GOZZOLI, Benozzo
(b. ca. 1420, Firenze, d. 1497, Pistoia)

The Parable of the Holy Trinity (scene 12, south wall)

Fresco, 220 x 230 cm
Apsidal chapel, Sant'Agostino, San Gimignano

In the next fresco of the cycle, a boy on the left is attempting to use a spoon to transfer all the waters of the ocean into a little hollow. The episode is described in an apocryphal letter of Cyril of Jerusalem, and shows that the client was a particularly good expert on literature concerning St Augustine. In the letter Cyril writes that St Augustine, while thinking about the Trinity, met a small child on the beach who was attempting to ladle out the oceans using a spoon. When St Augustine explained to him how impossible his plan was, the boy replied by telling him that the mystery of the Holy Trinity was also not something that could be comprehended by the human mind. The scene is a parable of the unbridgeable gap between faith and reason.

In the middle distance, St Augustine is sitting surrounded by a circle of monks on a bare path leading to a monastery on the top of the mountain. The Visit to the Monks of Mount Pisano is depicted for the first time in this fresco, emphasizing its uniqueness. In the foreground on the right, St Augustine is giving the rule of the order to the hermit monks. He is wearing the dress of Augustinian hermits, a black habit with a pointed hood, leather belt and shoes.

There is no historical proof of St Augustine's journey to Tuscany. The event is also not mentioned in the Confessions. However, oral tradition has it that St Augustine stayed in Tuscany after his mother's death. Due to grief at the loss of his mother, he is said to have forgotten to write it down. According to tradition, St Augustine visited the hermit monks of Mount Pisano. This legend was very popular as it suggested that the Augustinian hermits had originated in Tuscany. In fact, St Augustine founded his community in the fourth century in northern Africa. The rule of the Augustinians, dating from 388/389, is the oldest Western monastic rule. In 12 short chapters it lays down the fundamentals of monastic life. The goals of the monastic community are poverty, brotherly love, obedience, prayer, reading the Scriptures, work and apostolic work: a life characterized by seclusion and humility.

Not until 1256 did Pope Alexander (1254-1261) found the order of Augustinian hermits by combining several Italian groups of hermits who had been living according to the rule of St Augustine since 1243.

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