Lectures/Oct 31, 2019

Viewing Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai

Viewing Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai lead image

Viewing Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai, lecture by Maria Vassilaki (University of Thessaly at Volos and Benaki Museum), Koç University Main Campus (CASE Z48), November 5, 2019, 5:00 pm

Sinai, associated as it was with well-known events narrated in the Old Testament, became the ultimate locus sanctus. It was at the foot of Mount Sinai that Moses saw the Burning Bush and heard the voice of God asking him to remove his sandals. It was also at Sinai that God appeared to Moses and delivered to him the Tablets of the Law. A fortified monastery dedicated to the Virgin of the Bush was built by the emperor Justinian in the mid-6th century at the foot of Mount Sinai on the site of the Burning Bush.

Sinai already an Old Testament locus sanctus, also became the repository of St Catherine’s body. After the saint was decapitated in Alexandria her body was transferred by angels and buried in Sinai. We cannot be certain exactly when the relics of the saint were discovered on the top of the mountain, which was named after her. Once discovered, the relics were transferred inside the monastery’s catholikon, and placed in a marble sarcophagus, where they soon started exuding oil miraculously. The earliest reference to the veneration of St Catherine at Sinai is to be found in the typicon, which Symeon, abbot of Sinai, drew up in 1214. Around that time we should also place the change of the monastery’s original dedication to the Virgin to that of St Catherine.

In Sinai both the landscape and the monastery stand for the holiness of the place, and become, therefore, inseparable. My aim is to investigate how and when the Sinai landscape was visually upgraded from being a mere background for the Old Testament events, which took place there, to a composition per se.

Maria Vassilaki is Professor in Byzantine Art at the University of Thessaly and a Research Associate at the Benaki Museum.

The lecture is a parallel event to the MA and PhD graduate seminar Late Antique and Byzantine Anatolia taught by Dr. Alessandra Ricci.