Essen menorah

Type: Lamps
Date: ca. 1000
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Germany
Dimensions: 2.33 × 2 m
Description: Among the biblically mandated objects in the ancient Jewish Tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem were seven-armed golden candelabra (Exod. 25:31–40 and 37:17–24). When the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 CE, they brought one of these menorahs back and displayed it alongside other Temple implements, as depicted on the Arch of Titus in the Roman Forum. The sixth-century Byzantine historian Prokopios reports that when the Vandals sacked Rome in 410, they took the menorah to their capital at Carthage. After that the sources are murky—the menorah may have been taken to Constantinople or Jerusalem, or simply disappeared. There is no trace of the original Temple objects today.

The Babylonian Talmud prohibited Jews from copying the precise form of the Temple menorah. Christians, however, were free to make seven-armed candelabra, and they did so to express the idea that the church was the heir to the Temple. The oldest preserved church menorah is in the female convent (now the cathedral) at Essen, which was founded by a Saxon nobleman ca. 850 to serve women of his family. The huge menorah was donated around 1000 by Abbess Mathilda (r. 973–1011), a granddaughter of the first Ottonian emperor and patron of several works of art. An inscription on the base of the menorah says, "Abbess Mathilda ordered me to be made and consecrated to Christ." It was likely intended as a memorial to Mathilda and originally placed above her tomb, located in the crypt below.

There were dozens of large-scale church menorahs across Europe, some still extant, others fragmentary, and others known only from texts. The one in Essen is made of forty-six pieces of cast gilded bronze on an iron frame. Gems are inserted into the projecting knobs. It rests on a square base that terminate in animal paws; at the corners are personifications of the four directions, of which only Aquilo (North) is now preserved, along with the names of two others (Oriens, Occidens). The candelabrum, standing in for the divine Temple, was metaphorically at the center of the universe and equivalent to Christ himself, to be venerated by people from the four corners of the earth.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 6
Image Credits: Wikimedia Commons; NRW Akademie der Wissenschaften und der Künste

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