The Cross That Dante Bears:
Pilgrimage, Crusade, and the Cruciform Church in the Divine Comedy

Mary Alexandra Watt

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“This is an outstanding, new, and thorough interpretation of the symbolism of the cross in Dante’s poetics. It shows most persuasively how the story of Exodus, long acknowledged as the fundamental structure of the poem, finds its fulfillment in the Christological emblem.”--Giuseppe Mazzotta, Yale University

Mary Watt proposes that the Divine Comedy employs a series of strategically placed textual cues to create a meta-textual structure beyond Dante’s literal narrative. Dimly perceptible at first, the structure becomes ever more knowable as the protagonist reaches his ultimate goal. As the pilgrim wends his way through the three realms of the afterlife, references to medieval maps and to medieval cruciform churches, together with images of crusading and pilgrimage, ultimately reveal the shape of this structure as the reader becomes aware that Dante’s journey traces the figure of a cross.

Watt explores the textual cues, codes, and other strategies that Dante employs to discover how and why he conjures up the shape of a cross. She considers the visual arts and medieval cartographic and architectural conventions in addition to traditional texts as potential sources for the literal narrative of the Comedy. While the image of the cross within the Comedy has been frequently noted, Watt approaches the observation and the poem in holistic fashion, arguing that this image is a clue to the greater underlying structure that gives form and therefore meaning to the entire work.

Mary Alexandra Watt is assistant professor of Italian at the University of Florida and author of several articles on Dante.

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" Will appeal to nonspecialist readers of the Divine Comedy and medievalists interested in pilgrimage studies." Speculuma Journal of Medieval Studies

"Watt's central idea of the Commedia as a rival to the great cruciform churches and visual representations of the cross of Dante's contemporary world provides food for thought." Medium Aevum LXXIX

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