Transfiguration and Transformation: Thoughts on the Vatican Sakkos and Byzantine Hesychasm

Vatican Sakkos, detail. Image: Scala / Art Resource, NY

Date: Dec 1, 2014 Time: 6:15 PM–7:45 PM Location: Harvard Faculty Club Address: 20 Quincy Street Cambridge, MA 02138

Warren Woodfin places the stunning Vatican sakkos within the spiritual movements of fourteenth-century Byzantium.

Among the liturgical vestments surviving from the late Byzantine period, there exist three episcopal sakkoi with figural embroidery. The two of them preserved in Moscow can be dated with relative precision and related to specific historical personages and events. The sakkos in the Vatican, however, has long proved a puzzle to scholars. Its whereabouts are not recorded before it appears in the Treasury of St. Peter’s in Rome in the late fifteenth century, where it acquired the misleading designation of the “Dalmatic of Charlemagne.” This talk will attempt to ground the Vatican sakkos in the context of the spiritual movements of the fourteenth century, in particular the complex of devotional and theological developments known as “Palamatism” or “Hesychasm.” The single large image embroidered on the back of the sakkos—Christ’s Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor—is closely identified with Hesycahstic theology of the divine light. The wearing of the sakkos in the Eucharistic liturgy, however, moves the image outside the rarified domain of monastic contemplation. The concise program of images embroidered on the vestment helps to bridge the divide between contemplative theology and the sacramental action of the Divine Liturgy.

Sponsored by the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture and the Harvard University Standing Committee on Medieval Studies.