Alexander Lingas to Lead Byzantine Chant Ensemble for the Coronation at Westminster Abbey


Dr. Alexander Lingas, founder and music director of Cappella Romana, will lead the Byzantine Chant Ensemble in the Coronation at Westminster Abbey on Saturday, 6 May 2023.

Buckingham Palace recently announced that “at the request of His Majesty, in tribute to his late father His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Greek Orthodox music” will feature in the Coronation Service of Their Majesties The King and The Queen Consort at Westminster Abbey on Saturday 6 May 2023.

Dr. Lingas is forming the Byzantine Chant Ensemble especially for the occasion. Its singers have served as cantors in cathedrals and parishes in the UK and Greece, as educators for the Byzantine Music School of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Thyateira and Great Britain, and in such specialist choirs as the Greek Byzantine Choir, the Maïstores of the Psaltic Art, and Cappella Romana.

All of the service music for the Coronation, including the Greek Orthodox music, will be disclosed later by Buckingham Palace.

Reflecting on his involvement in the Ceremony, Dr. Lingas said:

“As a scholar and practitioner of the ancient traditions of Byzantine chant, I am deeply honored to have been asked to help realize the request of His Majesty, King Charles III that the Coronation include a musical tribute to his late father, His Royal Highness the Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Integrating Greek psalmody into the equally ancient rites of the Coronation Service is a profound and beautiful demonstration of the deep appreciation for Orthodox Christianity long shown by both His Majesty and the late Duke of Edinburgh.”


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First Matti Egon Memorial Lecture – Lyktos, from foundation to destruction

“Thus was Lyktos…. the most ancient city in Crete and…. the source of the bravest men, utterly and unexpectedly made away with.” With these words Polybius concludes his dramatic description of the destruction of Lyktos in a stealth raid by Knossians, which ended a ruthless war that swept Crete in the 3rd century BCE. Although praised by Polybius, celebrated by Homer, considered as the birthplace of Zeus by Hesiod, and identified as the cradle of the Spartan constitution by Aristotle, the Greek and Roman city of Lyktos, located in the hinterland of central Crete, remains little known and largely unexplored.

The ancient city was discovered by antiquarians during the Renaissance, and in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it drew the interest of many renowned archaeologists, including Sir Arthur Evans. Notwithstanding this early international interest, Lyktos attracted only smallscale fieldwork until the establishment in 2021 of the Lyktos Archaeological Project (LAP). LAP aims to generate a longue durée urban history of the site from its probable foundation at the end of the Bronze Age to its abandonment in Mediaeval times.

The lecture focuses on the history and archaeology of Lyktos, as well as on the history of archaeological research at the site. The first results of the project for the period which extends from the alleged foundation of Lyktos in the 12th century BCE, after the collapse of the Aegean palaces, to its dramatic destruction by its arch-rival, Knossos, in 221/220BCE are presented. Emphasis is given to the important finds that date from the 6th and 5th centuries BCE, a period which presents major archaeological visibility problems throughout Crete and has puzzled scholars for nearly a century. The significance of these finds is reviewed, as will the other results of the LAP which pertain to the study of the history and archaeology of Crete in the 1st millennium BCE.

Watch on You Tube

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A Christmas visitor: the Byzantine emperor’s trip to London in the winter of 1400–01

The meeting between King Henry IV of England and the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos at London in 1400, from a late fifteenth-century manuscript of the St Alban’s Chronicle (image: Lambeth Palace Library MS 6, f. 240r).

This article first appeared on the website of Dr Caitlin Green.

Dr Green writes. The aim of following post is to share an interesting fifteenth-century image of the meeting between King Henry IV and the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Palaiologos in 1400 at London. The emperor was touring western Europe trying to solicit help for the Byzatine Empire against the Ottoman Turks and visited England for two months over the winter of 1400–01, staying with king for Christmas and being lavished by him with presents and entertainments.

The trip to England by the Byzantine, or Eastern Roman, emperor Manuel II Palaiologos in 1400 was the first such visit to these islands by a Roman emperor since Emperor Constans arrived in Britannia in AD 343, more than 1,000 years before. Emperor Manuel had been urging the rulers of western Europe to send men or money to the aid of Constantinople against the Ottoman Turks, who were close to a final conquest of the Byzantine Empire, and it was eventually decided that the emperor should travel to the west himself to put his case personally, which he did in 1400. Arriving initially in Italy and France, the emperor brought with him a large retinue of his own priests and dignitaries, alongside a collection of relics and treasures to offer as gifts to his hosts, as he sought to enlist their aide in his cause.

Read more on Dr Green’s website here.

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Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe

A further review of Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe byJudith Herrin.

By Ian Thomson in The Spectator.

When we refer to someone as ‘Byzantine’ we usually mean guileful or too complicated and labyrinthine in manner or speech. Perhaps the term is ill-applied: Byzantium, the medieval Greek city on the Bosporus which the Roman Emperor Constantine I renamed Constantinople, was not in essence an unfathomable, over-hierarchical or manipulative sort of place. It flourished for more than 1,000 years, until the Ottoman Turkish onslaught in the 15th century, by dint of its ‘extraordinary resilience and self-confidence’, says Judith Herrin, a leading Byzantinist.

The northern Italian city of Ravenna, with its wondrous mosaicked churches and gilded mausolea that miraculously survived the aerial bombardments of the second world war, was manifestly also a Byzantine city. Herrin shows how this was so in her scrupulously researched history of the city in its imperial heyday through the period Edward Gibbon chose to call the Dark Ages. While barbarians, vandals and pestilential black boils undermined the achievements of centuries, Ravenna served as the headquarters of Byzantine rule in the west and, through a threefold combination of Roman military prowess, Greek culture and Christian belief, became the place where European Christianity was forged, Herrin argues.

Today, by contrast, Ravenna is something of a backwater, situated in Po valley marshland. The British Tuscanites who descend on the hills round Florence over the summer holidays to enact their ‘Toujours Tuscany’ dreams tend to ignore the Adriatic city 100 miles to their east. Oscar Wilde, visiting in 1877, mused on Ravenna’s fallen greatness and the gloomy looking tomb on Via Alighieri where Dante lies buried (Dantis Poetae Sepulchrum). In Ravenna, Wilde found ‘no sound of life or joy’, though inevitably he was aware of past glories. The Roman empire had collapsed in 476 but, wonderfully, a part of it had survived and flourished — the eastern half, with its great capital at Constantinople and the Italic outpost of Ravenna as its gateway into northern Adriatic coastlands and beyond into present-day Sicily. For more than 400 years, according to Herrin, Ravenna was the very ‘crucible of Europe’. Her book, impeccably researched, chronicles the city’s life from 402, when it became the capital of the Roman empire in the west, to 751, when the Germanic longobardi (‘long-beards’, later Lombards) invaded northern Italy.

Herrin’s is not a story of decline, she insists, but one of rebirth. Situated at the strategic midway between the western, Latin-speaking world and the eastern, Greek-speaking world, Ravenna was where past met future, and where classical Rome was transformed into medieval Christendom. The Roman emperor Justinian I and his empress-wife Theodora sought to restore the Roman empire to its old glory and maintain Ravenna as the ‘fulcrum of energies’ that connected Goths, Ostrogoths, Franks and Romans to the Byzantine peoples, and the Roman popes in Rome to the Roman emperors in Constantinople.

In Ravenna’s octagonal church of San Vitale we can marvel today at stupendous mosaic depictions of Justinian and Theodora. Arrayed in jewels amid their entourage, the imperial couple radiate an image of Constantinopolitan power that was intended to awe the Ravennati. Throughout the 6th century the emperor and empress had dominated the Mediterranean world, yet they never visited Ravenna (they preferred to stay put in their glittering eastern imperial polis on the Bosporus). The mosaic-makers surely were familiar with the togas and martial regalia of classical Rome, but they chose to dress Justinian and his wife in Tyrian purple raiments, as the representatives of the new Christian order known as Eastern Orthodoxy.

Herrin, an emerita professor at King’s College London, devoted nine years to researching her history of three and a half centuries of Ravenna’s glory days. She views Byzantine Ravenna, even with its defects, as very much a civilisation, though the contemporary sources are so exiguous that she has had to rely on surviving papyri and other fragmentary registers of the period for her argument. A lucid explicator, she usefully clarifies the bewildering (‘Byzantine’?) wholesale destruction of graven images that occurred in the early-middle period of Byzantium. Much of Christian Constantinople was whitewashed or plastered over on the orders of the iconoclast Byzantine emperor Leo III, who espoused an Old Testament intolerance of images. Ravenna, however, had begun to look religiously to Rome, where the pope was opposed to any such visual purifications, so icons and paintings of holy people were left untouched.

Herrin’s book, though dense with mention of Theodores, Theodosiuses, Theodoras and Theoderics, is eminently worth reading. The colour plates are so sumptuous that the Ravenna mosaics fairly glow on the page. History teaches us that it is on the margins that the greatest change often occurs. Ravenna was on such a margin. Now, perhaps for the first time, the city emerges triumphant from the shadow of the so-called Dark Ages.

Buy Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe here.

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Requiem for a cosmopolitan dream

Attila did not seem surprised when I told him I was Greek. We were at the entrance of the Hagia Sophia museum on a rainy, cold December morning, and for the next hour, he would guide me through the most popular tourist attraction in Istanbul.

By Katerina Sokou

What I did not tell him was that I had studied the basilica in a Byzantine archaeology course during my time at university: the engineering complexity of the dome making it appear as if it were hovering, the expensive decorative materials and marbles from around the empire, and the exquisite gold tiles which give historians a unique window into the Byzantine ideology.

However, nothing could prepare me for the awe which I felt on first entering Hagia Sophia. It can only be compared with a hike to the Acropolis and a viewing of the Parthenon, but with drastically different results. The light on the Acropolis is captivating while the dim light in Hagia Sophia feels mystical. It was like the history of the Byzantine Empire came alive in a way that no picture could ever transmit.

Attila did not stop talking about the history of the building, its conversion into a mosque and efforts to restore the mosaics since it became a museum. He spent almost half of the tour showing the changes made for the mosque conversion and explaining why they were needed. I was listening with patience – I preferred it for him speak of all that I already knew.

I remembered that during the Justinian era, the Parthenon was transformed into a church, with the addition of Byzantine mosaics and a bell tower. Is it the fate of every past religion to feed those that follow with inspiration? The Blue Mosque was made as a copy of Hagia Sophia, with the goal of being more opulent, but instead of the golden dome, it was given six minarets.

Toward the end of the tour, my Turkish guide showed me the area from which the women watched the sermon, and specifically the spot from which Byzantine empresses watched. To the left and right there were shields with passages from the Quran, in the background, you could discern the Virgin Mary in the famous Mosaic of the Apse. I was haunted by the cries of history. These were cries that the conversion of the mosque into a museum had mostly silenced.

Coming out into the plaza, I found a spot from which – using a trick – I managed to take some pictures of Hagia Sophia without the minarets in the frame. Immediately, the result felt sweet and harmony returned.

Even though the building was unveiled to me for its primary use, the reality around me had evolved into what UNESCO protects as a monument of global heritage and Westerners love in Istanbul: the outcome of centuries of history which create a mosaic of different cultures and religions.

The vision of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is different. His vision for the city is one where conservative Islam returns as a political ideology. The Islamization in which Erdogan has indulged as a new reincarnation of the Conqueror is taking aim at the secular state of Kemal Ataturk, and the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque is the symbolic arrow to the heart of Ataturk’s secular vision, part of which was the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a museum in 1934. For the Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, it is a statement to the world that “we are no longer a secular state.” For Christianity and the religious and ethnic minorities of Turkey, however, Erdogan’s decision brings back the worst memories of the persecutions that gave birth to the Turkish nation-state.

Even those who do not care whether Hagia Sophia is a mosque or museum, those who do not feel the insult toward Orthodox Christians or the fear of the minorities, will sense the change during their next visit. This decision buries the multicultural character of Istanbul as this becomes reduced to a distorted, empty shell. What remains is what Marwa Maziad and Jake Sotiriadis describe in their article that Kathimerini republished on May 11: a vision of Pan-Islamism, a culturally hegemonic type of political Islam which seeks to revitalize a greater Turkey. The blow to the international image of the country, as described by the director of the Turkish Research Program at The Washington Institute, Soner Cagaptay, is the smallest of problems.

(This article was originally published in Kathimerini

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Dr Foster went to Gloucester

Hello all – it’s that time of year when I have holiday remaining, the leaves are turning, and I need to get a few miles under my feet before winter arrives. So I’m off walking again and raising money for Combat Stress and ABF: The Soldiers’ Charity. I’m also dedicating this walk to the late Ray Washer RE, who died suddenly last weekend. I’m walking around 110 miles from Winchester to Gloucester over six days.

My route will be the Roman road north-west out of Winchester, past Andover (Icknield Way) then to the Kennet & Avon canal, turn west for two days then north towards Stroud around Bradford-on-Avon. Passing through Laurie Lee’s home village of Slad before I drop downhill into Gloucester. I have no idea where I shall sleep but the Lord will provide! If you live along this route maybe say hello!

I hope that you might give generously to encourage me! In the past, readers of the blog have raised many thousands of pounds for these charities (and Shelter). My thanks for that and in anticipation of your generosity this time around.

The link to the Just Giving page is here

All the best



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Gertrude Bell, Byzantine Archaeology, And The Founding Of Iraq

A few of the 39 participants of the 1921 Cairo Conference. Under the face of the Sphinx and from left to right: Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence.

A few of the 39 participants of the 1921 Cairo Conference. Under the face of the Sphinx and from left to right: Winston Churchill, Gertrude Bell and T.E. Lawrence.

A fascinating woman who pushed the boundaries of her sex that early 20th century society imposed on her. Gertrude Bell, rich Englishwoman, alpine mountain climber and desert explorer, archaeologist and diplomat, author and linguist, who formed a nation and protected its historical treasures through the depth of her brilliance, the strength of her resolution, and the breadth of her sympathy.

By Dale Debakcsy

First published in Women You Should Know

The art of Strenuous Living is one we usually associate with the generation of nervous over-achievers who grew up after the US Civil War, during the age that saw the American frontier officially disappear, and the cult of violent self-exertion find its most charismatic spokesperson in the barrel-chested polymath, Theodore Roosevelt. And yet, it was not Roosevelt, nor even any American, who pushed the idea of the Strenuous Life to its fullest potential in the bustling opening years of the Twentieth Century, but rather a rich Englishwoman, an alpine mountain climber and desert explorer, archaeologist and diplomat, author and linguist, who formed a nation and protected its historical treasures through the depth of her brilliance, the strength of her resolution, and the breadth of her sympathy.

She was Gertrude Bell (1868-1926), the privileged daughter of a well-established and massively influential iron-and-steel dynasty, and had she been made of less determined stuff her life might well have been one of steady and unchallenging leisure in the main with a side-line of progressive dabbling to cleanse the conscience and fill the hours between social visits. But Gertrude was a child of will, who had the great good fortune of possessing a father of deep affection and wide imagination. Father and daughter shared a life-long bond whereby each was All to the other, and Gertrude was given free reign to develop her difficult, adventurous side, much to the physical peril of her younger brother, who often injured himself trying to follow in his sister’s wake.

Gertrude was a willful child, a difficult child prone to physical exertion (especially horseback riding) and strange ideas (for a spell of time she would throw her dog into the pond every day because she found its struggles and panic comical), but more than anything she was a brilliant child lacking challenge. Her brain required education beyond the French and German and social “attainments” allotted her by her tolerant but traditional stepmother, and so in 1884 she was packed off to Queen’s College that she might, all hoped, find herself at last.

After two years at Queen’s, she began attending Lady Margaret Hall at Oxford University, and in just two years completed the history program there, and was the first woman to win a coveted 1st Class Honors in modern history. Having shown the magnitude of her intellectual mettle, Bell was thrust back upon a world that had no clear use for the gifts she had spent the last four years developing.

Fortunately, as a woman of means, Bell could afford to be supremely indifferent to the lack of official, remunerative positions available to her. She spent the next decade and a half in a dizzying whirl of travel, taking in Persia, Italy, Switzerland, Mexico, Japan, China, Greece, Lebanon, Palestine, Burma, Egypt, Algiers, and a rough dozen other countries besides. While in Switzerland, she developed a new passion that would alternate with her world travel as the central concern of her life – mountaineering.

Women mountaineers certainly existed in the late 19th and early 20th century, but Bell’s exploits in the Alps were to gain a particular renown, both for the number of first ascents she racked up in a relatively short number of years, and for the harrowing lengths she pushed herself and her guides to in the teeth of Nature’s most violent fits of temper. Clinging to sheer rock faces in snow and lightning for forty hours, leaping into the mist-shrouded unknown, shoving herself into small crevices so that her fellow climbers could use her body as a platform to just… reach…. the next wisp of a handhold, Bell’s exertions were legendary among climbers, and from them her fame spread to the wider world.

It was all very gratifying, but Bell found herself increasingly wondering, did it matter? She could spend months planning an ascent, and days performing it, and at the end feel very personally accomplished, but for all that time and effort, whose life had she really improved except her own? She had resources beyond those available to most, and so might be doing things that helped people less highly born than herself, but instead she had spent the better part of two decades in a series of rigorous and diverting amusements the benefits of which accrued to Bell and Bell alone. Surely she could not let her life be summed up with the Epitaph, “Gertrude Bell – she expensively entertained herself, then passed on.”

The chance to lash her powerful intellect and legendary physical fortitude to a cause beyond herself came in 1899 when she met archaeologist David Hogarth, who opened to her the world of Middle East antiquity. Already fluent in Persian, French, and German, she began in that year to study Arabic and Hebrew as well, and in 1900 she completed the first of her desert travels, a route that took her through Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria. This first excursion was an odd hybrid of amateur anthropology and tourism, but during it she began learning the rules of the desert, the social practices of the nomadic Bedouin, including their elaborate customs of mutual hospitality. By honoring these rules, she built up a steadily increasing catalogue of powerful friends among the wandering sheiks, warriors, and merchants of Mesopotamia, friends who regaled her with tales of the intricate relations between, and shifting power dynamics of, the tribes of the desert, information that would be central to her late-life role as an architect of the Iraqi state.

From 1900 to 1912, however, her focus was less on harnessing her deep local knowledge for the sake of politics, and more on develop her skills as an archaeologist, map-maker, and ethnographer in a land of bristling heat, brutal terrain, and unpredictable spurts of violence. She became a specialist in Byzantine architecture, and her 1907 explorations with Sir William Ramsay in Anatolia became the basis for her 1909 book The Thousand and One Churches, which is an important source for the understanding of Byzantine religious architecture to this day.

That year, after a 450 mile excursion to map sites along the Euphrates River, she discovered an incredibly well-preserved 8th century Abbasid fortress at Ukhaidir, and began to survey it using the techniques she had learned from the Royal Geographic Society in 1907. She wrote of her discovery in her account of her 1909/10 journeys, Amurath to Amurath, and then revisited the site in 1911 in preparation for a monograph devoted completely to its architectural nuances which was released in 1913 as The Palace and Mosque at Ukhaidir.

1911 was also the year she met a man whose fate was to intertwine with hers for the rest of her life, a budding young archaeologist by the name of T.E. Lawrence who history would later know by his more romantic moniker – Lawrence of Arabia. They shared a passion for Arabic culture and antiquities, and each in their own way would be a powerful force in the next decade in furthering the cause of Arabic independence, first from the rule of the Ottomans, and ultimately from the paternalist intentions of Europe.

In 1913 Bell completed her final, and most epic, desert excursion. 1,800 miles on camelback through the vast deserts of modern Saudi Arabia and Iraq with the impossible goal of seeing for herself the famed White City of Hayyil. Her path took her directly through the center of hotly contested territories, wherein she had to use every scrap of cultural knowledge she had accrued over the last decade to negotiate, bluff, and bully her way through the desert to her ultimate location. Critical water shortages, hostile tribes, and the ever shifting dunescape all did their utmost to ruin the expedition, but Bell pressed on, and her hired entourage, though grumbling, allowed their wills to bend to her forceful example. She achieved entry to Hayyil, where she would have been kept prisoner if not for her uncanny ability to turn people from all walks of life from suspicious antagonists to active and assiduous friends.

The journey completed at last, she returned home with maps and knowledge of Arabia that would soon prove themselves invaluable as Europe diplomatically bumbled its way into the First World War. With Turkey allying itself with Germany, the Middle East suddenly became an area of acute military importance which British intelligence knew hazardously little about. Who were the relevant powers in the area? Who did they support? What did they want? What could they be reasonably expected to do? Though most in British intelligence could not answer these questions, they were aware that Gertrude Bell was the one person in the Empire who could, and so in 1915 she was made the unprecedented offer of traveling to Cairo to begin work with British Intelligence to compile information and form a workable strategy for organizing Arabic resistance to Turkish rule.

Once arrived in Cairo, she naturally expanded her role from that of informal occasional adviser to resident expert and general policy coordinator. It was she who, when Indian officials expressed unease about the prospect of promoting Arabic revolution, traveled to India to smooth feathers and turn the Raj to her point of view. It was she who maintained direct relations with the relevant sheiks as a nascent Arabic nationalist movement formed in opposition to Turkish domination. And it was she who attended the Paris peace conferences after the war to fight strenuously for honoring the Allied promise of Arabic independence as against French delegates who were intent on setting up a mandate in Syria and British delegates engaged in creating a British mandate in Iraq and arbitrarily carving a Jewish homeland from Palestine.

At war’s end, Bell concentrated her efforts on promoting Faisal, a Sunni who could creditably claim descent from Mohammed and thereby at least partially address Shia concerns, as the best choice for leader of a newly unified Iraqi state. Through her efforts and advise, his cause was promoted, and through his charismatic if erratic leadership a nation was forged. For her part, Bell, now in her fifties, was given charge of the Iraq Museum in 1923, and threw herself into the task of recovering Iraq’s archaeological treasures while also promoting greater literacy in her role as president of the Baghdad Public Library.

She was one of King Faisal’s most trusted advisors and confidants, and a figure uniquely beloved by the people of Baghdad. While other British officials had prevaricated and argued for Iraq’s continued subservience to Britain, she had argued publicly and forcefully for their independence, and for the promotion of a larger Arabic state to include those lands which the French refused to relinquish. When her death came in 1926, the citizens of Baghdad lined the streets to pay respect to the passing body of this strange creature, this wealthy British atheist who had inexplicably but demonstrably given her life to the cause of poor Arabic Muslims, and to the preservation of a hard and vanishing way of life preserved in the rigors of her life, and the force of her words.

FURTHER READING: <a href="http://The Desert and the Sown: Travels in Palestine and Syria” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>The Desert and the Sown (1907) was Bell’s first popular account of her travels in the desert, and is still an engaging read. <a href="http://Amurath to Amurath by Gertrude Lowthian Bell (2008-09-05)” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Amurath to Amurath (1911) is also a fascinating, if more technical, volume, and both are available in more modern editions so you don’t have to break the bank flagging down a vintage copy. There’s also a neat Penguin Classics edition, <a href="http://A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert (Penguin Classics)” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>A Woman in Arabia: The Writings of the Queen of the Desert, that contains a good selection of her writings. For a survey of her life, I quite enjoyed Georgina Howell’s <a href="http://Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations” rel=”noopener” target=”_blank”>Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations (2006), which is a bit light on the full substance of her architectural ideas, but makes up for it with a wonderful accounting of the politics of Arabia under the Ottomans, and Bell’s role in the creation of the Iraqi state.

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Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe by Judith Herrin

A new book by the always readable Judith Herrin, author of Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. A riveting history of the city that led the West out of the ruins of the Roman Empire.

At the end of the fourth century, as the power of Rome faded and Constantinople became the seat of empire, a new capital city was rising in the West. Here, in Ravenna on the coast of Italy, Arian Goths and Catholic Romans competed to produce an unrivaled concentration of buildings and astonishing mosaics. For three centuries, the city attracted scholars, lawyers, craftsmen, and religious luminaries, becoming a true cultural and political capital. Bringing this extraordinary history marvelously to life, Judith Herrin rewrites the history of East and West in the Mediterranean world before the rise of Islam and shows how, thanks to Byzantine influence, Ravenna played a crucial role in the development of medieval Christendom.

Drawing on deep, original research, Herrin tells the personal stories of Ravenna while setting them in a sweeping synthesis of Mediterranean and Christian history. She narrates the lives of the Empress Galla Placidia and the Gothic king Theoderic and describes the achievements of an amazing cosmographer and a doctor who revived Greek medical knowledge in Italy, demolishing the idea that the West just descended into the medieval “Dark Ages.”

Beautifully illustrated and drawing on the latest archaeological findings, this monumental book provides a bold new interpretation of Ravenna’s lasting influence on the culture of Europe and the West.

Buy Ravenna: Capital of Empire, Crucible of Europe here.

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Viking Neighbourhood Found Near Istanbul

Archaeologists conducting a study for evidence of Vikings near the city of Istanbul (formerly the Byzantine capital of Constantinople) have suggested the discovery of a Viking neighbourhood, reports Heritage Daily. The study has focused on the ancient city of Bathonea (previously identified as Rhegion) on the European shore of the Sea of Marmara, 20 km west of Istanbul.

Vikings first came to the Byzantine Empire as merchants, before being incorporated into an Imperial guard formed by Emperor Basil II in AD 988, consisting of Varangians from the state of Kievan Rus’.

The recruitment for the guard outside of the Empires borders was a tactical policy, as the guard members lacked any loyalty to factions other than the emperor or held any political ambition (a common issue historically with the Praetorian guard of the Western Roman Empire) that could be a threat to the Emperor’s position.

Over the next 100 years, the guard’s ranks would include Norseman from Scandinavia, establishing a Norse cast that would become the dominant entity of the guard’s ranks.

According to contemporary texts, foreigners were forbidden from settling in the capital, but were instead said to be living in a port which corresponds with sites such as Bathonea. Vikings and Varangians could enter the capital in the morning within small groups, but had to leave the city before sunset.

During excavations of Bathonea, the team of archaeologists found a cross made from ambergris, a substance formed from a secretion of the bile duct in the intestines of the sperm whale. The most significant find is a necklace depicting a snake, that represents Jörmangandr (also known as the Midgard Serpent) that will bring about the first signs of Ragnarök.

Head of excavations Şengül Aydıngün, an associate Professor of the Kocaeli University told Hurriyet Daily News “Vikings lived in Istanbul between the eighth and the 11th centuries in different periods. We have found their exact settlement area to be between the ninth and 11th centuries in the Bathonea excavations.”

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Why we should be concerned about President Erdogan turning museums into mosques

Christ Chalkites, inner narthex, Kariye Mosque Photo: James Conlon © The Trustees of Columbia University, Media Center for Art History, Department of Art History & Archaeology

Hagia Sophia and the Chora Church will remain “open to all”, Turkish government promises—but restricted access may not be the primary worry. An article from The Art Newspaper by Holger A Klein.

Last Friday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey signed a decree that transferred the management of the Kariye Museum, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated monuments of late Byzantine art and architecture, to the Religious Affairs Directorate and announced its reopening as a house of Muslim worship. The extraordinary mosaics and frescoes of the former Byzantine monastery church of the Chora (Greek for field or countryside; Kariye in Turkish) were commissioned by the Byzantine prime minister, humanist and poet Theodore Metochites between 1315 and 1321. It is not only the most complete ensemble of late Byzantine art to survive in Istanbul, but also one of the most sophisticated artistic achievements of the last centuries of Byzantine artistic production anywhere in the Mediterranean.

President Erdogan’s decision comes little more than a month after a similar decree revoked the museum status of Hagia Sophia and turned the building back into a functioning mosque. The official announcement of the museum’s conversion should not have come as a surprise to anyone. In November 2019, Turkey’s highest administrative court had ruled that the Council of Ministers’ decision in August 1945 to close the Kariye as a mosque and designate it a museum was “unlawful”. This ruling ultimately paved the way for the court’s more consequential decision on 10 July 2020, which nullified in similar terms the cabinet decree responsible for turning the Great Mosque of Hagia Sophia into a museum in November 1934.

Christ of the Chora, inner narthex, Kariye Mosque Photo: James Conlon © The Trustees of Columbia University, Media Center for Art History, Department of Art History & Archaeology

Why should we be concerned about these decisions? Did Erdogan not promise that Hagia Sophia would remain “open to all, locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims” alike? Is it not Turkey’s sovereign right to designate historical monuments as museums, revoke such decisions, and use former churches-turned-mosques as houses of prayer if the Turkish people and their political leaders deem it appropriate?

When the Turkish commission charged with the designation of Hagia Sophia as a museum in the 1930s emphasised the sixth-century building’s universal cultural and artistic value as an “architectural masterpiece” over its more divisive religious and political status as a house of worship and symbol of Ottoman conquest, it dedicated the monument to “all of humanity”. In Erdogan’s Turkey, such enlightened attempts to neutralise a contested religious site and to create a sense of shared cultural heritage seem no longer appreciated or politically opportune. On the contrary: the president’s effort to turn back the historical clock by converting Ataturk-era museums into mosques is a blunt instrument to score points with his political base and an ostentatious act to demonstrate religious superiority and cultural domination. While Erdogan’s actions may well earn him the status of a gazi (religious warrior) in the eyes of his most ardent supporters, the damage to Turkey’s reputation in the world is significant.

Dome of Christ, inner narthex, Kariye Mosque Photo: James Conlon © The Trustees of Columbia University, Media Center for Art History, Department of Art History & Archaeology

In America, we are reminded of concerns raised by Thomas Whittemore, the Bostonian archaeologist, relief worker, and later founder of the Byzantine Institute of America, who became keenly aware of the destructive force of religious conflict during the Balkan Wars, when mosques and their minarets became targets of artillery fire, and former Byzantine monuments were held hostage in an effort to prevent a foreign invasion. In March 1913, Whittemore wrote to his friend Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston: “It seems probable that before you have this, Constantinople will have fallen but not, I fear, until all the Mosques have been destroyed. That I am told is the intention of Turkey, to bombard Santa Sophia [Hagia Sophia] if they have to surrender.”

Whether these rumours were true or not, they raised enough alarm in diplomatic circles that US Ambassador Morgenthau intervened directly with the highest government authorities in Turkey. Fortunately, Hagia Sophia and other mosques were not dynamited in 1913. International interest in the preservation of Istanbul’s architectural heritage increased considerably in the following decade. In June 1931, Thomas Whittemore was able to obtain permission from the Council of Ministers to uncover Hagia Sophia’s Byzantine mosaics. Their existence had been known since the mid-19th century, when the Swiss-born Fossati brothers restored Hagia Sophia and meticulously documented their findings. However, it was the Byzantine Institute of America’s restoration of these mosaic treasures that ultimately convinced Kemal Ataturk to declare the building a museum. Once concluded, the Turkish government entrusted the Byzantine Institute of America with the restoration of the deteriorating Byzantine mosaics and frescoes of the former Kariye mosque. Again, it was thanks to American philanthropic efforts that this extraordinary Byzantine monument was preserved. After ten years of painstaking preservation work, its spectacular mosaics and frescoes were revealed to the public in 1958. The Kariye Museum has since drawn millions of local and international visitors, allowing “all of humanity” to witness and relish in the sublime beauty of Byzantine art.

Dome of Christ, inner narthex, Kariye Mosque Photo: James Conlon © The Trustees of Columbia University, Media Center for Art History, Department of Art History & Archaeology

Fear of restricted access to Byzantine monuments and their Christian mosaics and frescoes is not the primary concern for those who have criticised Erdogan’s recent decisions. Travellers and tourists were able to visit Hagia Sophia, Kariye, and other mosques for centuries either with an official permission or by buying their way in, as Mark Twain famously recalled. Future visitors will no doubt continue to have access between times of prayer. More worrisome are the examples set by similar conversions in the cities of Vize, Iznik and Trabzon over the past decade. They provide ample evidence that concerns about adequate building maintenance, scholarly access and scientific input on restoration decisions are not unjustified. The conversion of the Kariye into an active space of worship is likely to result in the covering of several mosaic panels in the main congregational space, or naos, during times of prayers. It remains to be seen how the authorities will deal with the fully frescoed side chapel (parekklesion) and the two vestibules (narthexes), whose ceilings and wall surfaces are covered with mosaics depicting biblical stories.

Parekklesion Anastasis, Kariye Mosque Photo: James Conlon © The Trustees of Columbia University, Media Center for Art History, Department of Art History & Archaeology

It is too early to know how the loss of their museum status will impact the long-term future of monuments such as Hagia Sophia, the Kariye and others. We have to trust that respect for the religious history and beliefs of others and the universal value of cultural heritage will prevail regardless of the buildings’ new religious function. For now, it is the world’s duty to remind the Turkish government of its responsibility to serve as guardians of their country’s extraordinary religious and cultural treasures, which are the heritage of all of humanity.

Holger A. Klein is Lisa and Bernard Selz Professor of Medieval Art History and director of the Sakıp Sabancı Center for Turkish Studies at Columbia University, New York

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Ravenna – the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia

I follow Peter Webscott’s Wordscene blog with great interest. Peter and I have been in contact over the years and I bow to the superior, and original, quality of his work. Ravenna is one of my favourite places. A lovely city to visit, stuffed full of Byzantine treasures. The most marvellous mosaics in the world in my opinion (but then what would I know). I thought that you might enjoy this recent article from Peter, and perhaps spead a while looking around his blog, including a recent series about his visit to Mount Athos.

Read the article with superb photographs and excellent explanations here.

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What Will Happen Now to Hagia Sophia’s Byzantine Mosaics?

The Mosaic of the Apse

Well. He’s done it. Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has pushed through his plans to annul the status of Hagia Sophia as a museum and turn it back into a mosque. We are all saddened. There is worldwide dismay and outrage. We can but hope that one day this decision will be revoked. In the meantime we must all be worrying that the beautiful mosaics will not be damaged. Greek Reporter and Hurriyet report that curtains may be installed to cover them during prayer.

We can have some idea based upon what happened at the smaller Hagia Sophia in the eastern port city of Trabzon as reported in the Economist:

It was born as a church, one of the icons of the Byzantine world, before being converted into a mosque by the Ottoman Turks and into a museum by their secular-minded successors. But now it would be transformed again. Workers squeezed a bland wooden minbar into a corner of the nave and a mihrab into a nearby portico, drew panels and screens to obscure the dazzling 13th-century Christian frescoes looking down from the vaults and the dome, and unfurled a red carpet over the marble floor. A muezzin summoned the faithful to prayers. The Hagia Sophia was now a mosque.

That was in 2013, and not in Istanbul, home of the Hagia Sophia known to millions of tourists worldwide, but in Trabzon, another Turkish city once populated by Greeks (and known in English as Trebizond), home to the ancient shrine’s much smaller and younger namesake. There are at least five former Byzantine churches dedicated to the Hagia Sophia (“Holy Wisdom” in Greek) across Turkey. Over the past decade, four, including the one in Trabzon, have reopened as mosques. The same fate now awaits the most important of them, the sixth-century Hagia Sophia, the grand old lady of Eastern Christendom, and Istanbul’s domed crown.

Greek Reporter tells us more:

Following Turkey’s decision to annul the 1934 conversion of Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia into a museum, paving the way for its reconversion into a mosque, questions are asked about the fate of numerous mosaics that decorate several of its interior walls.

Many social media users are expressing horror at the thought of Hagia Sophia being turned into a mosque, with the ancient mosaics would be covered up — or even worse — removed.

Turkey’s daily Hurriyet reported that the mosaics will be covered up with specially-designed curtains during Muslim prayers and that visitors would be asked to take off their shoes before entering, as is the case with all mosques.

The original mosaics were not destroyed by the Ottoman conquerors but merely covered up when the city was captured in 1453. When Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum, they were uncovered so that visitors would enjoy them.

Some of the mosaics in Hagia Sophia are considered masterpieces, and they serve as a catalogue of Byzantine art. The motifs used in the creation of the mosaics were mostly imperial portraits and images of Christ.

Among them is the “Mosaic of the Apse,” completed during the 9th century, which decorates the half-dome located behind the altar. It is a representation of Virgin Mary sitting on a backless throne, with the baby Jesus seated on her lap.

It is set against a gleaming golden background to create a strong contrast with the dark color of her clothing.

he mosaic called the “Pantakrator” or “Almighty”

Another masterpiece is the “Pantakrator” mosaic decorated with the figure of Jesus, located on the top of the Imperial Gate. It shows Jesus blessing the world with his right hand and carrying the scriptures in his left hand.

The following Greek words are written on the Bible: “May Peace Be with You. I Am the Divine Light.”

Hagia Sophia’s “Deesis” Mosaic

The world famous “Deesis” mosaic, which is regarded as the beginning of a renaissance in Byzantine art, is located on the western wall of Hagia Sophia’s Northern Gallery.

John the Baptist is portrayed on the right side and the Virgin Mary on the left side of Jesus, who is in the middle in this important piece of Byzantine art.

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Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation’s Online Seminar on Byzantium

Well. We missed this as there was no real marketing beforehand. However, the news report makes some interesting points. If the lecture recording is posted online I shall make you all aware. First published in The National Herald.

The Hellenic-American Cultural Foundation (HACF) presented Professor Maria Mavroudi on How Byzantine Civilization Influenced Modern-day Culture, an online seminar via Zoom on June 18. The fascinating lecture offered insights into the ways scholars once viewed Byzantium, how views are evolving, and how the influence of Byzantium in art, culture, and civilization continues today.

HACF Chairman Nicholas Kourides gave the welcoming remarks and thanked all those who made the event possible, noting that the event was the first in a series of virtual events “which may become the new normal for the foreseeable future.”

He continued, “This foundation was organized nine years ago to promote high quality and relevant educational and cultural programs for persons interested in the rich history and legacy of Greece. Our goal is to remain relevant and inspirational even during a pandemic and we will continue to find ways and different media to reach our audience and the community.”

Kourides then introduced HACF Board member Pericles Mazarakis who introduced Prof. Mavroudi, noting that she is not only a renowned scholar but also his koumbara. Mazarakis pointed out “her encyclopedic knowledge around the intersection between Greek history, Byzantine culture, and Islamic studies.”

Prof. Mavroudi was born in Thessaloniki, Greece and studied Philology before earning a PhD in Byzantine studies at Harvard. Her work was recognized with a MacArthur fellowship in 2002. She is a Professor of Byzantine History and Classics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Scholars from the 19th and 20th centuries assigned Byzantium a marginal role in the development of world civilization, one limited to the preservation of “classical” Greek texts. However, during the last two or three decades, new interpretations of Byzantine civilization have begun to challenge this view. Prof. Mavroudi’s presentation focused on Byzantium’s economy and monetary system, its art and its literature, in order to explain the global importance of Byzantine civilization.

A map of the lower Golden Horn region of Constantinople, from Braun and Hogenberg, 1572, from Byzantium nunc Constantinopolis (Byzantium now called Constantinople).

Prof. Mavroudi began by thanking everyone who organized the lecture, especially Mazarakis who suggested the topic, and her son who acted as her “Technical Consultant” for the event. She noted that “Byzantium is the eastern part of the Roman Empire that never fell to the barbarians,” and “`Byzantine’ is a neologism, it’s not a term ever that the Byzantines used for themselves and it was not a term that others used for them, in fact their neighbors to the east would call them Romans which is how they referred to themselves, as they understood themselves as heirs to the Roman Empire and this is the reason that modern Greeks still call themselves Romioi.”

She continued, “The complication with the name Roman started in the early 9th century when Charlemagne and later monarchies in western Europe started claiming the legacy of Rome for themselves more and more forcefully and this has determined a lot of the modern perception of Byzantium.”

Prof. Mavroudi noted that it was a 16th century scholar, Hieronymus Wolf, who introduced the neologism and continues to be influential in how Byzantium is studied to this day and how we understand medieval history as the section of history “between antiquity and modernity.”

The presentation was highlighted by many slides of maps and photographs of artwork in the Byzantine style from various places, including the famed mosaic featuring the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna, Italy, an important surviving example of early Christian Byzantine art and architecture. The remarkable paintings in the Town Hall of Athens, Greece by the influential 20th century Greek artist Photis Kontoglou, and works by iconographer Mark Dukes from two nationally recognized churches, St. Gregory of Nysa Episcopal Church and the St. John Coltrane African Orthodox Church, both in San Francisco, as well as works by artist Robert Lenz, also highlighted the powerful artistic influence of Byzantium to the present day.

Following her lecture, Prof. Mavroudi answered questions from the audience with many offering their thanks and appreciation for the event. Kourides then offered his closing remarks and thanks as he noted that over 200 people had participated in the online event. He also pointed out that anyone with suggestions for future events should contact HACF and the recording of the lecture would also be available online.

More information is available online:

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The making of Lost Voices of Hagia Sophia

Join Cappella Romana and the documentary of the making of their Billboard Chart-topping recording, #TheLostVoicesOfHagiaSophia. A full look at the story and the technology behind the music, as well as interviews with Cappella Romana members Alexander Lingas, John Michael Boyer, Catherine van der Salm, and more.

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Statue of the last Byzantine Emperor is unveiled in Piraeus

Statue of Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos in Piraeus

Following along from our recent series on the Fall of Constantinople, a statue of the last Emperor of the Byzantine Empire, Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, was last week unveiled in Athens.

The statue has been erected in the square of the Holy Metropolis Church of Piraeus (Athens).

Emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos is not only remembered for being the last Byzantine Emperor who put up a brave last stand against the Ottomans, but also for his last speech to his officers and allies before the Fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453 by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II.

Read more about this story in the Greek City Times.

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