Abstract: For Heaven’s Sake: the Re-conceptualization of Christian Sacred Space in Late Antiquity


Germanos I, Patriarch of Constantinople, claimed “The church is a heaven on earth wherein the heavenly God dwells and walks...” (Historia mystagogia ecclesiastica, PG 98, col.384)  This lecture examines the manner in which the patriarch’s description was visually conceptualized in the churches of the provinces of Palestine and Arabia.  In the programs of decoration in early church interiors, scholars have commonly assumed that the surface decoration of the buildings was arranged hierarchically with the most significant imagery placed on the ceilings, vaults and walls and the least important on the floor.  Yet, the relationship of the decoration of the walls and ceiling to the floor is difficult to determine because the superstructures of the buildings rarely survive.  In the provinces of Palestine and Arabia, there exist both contemporary literary descriptions as well as substantial archaeological evidence for early churches that make it possible to attempt a reconstruction of the architectural decoration, liturgical furnishings and ritual activity and consider how these functioned together to evoke a ‘heaven on earth’ among worshipers.

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