A smiling angel bends forward, its wings spread as it reaches out.
What you can no longer see is that the angel is holding the edge of a mandorla, an almond-shaped frame within which the risen Christ was once enthroned. Only the world disc, which Christ held in his left hand, has survived.
At least that’s the arrangement suggested by the reconstruction, which has added the missing parts to form a magnificent tympanum – that is, the area enclosed by a lintel and an arch.
This striking sandstone relief may have been located above the west portal of the Romanesque monastic church, a welcoming sight for pilgrims arriving there. They would probably have been impressed by the angel, and not just because of its austere beauty. Like the tympanum as a whole, it may well have been painted – as you can see from the traces of colour. So the kindly angel would have beamed down upon the faithful in bright colours.
The “risen Christ in a mandorla” is a specific image type that evolved in the East during the sixth century. During the Romanesque period, it became widespread, especially in Burgundy and south-western France. On the Upper Rhine, it’s found in monastic churches such as Alpirsbach and Constance-Petershausen, in episcopal churches like Mainz Cathedral and also in parish churches. So art historians have been able to compare the Schuttern angel with other portrayals and arrive at an interpretation.
The tympanum fragment was discovered 30 years before the mosaic that adorns the floor of this room – the original of which can be viewed in the excavation beneath the present Baroque church. The smiling angel was buried under the choir of the present church and unearthed during building work in 1942.
All depictions: © Historischer Verein Schuttern 603 e.V. / Gemeinde Friesenheim