The Layer Monument

Hidden from immediate view upon entering the church of Saint John the Baptist's at Maddermarket, Norwich, there's a highly theatrical and dramatic funerary Monument. The Layer monument is a large slab of marble polychrome, ornately decorated and heavily-laden with emblems and symbols. Upon its pilasters there's a quartet of fascinating and enigmatic statuettes. Stylistically these quartet of statuettes are a rare example of the art movement known as Northern Mannerism; in their collective symbolism they can be identified as representing none other than an alchemical mandala of the western esoteric  tradition.

The funerary monument commemorates the life and death of Christopher  Layer (1533 - 1600)  a merchant, lawyer and city mayor, his wife, Barbara (d.1604) and eight children. The Latin inscription records that Christopher Layer's dearest wife bore him five daughters and three sons, however two sons died and the one who survived his father placed the present monument here. Christopher Layer, portrayed in his civic mayoral robes, was a well-read admirer of the authors of classical antiquity. The inscription also informs the reader of specific authors of classical antiquity who Christopher Layer admired and why -

This Urn of cold marble covers Christopher Layer who bore Christ in his heart along with Imperial Minds, Numa known for his justice, Fabius for his legal robe, and Cato for his strict morals.

The symbolism of the Layer Monument is well worth in-depth analysis. At its centre a large skull floats mysteriously above a Prayer-desk. Above, the Sun and its rays break through dark clouds. A concentrated spot-light of sun and its rays is painted vivid gold and blue in sharp contrast to the dark cloud background surrounding the Layer family at prayer. The relationship between Prayer Desk, Skull and Sun is overt in its Christian symbolism. The skull is the commonest of momento mori symbols, a remembrance of death for the contemplating viewer, while the sun has long been associated as a symbol representing God.

The portrait of the Layer family calmly at prayer is contrasted by four animated statuettes which frame them in two pilasters. This fascinating quartet of statuettes would not, one suspects, be entirely  out of place in the Wunderkammer or  art-gallery of the alchemy-loving Holy Roman Emperor Emperor Rudolph II.  Measuring approximately 25 centimetres, each individual figurine stands upon a different base. They are allegorical personifications of Pax, Peace holding an olive branch, treading martial weapons underfoot, Vanitas, a naked boy blowing  soap-bubbles standing upon a globe, Gloria a buxom woman standing upon a crescent moon, and Labor  an old man with  gray beard digging with spade, a skull rests at his feet.

Its of singular importance that Christopher Layer is described as 'bearing Christ in his heart along with Imperial Minds'. His public testimony of Christian faith alongside reverence for the wisdom of Imperial Rome, is an extremely revealing statement which needs to be placed in context of his time.

Ever since the Italian Renaissance scholar Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) translated Plato's Timaeus into Latin along with the Poemander, a text attributed to the fabled Egyptian sage Hermes Trismegistus, many  artists, scholars and  thinkers throughout Europe endeavored to reconcile the wisdom of  Classical Greece and Imperial Rome  to Christianity. It's worth remembering that the Renaissance movement breathed new life not only into the study of anatomy, painting, architecture and music  throughout  Europe but also encouraged the study of  Plato, along with stimulating interest in the cabala, alchemy  and astrology, the latter two disciplines being of particular interest to the ancient Romans.

In her seminal work 'The occult philosophy in the Elizabethan age'  Dame Frances Yates reminds her reader that - 'The Elizabethan world was populated, not only by tough sea-men, hard-headed politicians, serious theologians. It was a world of spirits, good and bad, fairies, demons, witches, ghosts, conjurers'.

Alongside such popular beliefs in the Elizabethan era,Yates established in her book that the influence of  the Neoplatonic, Hermetic  and Cabbalistic traditions were pervasive in intellectual circles during the reign of Queen Elizabeth  (1558-1603) and influenced the arts and developing sciences throughout the seventeenth century.

In essence the Renaissance world-view of astrological correspondences lay at the heart of much of Elizabethan art, including Edmund Spencer's The Fairie Queene (1579). In Spencer's epic poem the symbolism of  each respective planet and it's 'virtues' shape each book of  poetry. Shakespeare's plays  also frequently include an esoteric or magical theme, from the multiple transformations of men to beasts in 'A Midsummer's Night Dream' to the quite dark themes of witchcraft in Macbeth, the ghosts of Hamlet and the portrait of the magus-like figure of Prospero in 'The Tempest'. In an age which cultivated a sense of melancholia, the 1600's decade is  typified best by the music of John Dowland's Seven mournful Lachromosye (1604) and the solemn viol consort pavans of William Byrd.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth (1558-1603) court masques were performed in which the planets, elements, forces of nature and virtues were allegorized and personified. Elaborate  in costume, decor, music and allegory, masques were staged for Elizabeth by her court astrologer, the magus John Dee (1527 -1608). Dee immersed himself in the study of esoterica such as the Cabbala, the writings of the mythic sage Hermes Trismegistus and  Ficino's translation of Plato's Timaeus.  With its alternative Creation myth of Atlantis, sacred geometry, Pythagorean music of the spheres and proposal of 'eternal forms' or archetypes, the Timaeus in conjunction with the Hermetic Corpus was a primary influence upon the Renaissance imagination. Hermetically inclined thinkers such as John Dee endeavoured to prove that the wisdom of 'the divine Plato', was part of a golden chain of wisdom, a priscia theologia which anticipated Christianity and thus, far from opposed to doctrine, its learning was in fact compatible to Christian theology.

The Elizabethan imagination was fond of all manner of riddles, enigmas, puzzles and anagrams. Knowledge of such secretive forms of expression sometimes included a familiarity with the Hermetic tradition. Such secrets were not only highly advantageous to communicate beliefs which the Church discouraged the study of, but also infiltrated Christian iconography, including funerary monument symbolism.

Its largely due to the historian Jean Seznec that its now recognised that the Olympian gods did not die with the advent of Christianity, but lived on. They were transformed during Late Antiquity, sometimes embedded within history as transfigured former human beings, or given planetary roles as astral divinities in the world-view of astrology or allegorized as moral emblems. They survived in pictorial and literary traditions, took on strange new guises and were transformed in various ways, their myths recast to suit some of the mythic saints of Late Antiquity.

Greek and Roman deities captivated the European imagination throughout the Renaissance, often  taking their place side-by-side with Christian symbols and doctrines. The transformed mythology re-emerged in the iconography of the early Tuscan Renaissance with new attributes the ancients had never imagined, and enjoyed tremendous renewed popularity throughout the Renaissance.

Whoever commissioned  the  highly-skilled monument mason to sculpt the four figurines of the Layer Monument was well-acquainted  with the Roman classical world. He was also surely aware that the ancient Romans had personified various deities in statues and upon elaborate marble sarcophagus; such symbolism often involved a complex  juxtaposition of gods and heroes. The Layer Monument's Pax and Gloria are distinctly modeled upon  the sculpture  of the Classical gods of Greek antiquity. Together they  allude to the hieros gamos of alchemy, which in Greek mythology is represented by the pairing of Apollo and Diana, gods of the luminaries sun and moon. In alchemy this union is often symbolized by Sol and Luna.

The Layer monument's relative obscurity is one factor which has prevented  it from being identified as an art-work which  utilizes esoteric symbolism. The literalism of our age, the narrow belief that words are fully-developed definitions have effectively blinded viewers from actually looking closely at each statuette is another factor.

In brief, the four figurines of the Layer Monument allude to medieval notions of the four elements and symbolism involving the planets, just as the astrological zodiac does. Pax Solar and fiery, Gloria Lunar and watery, Vanitas airy and mercurial and Labor, earthy and Saturnine.

The Layer monument is also a fine example of the Quarternio as a religious symbol, compatible to the most frequent and developed of all Christian Quaternio's,  namely the tetramorph, the three animals plus one human form which symbolize respective Gospel evangelists, equivalent to the 'Fixed Cross' of astrology. The Layer's compatibility to the Tetramorph and evidence of its relationship to the four zodiac signs of the 'Fixed Cross' of astrology are discussed in detail in an essay analysis of the three differing versions of the Philosopher's Stone reproduced in Andrea Libavius' Alchemia. Suffice to state here that version 2 of Libavius' illustration depicts the Royal Pair holding on a leash a respective animal in close correspondence to both their Element and Zodiac sign, namely King with Lion, Queen with Eagle.

The four statuettes also correspond well to quite distinct archetypal figures in Jungian psychology - 'the wise ruler' here portrayed aptly in super-human form, opposed to war, treading its weapons underfoot;  'the great mother' standing upon a crescent moon, 'the old man', here complete with a gray beard engaged in hard manual labour digging the earth. The child/trickster figure, playfully blowing bubbles is none other than the guiding psychopomp of  the recently deceased and  the major 'deity' of alchemy, the elusive Mercurius.


The statuette of Gloria features a skilful delineation of drapery and detail, in particular the five tassels around the midriff and attired not unlike a Grecian or Asiatic goddess. C.G. Jung  makes a  strikingly apt observation why the Virgin Mary as Gloria stands upon a crescent moon. Such Mondsichel Madonna symbolism is not uncommon in medieval German religious sculpture.

"According to the ancient view, the moon stands on the borderline between the eternal, ethereal things and the ephemeral phenomena of the earthly, sublunar realm. Macrobius says: 'The realm of the perishable begins with the moon and goes downward. souls coming into this region begin to be subject to the numbering of days and to time... there is no doubt that the moon is the author and contriver of mortal bodies.' Because of her moist nature, the moon is also the cause of decay. The loveliness of the new moon, hymned by the poets and Church Fathers, veils her dark side, which however, could not remain hidden from the fact-finding of the empiricist. The moon, as the star nearest to the earth, partakes of the earth and its sufferings, and her analogy with the Church and the Virgin Mary as mediators has the same meaning. She partakes not only of the earth's sufferings but of its daemonic darkness as well". CW 14: 173

It's worth noting that many alchemical illustrations feature a female deity standing upon either a full or crescent moon.  In the alchemical anthology Museum Hermeticum (1678)  it is said of Gloria Mundi

The mystery of everything is life, which is water, for water dissolves the body into spirit and summons a spirit from the dead  CW 14:318 


The figure of Pax here is associated with Christ who is known as 'the Prince of Peace'  (Isaiah)  and with solar imagery, for  in early Christian liturgy Christ was called 'Sol invinctus' (invincible sun). The Peace of Christ was cherished by the early  Greek Fathers as a state of spiritual contemplation. Christ's 'solar' nature  as Sol Invinctus is reinforced by his portrayal destroying the weapons of war.

 Psalm 46 verse 9 - He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in fire.

Together Pax and Gloria in their attire are modelled upon Classical gods of Romano-Greek antiquity. Quite distinctly they allude to the hieros gamos of alchemy, which in Greek mythology was represented by Apollo and Diana, the gods of the luminaries sun and moon. As well as representing the reward of Peace and Glory for the faithful Christian believer they also symbolize one  of the most frequent and potent of all alchemical motifs, the Conjunctio or Hieros gamos or sacred Marriage of Sol et Luna.


The figure of Labor represents the human condition.  Although old, as indicated by his grey beard and hair, he is   engaged in hard manual labour. The activity of digging along with agriculture are both under rule of Saturn. The human condition is depicted as one in which necessity and a close relationship with the earth  is mankind's lot, as his care-worn features indicate.

Planetary  symbolism can be designated to both the upper pair of Gloria and Pax and the lower-case pair who represent the human condition. The coupling of young boy with old man alerts one to the allusion of the journey of life.  In planetary symbolism and completely compatible in designation With his grey beard, melancholic expression and engaged in hard manual labour it is entirely appropriate to designate the planet Saturn, ruler of melancholy and a planet commonly associated with old age and the human condition to Labor.


Engaged in blowing bubbles, a symbol of illusion and the ephemeral nature of human existence, the figure of Vanitas is worth exploring in depth. The depiction of Vanitas standing upon a golden ball is among the most overt of the Layer's symbolism; for Vanitas not like the figure of Mercurius  is frequently shown standing upon a Rotundum or ball in  many alchemical illustrations.

The elusive figure of Mercurius is depicted in numerous variations in alchemy, including that of a child, C.G.Jung noting that - 'the child motif is capable of numerous transformations, it can be expressed by roundness, the circle or the sphere, or else by the quaternity as another form of wholeness'.  Vol 9 i: 278

A close scrutiny reveals that the five bubbles of Vanitas are in Quincunx formation. It is of particular note that Vanitas has  blackened feet which may in fact represent his feet being burnt from contact with the sun. Together Labor and Vanitas symbolize the journey of life, pleasure and suffering are portrayed as equal factors in the human condition.


One is encouraged in interpreting the Layer Quaternio as a work which explicitly utilizes esoteric symbolism when reading C.G.Jung  declare-

Graybeard and boy belong together. The pair of them play a considerable role in alchemy as symbols of Mercurius. Cw 9 i:39

Just as the upper pair of statuettes of Pax and Gloria are coupled in their allusion to the Hieros Gamos and to planetary symbolism of Sun and Moon, so to the lower pair Vanitas and Labor are complementary to each other in a lesser, but equally significant pairing representing Saturnus and Mercurius. C.G.Jung makes quite explicitly clear the close relationship between these two planetary entities stating-

But the most important of all for an interpretation of Mercurius is his relation to Saturn. Mercurius senex is identical with Saturn, and to the earlier alchemists especially, it is not quicksilver, but the lead associated with Saturn, which usually represents the prima materia.... In Khunrath Mercurius is the "salt of Saturn," or Saturn is simply Mercurius..Like Mercurius, Saturn is hermaphroditic. Saturn is "an old man on a mountain, and in him the natures are bound with their complement [i.e., the four elements], and all this is in Saturn". The same is said of Mercurius. Saturn is the father and origin of Mercurius, therefore the latter is called "Saturn's child". Quicksilver comes "from the heart of Saturn or is Saturn......Like the planetary spirit of Mercurius, the spirit of Mercurius is "very suited to this work". [CW 13: 274-5]

Thus the Layer Monument conforms to much esoteric symbolism involving planetary and element symbolism which justify it being defined as an alchemical mandala. It possesses numerous polarities in its symbolism, a pairing of couples in the temporal and eternal dimensions of time and space, and not least, its very number of four quite distinct entities.  


The symbolism of Number along with colour is embedded deep in the human psyche as primordial of all symbols. It can be argued that every number is of some particular psychological significance. The number four, it's ability to twice bi-sect a circle is of particular psychological  significance in the western spiritual tradition. By 200 AD the early church Father Iraneus argued that it was just as natural for four Gospels to exist as there are four winds and four quarters of the earth. The number four was also of especial interest to C.G.Jung  who defined the spatial arrangement of the  quaternio thus-

The quarternity is an organizing schema par excellence, something like the crossed threads in a telescope. It is a system of coordinates that is used almost instinctively for diving up the visible surface of the earth, the course of the year, or the collection of individuals into groups, the phases of the moon, the temperaments, elements, alchemical colours, and so on. vol. 9ii. 381

The most common and frequent quarternity in Christian iconography is that of the tetramorph; its symbols are those associated with the four evangelists. These consist of three animals, and one angelic form and are mentioned by Jewish prophets, Ezekiel and Isaiah in their visions. However the symbols of the Tetramorph originate from Babylonian astrology and can be discerned in the 'Fixed' Cross of the zodiac in the signs of Leo, Taurus, Scorpio and Aquarius. Together these three animals and one human form known as the Tetramorph  represent in Christian iconography the four gospel evangelists. They also feature in the 27th and last book of the New Testament in the apocalyptic vision of Saint John of the 'end times'. The symbols of the tetramorph can be found in many Churches, including at Saint John Maddermarket, Norwich in its stained glass windows and door-panelling.The tetramorph is in essence one of the best examples of syncretism in comparative religion, I've written about the tetramorph earlier here.

Almost as if with the Layer Monument in view Jung states of the quaternio -

We have then, two contrasting pairs, forming by mutual attraction a quaternio, the fourfold basis of wholeness. As the symbolism show, the pairs signify the same thing: a complexio oppositorum or uniting symbol Vol 9 i: 245

The uniting symbol of the Layer quaternio is undoubtedly that of the skull at its centre; it's the single  motif around which all its symbolism revolves. As if one could doubt the Layer Monument's significance as an example of a complexio oppositorum that is a complex of opposites, Jung once more as if describing the Layer monument quaternio remarks-

 Like all archetypes, the self has a paradoxical, antinomial character. It is male and female, old man and child, powerful and helpless, large and small. The self is a true 'complexio oppositorum'. CW  9 i: 355 (my italics)

Among the many opposites contained within the Later Quaternio include - Young/Old, Time/Space Heavenly/Earthly, Male/Female and Pleasure/Suffering.

In essence the four statuettes of the Layer monument  are none other than a quaternio or four-fold whole of archetypes representing the Self. Plexiformed in their  relationship and ostensibly a product of Christian iconography, the Layer quaternio are in fact a syncretic fusion of Christian and  esoteric  symbolism.

Just as the upper pair of Pax and Gloria contrast in terms of  spatial location, the eternal 'heavenly' realms, so to the figures of Labor and Vanitas represent a temporal dimension of time in earthly existence, thus  the essential co-ordinates of Time and Space may be attributed to the Quarternio. Jung explains this essential relationship in the quaternity-

From the lapis, i.e. from alchemy, the line leads direct to the quaternio of alchemical states of aggregation, which, as we have seen, is ultimately based upon the space-time quaternio. The latter comes into the category of archetypal quaternities and proves.. to be an indispensable  principle  for organizing the sense-impressions from which the psyche receives from bodies in motion. Space and time form a psychological  a priori, an aspect of the archetypal quaternity which is altogether indispensable for acquiring knowledge of physical processes.  Vol 9 ii: 40

It can also be discerned  that together the four statuettes of the Layer Monument  correspond to the commonplace of  esoteric Renaissance templates, the four elements. As Gloria clearly represents the moon and therefore the element of water, so too  can Pax be designated to represent the element of Fire. It follows from the explicit activities which the lower case pair are engaged upon, namely blowing bubbles and digging earth that they respectively represent the two remaining elements in the medieval schemata of the elements, air and earth. 

The four statuettes upon its two pilasters  represent  a highly original,  profound,  and intriguing example of  the religious symbol of the quaternity. Their symbolism is also a rare example of how occasionally Hermetic philosophy infiltrated and integrated with Christian iconography.

The Statue in alchemy

The voluminous writings of the psychologist C.G. Jung  are a treasure-trove  for those enquiring upon the psyche and the symbols it produces. Like an archaeologist carefully peeling back the thin layers of Christian symbolism C.G.Jung realised that the Church with its increasing dogma and differential ritual alienated consciousness from its natural roots. The esoteric arts of astrology and alchemy however were ceaselessly engaged in preserving the bridge to the unconscious psyche. Jung's writings upon alchemy in particular, as a proto-psychology  and as an under-current to religious belief  are extremely rewarding. With a judicious application of his ideas new interpretative insights into the symbolism of the Layer Monument can be acquired.  C.G. Jung noted that -  'the statue plays a mysterious role in ancient alchemy'. (14:559) and that it's been associated with magical and religious power since  earliest recorded time.

In the Minoan Age and throughout the Mediterranean world, statuettes of the gods in human or animal shape were made from terracotta, bronze wood or stone. They had religious significance and were deposited in graves or dedicated to the gods in shrines and in private homes, where they must have exercised a protective influence upon the dead, upon the community or upon the family. They were tutelary spirits [1 ]

In a lengthy foot-note Jung  lists numerous  texts from antiquity and the Renaissance in which the statue is featured, these include the Gnostic Mandeans and Naasenes who taught that Adam was a  'corporeal or 'lifeless' statue. In the middle Ages Thomas Norton  (1433-1513)  in his Ordinall of Alchemy (1477) depicts the seven metals/planets as statues. The Palantine alchemical author Johann Daniel Mylius  (c.1583 -1642) in his Philosophia Reformata of 1622 wrote -'It is a great mystery to create souls, and to mould the lifeless body into a living statue,' while in an anthology of alchemical texts Aurora Consurgens (1566 ) Mother Alchemy or mater alchemia is likewise a statue of different metals, as are the seven statues in Raymund Lully while Senor in his  De Chemica  not only states, 'We warm its water, which is extracted from the hearts of statues'  but also, 'Venerate the souls in statues for their dwelling is in them'.

Ultimately the idea of the statue and its relationship to esoteric knowledge can be sourced to the Biblical verse in the Book of Genesis which declares-
And this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God's house. Gen 28:22

Aware of the close relationship of the Old Testament  to the esoteric discipline of the Cabala  C.G. Jung theorized that - If our conjecture is correct, the statue could therefore be the Cabbalistic equivalent of the lapis philosophorum  CW 14:586

 Jung  concluded his brief summary of the various ways in which the statue is associated with  alchemy stating-

The statue stands for the inert materiality of Adam, who still needs an animating soul; it is thus a symbol for one of the main preoccupations of alchemy . CW 14 :569

Thus for C.G.Jung in his long study of alchemy the statue has several important if differing  roles in the esoteric tradition.

In his magisterial work,'The Philosopher's secret Fire', Patrick Harpur with 'casual brilliance'  discourses informatively upon alchemy, noting -

The magus was an artist. He was fascinated by accounts in the Hermetic books on statue-magic - also practiced by Neoplatonic theurgists -whereby daimons or deities were attracted into statues of themselves. Doubtless the Ficinians tried this, exerting all their artistic talents in those sights, sounds and sensory experiences associated with the god of their choice; but if the magi were artists who infused life into statues, the real magicians, I suspect, were Donatello and Michelangelo. [2 ]

The Italian Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo himself mused in verse upon his art-

The marble not yet carved can hold the form
Of every thought the greatest artist has,
And no conception can yet come to pass
Unless the hand obeys the intellect.

But perhaps the greatest art-work which depicts the statue as a living being occurs in Mozart's opera Don Giovanni (K527) in which the terrifying spectacle of  a stone guest whom the Don has ridiculed, comes to life. The statue of the Commendatore joins the dissolute Don in supper, repeatedly implores him to repent before finally dragging the Don to the infernal regions  in an icy, inescapable grip.

Books consulted and quotation sources

The Occult Philosophy in Elizabethan England Francis Yates RKP  1979

The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols [1]

Sculpture 2 vols. Taschen 2006

C. G Jung  CW 9 i The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious

C.G. Jung  CW 9 ii Aion

C.G. Jung  CW 12 Psychology and Alchemy

C.G. Jung CW 13 Alchemical Studies

C.G. Jung -  CW 14 Mysterium Coninunctius

Patrick Harpur  -The Philosopher's secret Fire 2002 [2]

Part 2 : The source of the Layer Monument: Andreas Libavius' 'Alchemiae' (1596) 

It was in May 2011 while reading Adam Maclean's 'The alchemical Mandala' that I first detected a striking similarity between the Layer monument to an illustration in Andreas Libavius's De Lapide on title  below to continue 

De  Lapide Philosophorum