St. Bernard and the Duke of Aquitaine
17th century, before 1643
Oil on panel 137.8 x 98.4 in. (350 x 250 cm.)
Musée des Beaux-Arts, Valenciennes, France
The episode is recounted in the Golden Legend. Bernard was sent to Aquitaine to reconcile the Duke with the Church. Another vita identifies the Duke as William of Aquitaine and says he was a "schismatic" (Acta Sanctorum, August vol. 4, 286-89). This would most likely be William IX of Aquitaine, who ruled from 1086-1127 and was often at odds with the Church, rather than his less controversial son William X (1127-37). Bernard and the Bishop of Soissons negotiated with the Duke at Parthenay, but the latter was recalcitrant, so the two clerics left him and went to say Mass in the church (ibid., 288). The Duke stood outside, but then:
…when he [Bernard] had said Pax domini, he laid the body of our Lord upon the paten, and bare it without the church, and went out with a face flaming and burning, and assailed the duke by fearful words, saying, "We have prayed thee and thou hast despised us, lo! here is the son of the Virgin which is come to thee, which is Lord of the church whom thou persecutest. This is thy judge, in the name of whom all knees bow, in the hands of whom thy soul shall come. Despise him not as thou hast his servants, resist him if thou mayst." Then anon the duke waxed all stiff and was impotent in all his members, and then he fell down at his feet. And the holy man put his foot at him, and commanded him to arise and to hear the sentence of God. He then trembling arose, and accomplished anon that the holy man commanded.
The painting is set at the door of the church, with the altar and its retable visible in the background. It follows the texts closely: The Bishop at his side, St. Bernard holds the host in one hand and the paten in the other while the Duke in his armor falls back into the arms of an attendant. His crown lies on the ground in token of his submission.
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Source: Wikimedia Commons