The Sacred Architecture of Byzantium: Art, Liturgy and Symbolism in Early Christian Churches

By Carile, Maria Cristina | The Catholic Historical Review, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

The Sacred Architecture of Byzantium: Art, Liturgy and Symbolism in Early Christian Churches


Carile, Maria Cristina, The Catholic Historical Review


The Sacred Architecture of Byzantium: Art, Liturgy and Symbolism in Early Christian Churches. By Nicholas N. Patricios. [Librar}' of Classical Studies, Vol. 4.] (New York: I.B. Tauris. 2014. Pp. xvii, 446. $75.00. ISBN 978-1-78076-291-3.)

In this book, Nicholas Patricios extends his research beyond the limits of Byzantium or of early Christian churches to build an understanding of Eastern Orthodox church architecture and art as interrelated to liturgy. A rather poetic prologue, in which the author takes the reader into the magic atmosphere of contemporary Saturday liturgy in the Ionian island of Ithaka, reveals the suggestion that brought him to write this book. After a brief introduction, chapter I presents an outline of Christianity and Byzantine history. Chapter II introduces the realm of "Sacred Architecture," which for the author is the architecture of congregational churches that can be grouped into seven major types according to their features. Following this grouping, chapter III outlines Patricios's analyses of church archireader tecture in several major cities. Chapter IV and chapter V focus on figurative themes and particular iconographies, which appeared in church decoration. In chapter VI, the author discusses the liturgy of the Eucharist through time and relates it to both the development of church architecture and the location of specific religious images within the church building. Finally, chapter VII seeks to exemplify the symbolism of both the church building, with its space and liturgical furnishing, and the liturgy of the Eucharist within ecclesiastical architecture, through translations from various ancient texts. In the epilogue, a poem by Konstantine Kavafy closes this journey through Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture and art.

The book is richly illustrated with an enormous number of images that provide a real compendium to the text. In fact, these are rarely discussed but are meant to support Patricios's words with evidence of architecture and art. Unfortunately, the captions often do not include dates that would help the reader with a sense of the chronological distance among buildings and artworks represented side by side. As this book is addressed to a wide audience, the author has chosen to add very few endnotes; a limited list of further readings; and a short bibliography that includes a wide range of secondary literature, from guidebooks to educational and scholarly readings, but unfortunately lacks most recent research. …

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