The Joy of Museums

Exploring Museums, Art & Historic Sites

Palmesel (MET)

Palmesel - The Cloisters - "Joy of Museums"

“Palmesel” is the German word for palm donkey and refers to the statue of Jesus on a donkey, mounted on a platform with wheels and is used in Palm Sunday processions. Palm Sunday is a Christian feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.

In many Catholic and Episcopal denominations, worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms or other plant branches, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem. These parades, which reenacted Christ’s entry into Jerusalem mounted on a donkey, were pageants with hymn singing and palms strewn on the ground before the Palmesel.

The tradition started with the village pastors riding on a donkey at the Palm Procession. However, the donkey often misbehaved and was eventually replaced by a wooden donkey with a riding Christ figure. The Palmesel tradition was rolled back at the time of the Enlightenment, and its use in church celebrations was forbidden in many places. In Salzburg, for example, Archbishop Hieronymus of Colloredo banned such “theatrical representations” of liturgical events in 1779, and this led to the destruction of many Palmesel.

This 500 year old Palmesel figure of Jesus from Franconia, Germany has an air of quiet majesty. The donkey’s hooves and the fingers on Christ’s hands are restored, the platform and wheels are modern.

Palmesel

  • Title:                   Palmesel
  • Date:                   15th century
  • Geography:        Franconia, Germany
  • Culture:              German
  • Medium:            Limewood with paint
  • Dimensions:      61 1/2 x 23 3/4 x 54 1/2 in., 182lb. (156.2 x 60.3 x 138.4 cm, 82554.7g
  • Museum:            The MET Cloisters

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“The Study of philosophy is not that we may know what men have thought, but what the truth of things is.” Thomas Aquinas

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Photo Credit: 1) By Wikipedia Loves Art participant “Futons_of_Rock” [CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons 2) See page for author [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons