April DeConick, a professor of Early Christianity at Rice University sees this depiction in a 12th century Bavarian church as the Father, Son, and Mother Holy Spirit. She argues that this piece of art relates to her argument that “the original Christian Trinity was the Father, Mother Spirit, and Son.” She believes that evidence for this belief was later suppressed in manuscript transmission and hermeneutical tradition. DeConick plans to include a discussion of it in a chapter of one of her forthcoming books.
Personally, with regards to the painting alone, I’m skeptical. If it is really a graphical representation of an “original” doctrine, how on earth did it survive until the 12th century? An art historian friend of mine noticed the slight purplish hue of the female’s lower garment and postulated that the now-faded purple could indicate the Mother Mary.
As tempting as it may be for Latter-day Saints to infer an LDS Heavenly Mother from this art or DeConick’s argument, I would urge caution. Given DeConick’s interest in sexuality in the early church, I predict that her approach to this fresco will be to explore the sexual implications of this possible doctrine among early Christians using a feminist or feminist-flavored method. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, I think it sounds fascinating. It’s just that DeConick may not agree with a Mormon looking for evidence for Joseph Smith’s “Mother in Heaven.”
Nevertheless, Latter-day Saints would not be wrong to ponder how a painting like that got there? If it is really a depiction of the Holy Trinity and not some other people, why is there a woman there?
P.S. It’s worth noting that DeConick advises at least one Mormon PhD student at Rice.
UPDATE: I actually really like DeConick’s blog. Despite the fact that I disagree with much of what she says, it’s clear she sincerely loves the texts and traditions she studies. My favorite is her “Apocryphote of the Day” series, in which she highlights some of the more inspirational (read: non-psycho) passages from extrascriptural texts.