“The Power of Objects: Ars Sacra and the Negotiation of the Sacred in Late Byzantium”
Wednesday, October 7, 5:15 p.m.
Fine Arts 218
By the thirteenth century (the beginning of the Late Byzantine period), the average Byzantine worshiper took communion—the climax of the Byzantine church service and the central ritual of Byzantine religious life—as seldom as once a year. Nor did they have full aural or visual access to these rites. Priests recited prayers inaudibly, while the icon screen blocked the laity’s view of the sanctuary. Despite these circumstances, however, scholars have located lay agency in Byzantine religious ritual by focusing on the ways Byzantine worshippers manipulated spaces, objects, and images to shape their religious experience. This paper examines the central objects of the Byzantine liturgy, the chalice and paten used to hold the bread and wine, incense burners, liturgical textiles, and processional fans, as they were carried to the altar during the service. By considering the use of these objects in concert, as they would have been experienced in their original ritual context, I investigate the ways they engaged a variety of senses and encouraged the movement of worshippers’ bodies. Working together, they orchestrated lay and clerical access to the divine.
Tera Lee Hedrick is Visiting Assistant Professor of Art History at Binghamton University.