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Three Heads Are Better Than One (Maybe)


[image ALT: A damaged fresco in two sections. On the left, a Madonna and Child; on the right, a man with three bearded heads, meant to depict the Holy Trinity. The frescoes are in the abbey of S. Maria di Ponte, near Cerreto, Umbria (central Italy).]

In the church of S. Maria of Ponte, on the S wall of the nave, this damaged bit of fresco:
To our left a Madonna and Child, and to the right a figure with a book, blessing us.

True as far as it goes, but a closer look at the bearded figure

[image ALT: A damaged fresco of a man with three bearded heads, meant to depict the Holy Trinity. The fresco is in the abbey of S. Maria di Ponte, near Cerreto, Umbria (central Italy).]

shows us he has a second head; even closer, and you'll see a bit of beard on the other side: there was a third head where the plaster has fallen out. This is a depiction of the Trinity, one God in three persons, shown as one man with three heads.

Right from the beginning, it was clearly felt that this image might give parishioners some strange ideas. Here, as in most of the other few such images I've seen, it is supplied with a caption to shoo away the temptation to heterodoxy:


[image ALT: A detail of a fresco, showing an open book inscribed 'UNA EST DIVINITAS'. It is part of a fresco depicting the Holy Trinity in Ponte, Umbria (central Italy).]
UNA EST DIVINITAS: The Deity is One.

Such freakish representations, with the attendant danger of misinterpretation, must have been commoner than they are now; the fact that they are so rare today, and almost always in minor churches or remote places, suggests to me at least that the Church took care to remove them whenever she could: she just missed a few.

I've only seen 3 other similar Trinities, all in Umbria.

The fresco you see on this page is the most primitive of the four, and the least well preserved.

Page updated: 12 Jun 05