Pagan and Christian Symbolism in "Sir Gawain and the Green Night"

1091 words 5 pages
Pagan and Christian Symbolism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

People of the Middle Ages saw and interpreted their world through the lens of
Christianity, and the church had no small amount of symbols. These people were guided by a visual world, in which practically everything in nature became a sign for something transcendent, something that could make them stand closer to understanding God. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight provides vast Christian symbolic richness, but at the same time the poem supplies the reader with a wide range of Pagan allegory, the result making of Sir Gawain a unique story full of complex contrasts. The story begins with an uninvited guest at King Arthur’s court, during the
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The narrator of Sir Gawain also explains the
Pentangle with Christian symbols. The archangel Michael gave to the third king of
Israel, Solomon, a ring with a pentangle on it, in order to protect him against demons. The five points of the star link and lock with each other, forming the
“Endless Knot”, a continuous line apparently having no beginning or end, symbolizing the virtues that Sir Gawain needs to “anneal”: to be faultless in his five senses; to be dexterous of his five fingers; to be devoted of the five wounds that
Christ received on the cross; to rejoice on the five joys that the Virgin Mary had in
Jesus: the Annunciation, representing humility; Visitation, love of neighbor; Nativity, detachment for the things of the world; Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, purity and obedience, and Finding of the Child in the Temple, which is true conviction and piety. And finally, he has to uphold the five virtues of knightly chivalry code: Truth,
Generosity, Courtesy, Chastity and Charity. The Pentangle is a representation of these five areas of virtue because each of the five sides of the pentangle transitions seamlessly into the next. The virtues are interrelated, each part feeding into and supporting another. And, if despite all odds Sir Gawain starts to weaken in his quest, he needs only to withhold the image of the