Byzantine Funerary Stela

The Menil Collection The Menil Collection

A standing woman, modestly draped, holds a small rabbit out to a nude child on a marble stela (sometimes referred to as stele) that once served as a funerary marker. Her name, Megisto, and that of the youth, Eratoxenos, appear above the figures. Megisto wears a light dress known as a chiton, a thicker wrap known as a mantle, and shoes. Her head is covered and she grasps the cloth in a gesture typically used in Greek art to indicate that she was married. Her hairstyle, partially visible under her cloak, reveals a ribbon wrapped around her head several times in a style popular during the Classical period (480–323 BCE). She gazes downward toward the young boy, but her head tilts outward to acknowledge the person standing in front of the monument as well. Eratoxenos, depicted unclothed and with slightly plump muscles, may be around 10 to 12 years old. He looks at the woman, and his right arm is raised to clasp either her arm or the rabbit. Additional details of the scene were probably added in pigment, now lost.

The subject is a variation of a typical theme in memorial depictions in which adults perform a dexiosis, or handshake, a gesture that acts as a final farewell between the dead and the living. In scenes with children, it is more common to represent the handing off of a small pet, usually a bird. Thus, this scene most likely represents a deceased mother and her young son, marking a last moment of interaction and farewell between the two. Both figures stand with their weight shifted onto one leg, known as the contrapposto pose, which became popular in the 5th century BCE. The preserved facial features of Megisto reflect a style influenced by sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens (constructed between 447 and 432 BCE).

This monument takes the form of a naiskos, a small temple, with a projecting triangular pediment and horizontal epistyle block on which the inscriptions appear. This form of tomb marker was popular in the second half of the 5th century until very early in the 4th century BCE. Typically, ancient Greek gravestones would be situated on and visible along major roadways outside of a city. Families would visit the tomb for regular upkeep to the plot as well as for memorial events. Women in ancient Attica did not lead very public lives, primarily remaining in the home. The high visibility of women on Attic gravestones of the Classical period like this piece, however, attests to their vital, but more private role in defining the family, raising children, and running households all activities that kept ancient society functioning.

Strong visual commonalities and similar tool marks on this piece to other Archaic Greek gravestones may indicate this relief was produced by a craftsperson (or several) from the Dexileos Workshop sometime between 420 and 390 BCE. The marble comes from Mount Pentelicus, an important quarry in central Attica. Pentelic marble is known for its high quality, including its quartz content and characteristic yellow hue. It was commonly used for funerary monuments, but also for structures such as the Parthenon.

Byzantine Funerary Stela - History

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Ancient Egyptian funerary practices

Tomorad, Mladen

The Heritage of Egypt (ISSN2156-2253) Vol. 2, Issue 5 (May 2009) (2009) 12-28

Vrsta, podvrsta i kategorija rada
Radovi u časopisima, članak, znanstveni

Ključne riječi
Egyptian funerary practices and rites Herodotus Diodorus Siculus embalming mummification mummies judgement preparation for burial the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb the Third Intermediate period the Late period the Ptolemaic period the Roman period and Byzantine period type of tombs grave goods shabtis wooden statuettes amulets scarabs canopic boxes and jars stele painted reliefs tombstones sarcophagus coffins cartonnage the Book of the dead.

Author in this paper describes changes in the ancient Egyptian funerary practices from the Third intermediate period to the Arab conquest of Egypt. Article is well document with the texts of ancient writers and various archaeological sources (artefacts kept in various museums, tombs etc.).

Christian Burial: According To The Byzantine Rite Tradition

“Even the bodies of those, who live with God, are not without an honor”- (Apostolic Constitutions VI , 30).

Inspired by the description of the burial of our Lord in the Gospels, Christians from the very beginning buried their dead with proper care and ceremonies. They believed that the body of every Christian was indeed “a temple of God” and, as such, it also was holy (I Cor. 3:16-17). In expectation of the “resurrection of the dead,” Christians believe that their bodies will once again be united with their souls and live forever.

The Christian belief in the resurrection of the body was then the main reason why, since ancient times, the “funerals were arranged, the obsequies celebrated and the tombs prepared with a reverent piety” among the Christians (cf. St. Augustine, The City of God I, 13). The burial of the Christian has a deeply religious meaning and, therefore, embodies certain religious ceremonies and customs which will be the topic of this pamphlet.

1. The first Christians, anchored by their faith in the Risen Savior, considered death as their final liberation from earthly exile and their triumphant entry into the Promised Land. For them, death was the last major obstacle in reaching their eternal happiness. Therefore they buried their dead with thanksgiving and accompanied the bodies of their departed to the grave in a triumphant procession, reminding us of the victory marches of ancient war heroes. By dying in the Lord, St. Paul explains, the death of every Christian is ” swallowed up in victory” (I Cor. 15:54).

Thus, every deceased Christian becomes a victor, marching triumphantly toward his immortality in order to be ” crowned with honor and glory” (Hebr. 2:7). Consequently, even the body of a deceased Christian was arranged in such a way as to give the corpse a triumphant look. The first gesture of respect for the deceased is to close his eyes. Usually this is done by the closest relative of the departed. In his book, the Life of St. Macrina, St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395) tells us that his sister Macrina asked him to close her eyes after she dies. And he continues:

” So, I placed my hand, deadened by grief, upon her holy face so as to seem to disregard her request. Actually, her eyes required no attention, since her eyelids were becomingly lowered as if she was asleep. Her lips were set naturally and her hands were crossed on her breast. The whole position of her body was so natural that there was no need of any further arrangement.” This insignificant service to the deceased was regarded not only as a duty, but as an honor.

2. When a Christian dies, his body should be washed clean. This is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (9:37) about a certain convert, Tabitha: “They washed her body and laid it out in a room upstairs.” This ceremonial washing symbolizes the purity of the soul, for ” nothing unclean” can enter into the Kingdom of heaven (Rev. 21 :27). St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 389), reprimanding the Christians for delaying the baptism of their children, says: “Are you waiting to be washed when dead?” (cf. Oration 40, 17). Then the body should be dressed in new, festive clothes, symbolizing the garment of incorruption in which the body is clothed at the time of its resurrection : “This corruptible body must be clothed with incorruptibility, this mortal body with immortality” (I Cor. 15:53). St. Dionysius of Alexandria (d. 265) tells us that the pious Christians, even during pestilence, prepared the dead ” suitably” for their burial by “washing their bodies and adorning them with funeral clothes.”

St. Gregory of Nyssa offered his new episcopal robe for the burial of his sister St. Macrina, since she did not set aside any new garment for her own funeral. And the saintly brother remarks: ” It was necessary for her sacred body to be dressed in festive garments.”

3. The body of the deceased is then laid out on a catafalque, an elevated stand draped with covers, which represents a bed, since Christians considered their dead only as fallen asleep. St. Jerome (d. 420) explains: ” For us Christians, death is not death but rather a sleep or rest” (cf. Epistle 75).

St. Luke, describing the stoning of St. Stephen, the First Martyr, tells us that he ” fell asleep” (Acts 7:60). St. John Chrysostom, explaining a certain passage of St. Paul (I Thess. 4:13) says: “He (St. Paul) did not give us instruction concerning the dying, but concerning them that are asleep. With this the Apostle proved that our death is only a sleep . .. , a longer one of course, but still a sleep” (cf. Homily on Paral., 8). Our Lord Himself referred to the dead daughter of Jarius (Mt. 9:24) and to His friend Lazarus (In. 11 :11) as asleep.

The hands of the deceased should be folded on his chest in the form of a cross, as though he would be still praying together with those around him. It is also proper to put a prayer book, or a holy icon, into his hands. A more recent custom is to put a rosary into the hands of the deceased. But this should be done only if the deceased had a devotion to the Rosary and used to pray it during his life. Folding the hands of the deceased in a praying fashion also is to remind the mourners to pray for the repose of his soul.

Usually, four burning candles are placed around the body to remind us that the deceased, as a baptized person, was indeed “a child of light” (I Thess. 5:5) and that, after following Christ, the Light of Life (In. 8:12) during his earthly life, he finally reached the “perpetual light” in heaven (cf. explanation in P. G., vol. 155, col. 676).

4. The Christians always considered it their sacred duty to take part in the prayers for the deceased members of their community. During the persecutions, however, they were able to come together for such prayers only under the cover of night.

Usually, they spent all night watching the body of the departed, reciting various prayers and psalms. Only at sunrise, after the celebration of the Holy Liturgy, did they bury the body in a prepared place. Through the influence of monastic custom, these all-night vigils became part of the Christian burial, as attested to by St. Gregory of Nyssa in his description of the funeral of his sister, St. Macrina : “There was an all-night vigil with singing of psalms as was the custom.” These all-night vigils with burning candles and singing of psalms symbolize the entrance of the Christian soul into the company of the Angels, praising God ” day and night, without pause” (Rev. 4:8).

Later the all-night vigils were somewhat shortened and they became our present day wakes, which usually are initiated by the celebration of Parastas (Gr. parastedzein means: to stand beside) , the standing service beside the body of the departed. Then follow the prayers of various groups or church societies. After having rendered their respects to the deceased by their prayer, the people gathered together in the reception room to express their personal condolences to the bereaved members of the family. In gratitude, the family of the deceased served some food and refreshments to those who came to offer their condolences.

After the refreshments, the second part of the night-vigil began with the reading of the Book of Psalms. In the case of the funeral of a priest, the Book of Gospels was read. On the morning of burial, when the body of the deceased was already placed in the coffin, a short service, known as Panachida was chanted by the priest, who also sprinkled the coffin with holy water so that the evil spirits would not disturb the peaceful rest of the deceased. This marked the conclusion of what one time used to be the All-night Service (in Greek Pannychis, meaning all night vigil), from which this short, concluding part of the all-night services retained its name.

5. The early Christians, as mentioned before, considered the death of a Christian a victory. Therefore, they arranged the funeral procession in a way of triumph, as a triumphant march of victory. The tenth century Saint says: “Death prevents me only from staying alive, but not from my living. In this sense, as a Christian, I triumph over death” (St. Athanasius the Athonite, d. 1003).

The funeral procession should be headed by the holy Cross, which is “a trophy of victory over the tyranny of death” (cf. St. John Chrys., Homily on In ., 85, 1). A wreath of flowers is placed on the top of the coffin (or sometimes carried separately) which is a symbol of the victorius “crown of life” which Our Lord promised to give to all those who “remain faithful to Him until death” (Rev. 2:10). The clergy were instructed to take part in the funeral procession, as a fourth century document prescribes (cf. Apost. Const., VI , 30) saying: “in the funerals of the departed, accompany them with singing (of Psalms) if they remained faithful to Christ, since ‘precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones’ ” (Psalms. 116:15).

The clergy, in the funeral procession, should precede the coffin just as the adjutants preceded their victorious commander. The priest, by his prayers, teachings, and the administration of the Sacraments, assisted the departed during his life in his struggle and victory over the enemy of salvation. It is appropriate, therefore, that the priest now accompanies the deceased to his final rest with his Maker.

The funeral procession then proceeds to the church where the Divine Liturgy is offered for the repose of the soul of the departed, as was customary from the early centuries: “For your Brethren that fall asleep in the Lord, in your church, offer the acceptable Eucharist … ” (cf. Apost. Const., VI , 30). The Liturgy is followed by the proper Funeral Services, bidding our farewell to the deceased.

From church, the body of the deceased is once again carried out in triumphal procession to the cemetery (Gr. koimeterion-a sleeping place, a place of rest) where, according to the disposition of God, it is returned to the earth: “You are the earth and into the earth you shall return” (Gen. 3:19). And there, in their “sleeping chambers” in their graves, the bodies of the departed Christians are peacefully awaiting the ” resurrection of the dead,” for their and our “hope is full of immortality” (Wis. 3:4).

The Symbolism of Birds on Ancient Greek Grave Steles

Hadrian-age gravestone for the child Olympia.
It is completely probable that these birds which are often categorized as "doves" or "rock doves" or "pigeons" could be pets, as seen in the following stele of a young girl with her favorite pet and toy:

The following steles depict both girls with siblings, "mothers" with children (presumably girls who died in childbirth with or not with the child), mothers and slaves.

It is an interesting concept that mothers would be depicted on these funeral stele in a similar manner to "girls." How does one become a "woman" in ancient society well a woman is a grown female child who has assumed her responsibilities as a mother, wife, and daughter of her polis. But what happens to those women who do not have children? Or can not? Are they forever revered as girls? Do they assume non-reproductive roles for their society? A priestess? A healer? etc.

If one dies in childbirth although married, is one forever considered a girl? It is an interesting term and idea of where boundaries lie in society.

This may be a bit far fetched, but I was reading( somewhere) that birds usually white ones were given by the bride to the groom in wedding ceremonies. It was a testament of the bride's loyalty and sexual purity. Could it then not be taken that these "girls" or females who died in child birth were then buried with stele's depicting a bird as if an offering to Hades or some deceased boy in the underworld so that in death they could be married and wedded?

Death is an odd and complex idea which no society has any direct doctrine written. There is a sense of family, loss, religion, acceptance, grief, anger, and agglomeration of various emotions and duties that lend it to be a byzantine ritual: burying the dead.


Nice post! Very informative. There is a modern Greek folksong in which a girl dies before being able to marry her would-be husband. She says to her mother at her deathbed: "Tell Constantine to marry another woman, because I am marrying Charon (king of Hades after antiquity)"
Something like Antigone proclaiming, before she is buried alive, that the cave she is going to be trapped in is her bridal chamber (implying that she will be the bride of Hades himself).

I have a huge plaster relief wall hanging of Salome holding and leaning over (almost lovingly?) the head of John the Baptist on a platter. I can't find anything about the age or history of the piece. Anyone know where I might go to learn more?


When I visited the Byzantine church at Skripou, near Orchomenos on May 27, 1999, I noted in my sketchbook (left) a classical relief immured in the east wall of the narthex, on the south pier, as the viewer moves from narthex into naos. The relief depicts three figures and a child reaching up from below to touch the primary figure, the woman on the right (the relief is worn and hard to decipher). The scene depicts a funerary banquet, and the presence of a child further suggests that the main figure died at childbirth on the iconography of childbirth funerary scene in ancient Greece, see Celina Gray (yes, my wife) “Confronting the Other: Childbirth, Aging, and Death on an Attic Gravestone at Harvard,” with Andrew Stewart, in Not the Classical Ideal: Athens and the Construction of the Other in Greek Art, ed. Beth Cohen (Leiden, 2000), pp. 248-274. The stele was obviously taken from next door, the ancient cemetery of Orchomenos , and placed in the church its new setting adds a new interpretive spin on the figures, a reading that must be squared away with the functions of a narthex.

I haven’t thought about this relief for a while and I really ought to inquire further with Amy Papalexandrou, the expert on both Skripou and Byzantine spolia see, Amy Cassens Papalexandrou, “The Church of the Virgin of Skripou: Architecture, Sculpture and Inscriptions in Ninth Century Byzantium (Diss., Princeton University, 1998). I was reminded of this relief in connection to children and their burials in peculiar places after reading two excavation announcements in Ákoue, the Newsletter of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA). Both reports deal with some aspect of Byzantine child burial, a subject that has hardly received any scholarly attention, since careful excavations are so rare. Ákoue has a small readership outside of classicists since final archaeological publications take so long to appear in press (because even academic publishers has given up on archaeology), the two reports are of critical importance.

John McK. Camp II, � Agora Excavations Break New Ground,” Ákoue 57/8 (2007), pp. 5, 8, includes the work in Section BH supervised by Ann McCabe and assisted by Matt Baumann. Camp's final report appeared in "Excavations at the Athenian Agora 2002-2007," Hesperia 76, pp. 627-663. McCabe, the long standing Byzantine specialist of the Agora, continued to excavate the Agora's booming Byzantine neighborhood. Thanks to the foundations of modern buildings, only the lowest courses and foundations of the Byzantine houses survive. Typically, the houses contain subterranean storage pythoi with openings level with the original floors. In 2006, work expanded under the modern buildings at St. Philip’s and Hasting Streets. In the corner of one Byzantine room, McCabe excavated a coarse-ware cooking vessel originally buried under the house floor. The pot contained the remains of a 32-week-old fetus. A similar burial was found in earlier seasons, suggesting that this was a common practice in Middle Byzantine Athens. In the Hesperia report, Camp explores the rationale for domestic burial. Although the ban against urban burial was lifted by Emperor Leo, it's possible that a taboo may have still existed. The foetus may have been buried here secretly to avoid social stigma. These are all good hypotheses and require further exploration.

The material dates to ca. 1000 CE. Fetus remains are so fragile that it’s most likely that many such burials exist throughout Greece but have not been carefully noted. Baby burials in amphoras are common in ancient sites. In 1999, I was working in a trench next to Deb Brown-Stewart, while she carefully excavated a Late Roman amphora burial at the Panayia Field in Corinth . The Corinth burial was not in a domestic context. The Byzantine practice of burying fetuses and infants within the family’s home is quite noteworthy. Another amazing project is the Astypalaia Bioarchaeological Project. Simon Hillson (UC London, Institute of Archaeology) has been studying the remains of a children's cemetery. I saw Hillson present this material at an AIA talk at McMaster Univeristy (April 12, 2005)

There has been some work on child cemeteries in antiquity but domestic burial in Byzantium is a topic that needs further attention. I’m currently studying the architecture of a Byzantine house in Chersonesos , Ukraine , where here, too, we have domestic burial. The University of Texas at Austin has excavated 70+ internments in a private chapel within the residential complex. Project director Adam Rabinowitz has presented these finds in public lectures (AIA, Dumbarton Oaks, etc.), but the Chersonesos material is largely unknown to Byzantine scholars. The UT Austin excavations are unique as the most thoroughly excavated domestic complex in the entire Byzantine world.

Now to the next archaeological case study. Paraskevi Tritsaroli was the ASCSA’s Wiener Lab Research Associate for 2006-2007, where she investigated the osteological remains of a cemetery dating to the 10th-11th c. at the site of Xironomi, Boeotia . Tritsaroli reports her finds in “Child Protection after Death in Byzantium : The Bioarchaeological Evidence,” Akoue 57/8 (2007) p. 30. The evidence is fascinating, including common pathologies, lesions, weaning-related infections, nutritional deficiencies (vitamin C and D), scurvy, rickets, etc. Equally interesting is the fact that many children under 4 years of age were buried within the narthex of the church. The shear concentration of children around the church itself is indicative of cultural choices, perhaps spiritual protection before baptism or catechism. Cemeteries exclusive to children is not unusual. I use one example from Leda Costaki’s dissertation, “The intra muros road system of Ancient Athens,” (Universityof Toronto, 2006), p. 437, site IV.20. This cemetery was located on Panepistimiou 31 and it was used exclusively for infant and children burials in the Early Byzantine period (5th/6th c.).

Tritsaroli’s report places the narthex in a different architectural light. Sarah Brooks has studied funerary portraits in the Late Byzantine narthex and associates such elite burials with new liturgical practices. See Sarah Brooks, “Commemoration of the Dead: Late Byzantine Tomb Decoration (Mid-Thirteenth to Mid-Fifteenth Centuries,” (Diss., New York University , 2002). And Princeton University graduate student Nebojsa Stankovic is embarking on a dissertation that focuses on the monastic narthex. Recent archaeological evidence should rescue architectural historians from the deadly formalism of plan typology. If the narthex is the place to bury your infants, it must have been a locus of extraordinary emotional power (trans-generational, familial, mystical). If we return to the child depicted in the spolia of Skripou, we may have struck a golden connection.

Children’s bones are much more difficult to detect in an archaeological context than fully formed adult skeletons, making this young population highly underrepresented. Add to this a general disregard for physical anthropology in most excavations in Greece and Turkey (monumental art architecture trumps all other material culture), and you have a scholarly vacuum. The work of Wiener Lab associates, most notably Sherry Fox (Wiener Lab director) Sandra Garvie-Lok ( University of Alberta (Wiener Lab Fellow, 1996-1997), are changing the scholarly landscape. Most recently, Fox presented the study of 200 burials from Early Christian Cyprus at AIA Meetings in Chicago: Sherry Fox (ASCSA), Ioanna Mataffi (Sheffield), Eleni Anna Prevelorou (Arizona State), Despo Pipilides (Dep’t of Cypriot Antiquities), “The Bioarchaeology of Early Christian Cyprus: The People from St. George’s Hill, Nicosia” (see abstract). More bioarchaeological data from Cyprus was presented by Papalexandrou in the 2007 Byzantine Studies Conference, Toronto : “Contextualizing the Tomb: ‘Bowl Burials’ from Polis , Cyprus . "

Sandra Garvie-Lok has been building the most extensive data base of osteological data from Early Christian, Byzantine, Frankish and Ottoman Greece. Among other tools, she employees stable isotope analysis to decipher diet among populations. In a fascinating poster at the AIA Meetings in Philadelphia (2002) Garvie-Lok analyzed the dietary rivalry between Greeks (vegetarians) and Latins (meat eaters) during the Frankish period. I cannot wait to see the full publication of "Loaves and Fishes: A Stable Isotope Reconstruction of Diet in Medieval Greece," (Diss., University of Calgary, 2002) . The great thing about Garvie-Lok's research is that she has been collecting an extensive array of evidence starting from the Canadian excavations in Mytilene and Stymphalis. I'm having the pleasure of collaborating with Garvie-Lok and Demetris Athanasoulis in Glarentza. Here, Athanasoulis has excavated Frankish elite burials in the Cathedral, under lavishly painted arcosoleia. The new finds will see their U.S. debut in May 2009 at the Dumbarton Oaks annual conference devoted to the Frankish Peloponnese. Any mention of osteological analysis in medieval Greece would be incomplete without the mention of Ethne Barnes and Art Rohn, the power-duo of medieval skeletons. Ethne and Art are world authorities in American Southwestern archaeology. See, for example, Ethne's most recent book, Diseases and Human Evolution (Albuquerque, 2007) and Art's extensive publications from Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Ethne and Art were discovered by Charles K. Williams, II ca. 1996 and crossed the Atlantic in order to excavate (Art) and analyze (Ethne) the hundreds of burials that Mr. Williams discovered in a plot next to a monastic structure in Frankish Corinth. As it turned out, the burials were associated with a hospice and were, thus, chock-full of diseases (i.e. interesting bioarchaeological data). The Corinth material has been published in Hesperia and is best summarized by Ethne in, "The Dead Do Tell Stories," in Corinth, the Centenary 1896-1996, ed. C. K Williams II and N. Bookides (Princeton, 2003), pp. 435-443. Ethne and Art proceeded to work on other American projects, such as Mount Lykaion, Petras, and Panakton, see “Panakton: Preliminary Report on a Late Medieval Village,” Hesperia 72 (2003), pp. 189-195. And I must interject here, they are two delightful scholars, a breath of Southwestern air in the Mediterranean pond.

Despite the necessary brevity of reports in Ákoue, Ann McCabe and Paraskevi Tritsaroli have truly added volumes to the study of Byzantine funerary practices archaeologically fixed inside the house and the narthex. At a time when Byzantine art history seems to be floundering, it’s great to see a booming archaeology.

Saint Mary Byzantine Catholic Church Windber, PA

In the late 1890s as the pioneers of this parish moved into the community of Windber, the first need in their new land was to build a church. Until this was possible, the pastor of St. Mary Byzantine Catholic Church in Johnstown would travel 11 miles southeast to Windber to celebrate liturgical services and to administer to the spiritual needs of the faithful who met in each others’ homes. By 1900 a sufficient number of Rusyn people had settled in Windber, and Fathers Cyril Gulovich and Damascene Polivka were able to establish a parish. Both were Basilian monks, Father Gulovich was the first Byzantine Ruthenian Catholic priest to come to America from SubCarpathia.

Property to build a new church was acquired from the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company for the sum of $250 in 1900. On July 25, 1901 a contract was awarded to build a church 40 by 80 feet, with an 80-foot steeple for $10,000. The cornerstone was set on August 19, 1901. Also during this time the Diocese of Altoona was established, and the parish came under the jurisdiction of Bishop Eugene Garvey. Plans were made to finish the church and to construct a rectory. Bishop Garvey consecrated the church on May 30, 1903 with over 1,000 in attendance.

In May 1914 the congregation realized the need for a new and larger church. They decided to move the existing church and to construct a new church on the old site. This decision was postponed, however, because of the outbreak of World War I and the flu epidemic of the 1920s. In 1926 construction finally began for the present church. It was designed to be 144 feet long with mottled tapestry brick and Indiana stone trim. The towers were roofed in copper. The church was consecrated by Bishop Basil Takach on June 5, 1927, and again blessed in August 1942, after the interior decoration was completed.

In 1956-57 a major renovation of the church interior was undertaken — an altar with a baldacchino supported by marble pillars, two mosaic shrine altars, stained glass windows, lighting and other decoration. The church was rededicated in November 1958. In the 1970s the church was repainted and in 1986 an icon screen was installed, restoring another dimension of Byzantine tradition to St. Mary’s. An elevator with a street level entrance was provided in 1990. As the year 2000 marked the centennial anniversary of the parish, further renovations were completed for a worthy entrance into the new millennium.

The Funeral Stele of Heliodora

This stele, which may with near certainty be assigned to Terenouthis (Kom Abu Billou), commemorates a woman named Heliodora. The combination of adjectives with which she is described makes this a most unusual artifact and document.

Provenance: Acquired by the Museum of Art and Archaeology at the University of Missouri from Charles Ede Limited, London, in 2011. Published: Charles Ede Ltd. Egyptian Antiquities (London 2011), object no. 25. Deriving from a private collection with documentation to the early1950s. The close similarities to other stelai from Terenouthis virtually guarantee its original location. Enoch Peterson of the University Michigan excavated part of the cemetery in 1935. Of the many stelai recovered, 197 went to the Kelsey Museum and some stayed in Egypt. The stelai were published by Finlay Hooper in 1961 (The Funerary Stelae from Kom Abou Billou), on the basis of the material in the Kelsey and Peterson’s excavation notes. More recent excavations at Kom Abou Billou have taken place on and off since the 1970s. In addition to stelai recovered from the formal excavations, quite a few have found their way into the art market and into various collections. A volume by Abd el-Hafeez et al. (1985) published 73 more stelai from excavations in 1970-1, and journal articles, particularly by Zaki Aly, have added more stelai from various collections.

Description: L imestone with traces of paint. On it is a woman carved in relief, within a small, temple-like structure, an aedicula or naiskos. This has a triangular pediment with ornaments (acroteria) at the corners and is flanked on each side by a column with a papyrus capital. Traces of red pigment are preserved on the pediment and on the two columns. A row of black squares marks the dentil course across the architrave. Inside the aedicula, the woman reclines on a mattress, propping herself up on her left elbow, which rests on two small cushions. Her face and shoulders are fully frontal her knee is raised and her foot points to her right, resting on the mattress. In her right hand she holds up a two-handled cup (kantharos). Heliodora has long hair (or a wig) with stylized tresses that fall over her shoulders from behind her ears. She wears a chiton and a himation. The mattress rests atop a kline, below which are two registers. The lower one contains the inscription, while the upper one features two columns and three conventional elements of the “banquet” carved in relief. At the left of the composition a statue of a jackal, an animal sacred to the god Anubis, sits atop a pedestal, facing Heliodora.

Beneath the plinth is a carved inscription in Greek characters in three horizontal lines. In it, Heliodora is described as μαθηματικ ή, ἁγνή, ἀκάγνωστος, παρθένος, and φιλάδελφος . Her age is given as 52. Although φιλ άδελφος is found of women in other stelai, usually coupled with φίλανδρος , the other terms are rare or unknown in other Terenouthis stelai and indeed uncommon in the Greek epigraphy of Egypt generally. A string of this length and complexity is remarkable, and indeed an unmarried woman of 52 was a rarity in Roman Egypt. The most striking term, however, is μαθηματικ ή , an epithet that in this context and period can scarcely signify anything other than a person versed in astrology.

In this paper we will present the stele as an object, discuss the iconography and symbolism, and consider what the significance of the exceptional string of epithets might be.

History and function

Stelae were also used as territorial markers, as the boundary stelae of Akhenaten at Amarna, ΐ] or to commemorate military victories. Α] They were widely used in the Mesopotamia, Greece, Egypt, Ethiopia, and, quite independently, in China and some Buddhist cultures, and, more surely independently, by Mesoamerican civilisations, especially the Olmec Β] and Maya. Γ] The huge number of stelae that survive from ancient Egypt and in Central America are one of the largest and most significant sources of information on those civilisations.

Unfinished standing stones, set up without inscriptions from Libya in North Africa to Scotland were monuments of pre-literate Megalithic cultures in the Late Stone Age.

An obelisk is a specialized kind of stele. The Celtic high crosses of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales are specialized stelae. Likewise, the totem pole of North and South America is a type of stelae. Gravestones are also kinds of stelae.

In 2004 the architect Peter Eisenman created a field of some 2,700 blank stelae, the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin Δ] to memory of the Holocaust.

Bringing the Liturgy to Life: Living with the Sacred

Several cases bring Byzantine liturgical practice to life. Two cases containing ecclesiastical silver (the “Riha Hoard”), patens, lamps, gilded book covers, and an incense burner evoke the sensory richness of the Eucharist. These flank a sixth-century Byzantine altar, which was recreated using objects from the museum’s Sion Silver collection. A case containing a Carolingian chalice and Spanish relief lend additional depth to our understanding of ecclesiastical practice by highlighting the contrast among contemporaneous artistic traditions in Western Europe and Byzantium during this time.

Two free-standing panel carvings evoke the sense of a sacralized space. The first, an early Byzantine chancel panel, shows on one side the Sepulcher of Christ. Its back is carved with the image of a large amphora, no doubt alluding to the wine of the Eucharist. The second sculpture is an early Byzantine chancel panel, decorated with geometric patterns on one side. On the other is an image or the Virgin, known in Byzantine culture as the Mother of God. In Byzantium, there was no more compassionate saint than Mary, and her image was believed to be a powerful conduit to a blessed afterlife in paradise.

Another case in this area focuses on illumination. Whether for the liturgy or for personal devotion, lavishly illuminated or punctuated by only a few images, medieval books were elaborate productions that involved the preparation of parchment, the laying out of pages for text and pictures, the mixing of colors, the preliminary drawing and painting of the miniatures, and often the application of gold foil. These illuminated books served both in more public capacities as well as for personal prayer and reflection. The hanging and standing lamps would have shed light on the religious books with their sacred words and holy pictures and serve to evoke the original context in which these books were used.

A case of silver serving vessels, utensils, and other objects that would have adorned the tables in wealthy households provides an interesting contrast to the liturgical silver displayed around it. Elevated status in the Byzantine world was signaled in a variety of ways, including by displaying valuable furnishings within one’s home. These objects also provide glimpses into the secular realm of Byzantium, where mythical references and pagan stories still found expression, despite the increasing Christianization of the populace.

Signaling Status: Personal Adornment

Several cases explore the subject of personal adornment. Jewelry and other luxury items worn and used by members of Byzantine society encoded complex messages about the wearer’s social status, wealth, piety, and political and religious connections. Gold, silver, pearls, and precious gemstones were not only considered beautiful, but also signaled a wearer’s understanding of esoteric decorative motifs, as well as his or her access to valuable materials and the elite artists that crafted them.

A case that punctuates the wall between the Courtyard and Byzantine Galleries provides an introduction to these ideas by addressing concepts of value. The silver plates, amethyst necklaces, and ivory boxes reflect the luxurious appointments of the upper class. Notably, in the Byzantine world, the value of an object was not simply determined by the artistic skill with which it was made, but by its weight. This case, therefore, also displays a steelyard, a mechanism that used counterpoise weights to weigh diverse materials, from gemstones to animal hides. These notions of value would have been highly visible in the kinds of objects displayed by wealthy homeowners, both to decorate their homes and to adorn their own bodies.

Another case focuses on secular adornment, displaying jewelry from the early and middle Byzantine periods. There is a rare early Byzantine marriage belt and a series of marriage rings that appear to have been used in marriage rites. A unique necklace with a diminutive golden Venus standing inside a carved lapis lazuli shell reveals the taste for rare stones and pagan mythology in what must have been, by the time this necklace was made in the seventh century, a thoroughly Christian society.

Two cases center on religious iconography. The cross, an extremely widespread symbol in the Byzantine world, provides the focus of one case, which contains jewelry, crosses used in church ceremonies, and reliquaries. A second case centers on the diverse range of religious symbols, saints, and inscriptions that were applied to rings, pendants, and personal reliquaries in Byzantium. Miniature icons in amethyst, rock crystal, and bloodstone, believed to provide contact with the numinous powers of the holy world of the saints, simultaneously served as public expressions of faithful piety. These rings, pendants, and necklaces were also believed to protect their wearers against spiritual and physical evils.

Signaling Status: Imperial Imaging

From the Late Roman period into the Byzantine era, items of personal adornment also commonly displayed imperial insignia. Four gold pendants and a pair of gold armlets on display, for instance, incorporate imperial coins. These were likely given by the emperor to favored subjects and were worn by the latter as expressions of honor and high status. In the extremely stratified societies of the Roman and Byzantine worlds such valuable gifts would have announced, if not elevated, the owner's status.

Ivory writing tablets gifted by consuls to high officials and aristocrats carry similar messages. Presented as a means of commemorating the beginning of a term of service or to celebrate events in the life of the emperor, these would have declared the favored status and elevated position of the owner.

This section of the Gallery is dominated by a round relief depicting an emperor in full regalia. This image is echoed by smaller imperial portraits on coins, which circulated throughout the Byzantine Empire and beyond, a constant reminder in miniature of God’s regent on earth. A carved ivory relief displayed next to these coins illustrates the close relationship between the emperor and the church by showing a crowned ruler at the intersection of the arms of a large, jeweled cross.

Icons: Communing with the Divine

This section of the Byzantine Gallery displays a diverse assortment of icons (images of Christ and the saints), which were used in both public and personal contexts to forge pathways of communication between people on earth and the divine realm. The veneration of icons provided the Orthodox believer a means of accessing the spiritual world outside of the liturgy. From the life-sized to the miniature, icons were considered powerful images, divine conduits for those seeking spiritual aid and communion with the divine.

These displays also serve to showcase the diversity of icons represented in the museum’s collection. These icons range from relatively common painted panels, to ivory icons, to exceedingly rare miniature mosaics. The juxtaposition of two representations of the Forty Martyrs of Sebasteia, one a fourteenth-century miniature mosaic from Constantinople and the other a seventeenth-century painted triptych from Greece, illustrates the strength of the artistic tradition of Orthodox Christian art through the centuries.

Death and Pilgrimage

Burial marked the end of one life and the beginning of another. This section of the Gallery focuses on funerary art as well as practices of visitation and pilgrimage, which frequently centered on the visitation of the holy dead, such as Christ and the saints.

Ranging from the Roman through the medieval periods, these objects represent different cultures of the Mediterranean world, much of which moved in and out of Byzantine control over the centuries. Two particularly unusual objects include an exquisitely painted mummy portrait from Egypt and a lead coffin from the Syro-Palestinian region. The Roman world is represented by a fragment of an early Christian sarcophagus as well as by the impressive Seasons Sarcophagus, a late pagan marble coffin with figures of the four seasons flanking portraits of a deceased couple within a zodiac ring. Several fragmentary reliefs from mortuary buildings decorate the walls, evoking the architectural spaces and mortuary monuments that would have originally surrounded these objects.

A case at this end of the Byzantine Gallery expands ideas of the funerary and mortuary to include the visitation of the dead. Rites of commemoration involved censing, illuminating, and leaving offerings within the burial chapels or catacombs in which the dead were interred, with images of the dead themselves often overseeing these events.

The most frequently visited dead, of course, were saints and martyrs. Faithful pilgrims would travel long distances to holy sites. There, they would often view the saint’s or martyr’s remains in the form of a reliquary. As was likely the case for the fragmentary reliquary displayed here, oil would have been poured into the casket, draining out of a hole to be bottled in small flasks. Having touched the sacred remains within the reliquary, this oil was considered spiritually potent and was sold to visiting pilgrims. The inscription of the lead flask displayed here specifies that it was acquired at the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This, the place of Christ’s final burial, was considered the holiest pilgrimage destination of all.

Watch the video: Greek Byzantine orthodox chant: Agni Parthene. Αγνή Παρθένε Lyric Video (January 2022).