaims her, mater dei, the Mother of God. Her left hand touches her swelling abdomen, where the Word now dwells, and her right hand points to sacred scripture, that other manifestation of the Word. She holds that hand in the traditional blessing configuration, in which the index and middle fingers pressed together signify the union of God and Man that has just occurred. Her crown, which does not appear in other Annunciations, speaks to her new dignity as God's mother.

In most other Annunciations the angel holds a sceptre that signifies the power of God, and in medieval ones he holds a scroll with his words of greeting. But in this fresco the sceptre is suppressed and the scroll is turned around so that we only get a glimpse of the writing on the other side. The angel has already said his Ave Maria and his assurance that "the power of the most High shall overshadow thee" (Luke 1:35) has already been fulfilled.

In most other ways the iconography is conventional. The pot with the flowers goes back to the earliest Annunciations. The book-stand and the architectural separation between the two figures go back to at least the 12th century. Except for being turned around, the scroll is also an old device.

The word above the angel's head is an oddly rendered Gabriel. The piled-brick design on the "floor" beneath him is repeated in other frescos throughout the apse.

Read more about the Annunciation.

Photographed at the church by Richard Stracke, shared under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.