The sculptures of the Fürstenportal of Bamberg Cathedral are representative works of thirteenth-century German Gothic portals. To understand their sculpted program, it is necessary to examine the meanings of the unique motifs that remain unclarified in previous studies, such as the gesture of proskynesis by the Virgin Mary in the Deësis group and the arma-christi carriers as virgins leading the blessed to Christ on the tympanum, or the representation of the female personifications of Ecclesia and Synagoga.
These motifs can be explained fundamentally in the theological context of the bridal mysticism based on the Song of Songs and the Apocalypse. The Virgin Mary’s role in the salvation as intercessor is reinforced by her feature as supreme bride in the incarnation. Her followers, virgins, Ecclesia, Synagoga, and the blessed, facing the mercy throne of Christ as the bridegroom, are all potential brides to be saved.
Besides presenting the commonly accepted eschatological interpretations, this article argues that the sculpted program depicts mainly the mystical marriage and salvation of the brides at the End of Time. In relation to the worship of the cathedral founder, Empress Kunigunde, “the second Virgin Mary,” it is possible that her prominent virtue as a bride of Christ is being emphasized in the main portal of Bamberg Cathedral.
Keywords: Bamberg Cathedral, Gothic sculpture, Bridal mysticism, the Song of Songs, the Apocalypse