The perfect monk

The monastery of Mogiła houses an unusual painting depicting the allegory of monastic life - Vitae religiosae typica descriptio. The painting, made around the middle of the 17th century, was modeled on the copperplate in Cologne by Michael Birbaum (c. 1610). The creator of the graphic concept was Christopher Pilckmann (1565-1637), Abbot of the Premonstratensian monastery in Steinfeld. This painting is a fairly faithful imitation of the graphic prototype.

In the center of the extensive composition of the Vitae religiosae typica descriptio, there is a figure of a crucified monk in a white habit, with a crown of thorns on his head, blindfolded eyes, and a padlocked mouth. It is intended to both illustrate the dangers that await a monk on his spiritual journey and be a model for him to follow.

The extensive symbolism in the painting shows the life that each monk will probably lead. Therefore, it is treated as a warning, but also as a hope for achieving sanctity.

The ideal of contemplative life - vita contemplativa - is to choose to be crucified for the world during temporal life. Following the crucified Jesus Christ (imitatio Christi) and following the Rule are ways to overcome the three evil powers: the Devil, the mortal body, and the charms of this world. Suspension on the cross suspends the monk above temporal reality, showing the way to salvation: through spiritual and physical austerities.

A crucified monk in a white habit symbolizes both the following of Jesus Christ (readiness to surrender his body to torments), as well as innocence and the pursuit of holiness.

His lips, locked with a padlock, symbolize humility. The roses painted on the ends of the arms and at the bottom of the cross symbolize the religious vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty. The monk holds in his two hands, nailed to the cross, burning oil lamps. These are a symbol of enlightenment and erudition. The monk is surrounded by plaques and bands with quotes from the Holy Bible.The devil - grotesquely depicted as a hairy figure with hooves and horns - tries to overthrow the cross, embedded in a two-tier base. A half-naked, blindfolded figure, attacked by vermin, is aimed with arrows at the monk. This symbolizes the mortality of the body. Below the cross there is a coffin with the inscription: Mundo mortuus (Dead for the World).

The whole composition is overseen by Christ holding two crowns in his hands: one of thorns and the other of gold.