Deserts, Rivers and Mountains: Nature and Divinity in Byzantine Pilgrimage Art

Approaching Mount Sinai

Date: Apr 22, 2014 Time: 4:00 PM–6:00 PM Location: Hellenic College Holy Cross Building: Archbishop Iakovos Library Reading Room Address: 50 Goddard Ave Brookline, MA 02445-7415

Dr. Anastasia Drandaki, Benaki Museum, considers the role of the natural landscape in Byzantine pilgrimage art.

A pilgrimage was born of the believer’s longing to be in a locus sanctus (holy place), to see and touch and imitate holy persons, treading in their very footsteps.  Pilgrims themselves express this in their journals, describing step by step with emotion how they followed the episodes in scripture or accounts of the lives. They need to be sure that they are in exactly the right place, on the particular spot where the sacred events took place. It is as if eradicating the geographical distance might also circumvent the distance in time, bringing them as close as possible to the presence of the holy persons and their acts. Moreover, the natural formation of the holy place often plays a decisive role in texts related to shrines, and the pilgrims’ contact with the particular landscape of any given pilgrimage affects their religious experience. But is the relation between landscape and holy place reflected in any way in Byzantine pilgrimage art? Does the natural landscape of the loca sancta project in art and artefacts related to holy sites, offering  a potential exception to the familiar and much debated sketchy presence of physical space in Byzantine religious scenes? This lecture will explore how the natural, physical environment of the locus sanctus is depicted and participate in the art and artefacts that completed the pilgrimage experience.

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