Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition

March 14–July 8, 2012


Holy sites commemorating the life of Christ, sacred places, and people of the Bible, and tombs of martyrs and saints were spread across Byzantium's southern provinces. Pilgrims, motivated by the belief that the power of a holy person, relic, or location could be transferred through contact, traveled to these sites and to monastic communities and ascetics. They went to touch, kiss, pray, and, in many cases, collect blessings (Greek eulogiai) such as earth taken from the tomb of Christ or oil from the lamp in which it burned. When brought home, these treasures allowed their owners to revisit the sites of their pilgrimage, to be protected by them, and to occasion miracles. Among the major pilgrimage sites identified by texts and portable mementos are Jerusalem and its surrounding monasteries; the monasteries in the Sinai, especially that of Saint Catherine; the stylite (column) saints of northwestern Syria, as at Qa‘lat Sem‘an; and the tomb of Saint Sergios at Rusafa (in present-day Syria). Large pilgrimage shrines, such as those in Jerusalem, drew crowds from far beyond Byzantium's borders; local pilgrims visited other shrines as well. Pilgrimage continued after the Arab occupation of the region, though on a reduced scale. Muslim pilgrims also may have visited Christian sites such as Rusafa and the Church of the Kathisma in Jerusalem.

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