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gta Verlag

9 Werner Oechslin, Petit Aethera. Das Oben und Unten im barocken Kontext

28 Jasmin Mersmann, Heilige/Landschaft. Anamorphosen in der Trinit dei Monti
44 Ria Fabri, ber Berg und Tal ins Heilige Land. Spuren von Pilgern und Pilgerfahrten
in Antwerpener Kunstsammlungen des 17.Jahrhunderts
54 Nenad Makuljevi, Pilgrimage and Memory. The Picture of the Holy Land in Early
Modern Visual Culture of the Balkans

68 Berthold Hub, Geheilte Stadt durch heilige Land-schaft in Filaretes Libro architettonico
(ca. 1465)
84 Peter Stephan, Transformation und Transiguration. Die bauliche und geistige
Erneuerung Roms unter Sixtus V.
130 Gerd Blum, Berge als Bauten und Begrenzung. Giovanni Battista Agucchi, Giordano
Bruno, Galileo Galilei und die Aussicht der Villa Aldobrandini ber Frascati
146 Andreas Tnnesmann, Enea Silvio und der Berg

158 Katja Burzer, Non potest civitas abscondi supra montem posita. Die geplante
Inszenierung Carlo Borromeos auf dem Sacro Monte in Arona
172 Eckhard Leuschner, Begehbare Bilder eines Heiligen Berges. Il Sacro Monte della
Vernia von Rafaello Schiaminossi und Domenico Falcini

190 Piet Lombaerde, Utopie in der verlassenen Landschaft. Die neue Stadt Scherpenheuvel
als neues Jerusalem in den spanisch-habsburgischen Niederlanden
202 Sandra Maria Rust, Der Grazer Kalvarienberg. Barocke Frmmigkeit im Dienste
Jesuitischer Propaganda
214 Tobias Kunz, Authentische Orte authentische Bilder. Die Renaissance mittelalterlicher Heiligenkulte im Schwarzwald des 18. Jahrhunderts
230 Axel Christoph Gampp, Alles glnzend! Der Sacro Monte von Hergiswald und dessen
knstlerische Voraussetzung in der Innerschweizer Skulptur des Barock
242 Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi, The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of
medieval Balkans. Sinai Athos Treskavac
262 Klaus J. Loderer, Von Schneckenbergen, heiligen und knstlichen Bergen. Barocke
Kreuzwege und Kalvarienberge im Knigreich Ungarn

278 Mojmr Horyna, Die heilige Sttte als Weltmitte
294 Eckart Khne, Sakrale Topographien im kolonialen Hispanoamerika: ein berblick

308 Johannes Stckelberger, Gipfelkreuze
318 Ulrich Heinen, Brocken am Watzmann Fremde im eigenen Land. Caspar David
Friedrichs heilige Berge als Modell nationaler Gewaltimaginationen
(Fr Bazon Brock)
340 Michael Groblewski, Der colle santo des Vittoriale degli Italiani
358 Harald Tesan, High & Low. Perspektiven zwischen Berg und Tal in der Moderne
389 Werner Oechslin, Postscript. Moderne Bild- und Sinnkrisen: Die Vertauschung von
Oben und Unten ist Programm (Hans Sedlmayr)

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi

The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans

Sinai Athos Treskavac*

Since ancient times, Holy Mountains have been places of contact between the faithful and
God. Outside of the polis, they are places () to visit during collective processions or for
private purposes. During antiquity Holy Mountains were interpreted as dwellings of gods,
and they were visited at certain time intervals () and for annual ritual ceremonies. In
the context of the Byzantine Empire, Holy Mountains are deined by monastic life, adjusted
to the regulations of monastic constitution (typicon). Due to their great importance to the
religious community, Holy Mountains are distinguished by their visual culture. Sacred
topography, the visual identity of the Holy Mountains, their complex function and symbolic
meaning are the subject of this study. The Holy Mountains in the Byzantine Empire and in

Ill. 1: Mount Sinai, the

Monastery of Saint Catherine,
6th century, in: Sinai, treasures
of the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, Konstantinos
A. Manais (ed.), Athens 1990,
p. 41, ig. 1


Eastern Orthodoxy are analyzed according to their sacred and symbolical structure which
represents the reception of the hierarchical vertical principle, above below.1 Moreover this
paper explores the topographic structure and symbolic meaning of Holy Mountains in light
of theological ideas and the religious experience of pilgrims in the Byzantine Empire and the
medieval Balkans. It also discusses diferent forms of visual culture and communication that
have been preserved on the Holy Mountains of Sinai, Athos and Treskavac.
In Christian tradition, Holy Mountains are linked to signiicant events in biblical history.
Therefore, the Holy Mountains of the Old Testament are regarded metaphorically as pre
igurative places of the events or persons from the New Testament. In the New Testament,
Holy Mountains appear as loci of the key events in the life of Christ the Temptation on a
very high mountain (Mt 4,8), the Transiguration on Mount Tabor, the Cruciixion on Cal
varyGolgotha, the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, and the Descent of the Holy Spirit
on Mount Zion. In addition to being mnemonic places of the events of the Old and the New
Testament, Holy Mountains are also places where within the memory of the past one
anticipates the future, the second heaven or second paradise. To the faithful in the Middle
Ages, Holy Mountains represented transcendental places of contact between reality and the
Supreme, Heavenly. Visualizing Holy Mountains is regarded in the same context. As in
icons, holy paintings or other similar objects, the visual shaping of Holy Mountains and the
creation of sacred topography become proof of divine presence. Thus diferent remains,
artefacts, architectural objects, paintings, artistic handicrafts and traces of medieval visual
communication become potential documents of contact between divine and earthly

I The Sacred Structure of the Holy Mountains

In the conception of Byzantine sacred topography inferred in theological interpretations
and exegeses, Holy Mountains are deined as heavenly places, described in ekphrases as an
cient loci amoeni.2 Separated from mundane life and isolated from the world, these zones
of contact with the remote, unreal and divine are places that bring forth to mind nostalgic

* I am grateful to the Austrian Agency for Inter

national Cooperation in Education & Research
(OeADGmbH) for their inancial support, reward
ing me the scholarship One Month Visits/Benedek,
during the writing of this article.
1 Term above below signiies physical image of
the world and its symbolic meaning. It was inspired
by Werner Oechslins deinition at the Barocksom
merkurs in 2007. Above deines space of Gods
presence, while below refers to the space of mans
life on earth. Cf. Werner Oechslin: Oben und Un
ten and nil superius, in: Zur Einfhrung, in:
sommerkurse/2007 [21. 7. 2013].
2 The territory of the Holy Mountain was, from the
11th century, deined as loci amoeni in Byzantine
literature and ekphrases. Cf. HansVeit Beyer, Der
Heilige Berg in der byzantinischen Literatur I,
in: Jahrbuch der sterreichischen Byzantinistik 30
(1981), pp. 171205; on the Holy Mount deined as
paradise in Serbian medieval literature see for ex
ample: Teodose, hilandarski monah, ite svetog
Save, translation from old church Slavonic to mod
ern Serbian by Lazar Mirkovi, Dimitrije Bog
danovi (ed.), Beograd 1992, p. 130.

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


memories. They can be interpreted as utopia, nonplaces and other places or heterotopi
as, to apply Michel Foucaults3 term and they are simultaneously Gedchtnisorte, places of
memory, as termed by Aleida Assmann.4
Holy Mountains are above all chosen places with great importance in the perception,
psychology and aesthetics of medieval people. The memory of biblical events and the sym
bol of Holy Mountains were deeply embedded not only in the consciousness of medieval
people, but also in the literary tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy.5 These locations of second
paradise and second heaven are visited with special intentions, wishes and reverence.
Such places are distinguished by their characteristic monasticism, architecture, visual culture
and literature as well as by their intellectual and philosophical lifestyle.6 In the Byzantine
Empire, Holy Mountains were not only constructed as memorials of miraculous theophany,
but also as dwelling places of holy monks. They are specially selected and isolated places
where forms of monastic asceticism have been practiced since the earliest periods of Chris
The model of the Holy Mountain in the Byzantine cultural area relects the vertical sac
red structure deined on the Holy Mountain of Sinai, which is transferred to successive Holy
Mountains such as Athos and other Holy Mountains inhabited by monks. One such moun
tain in the Balkan peninsula, the Holy Mountain and sacred territory of the Treskavac mon
astery near Prilep demonstrates the recognizable structure of the Holy Mountain, which
from top to bottom consists of:
the Holy Peak
hermitages, cells, parekklesion (chapels) on the way to the Peak
the monastery with a church at the foot of the Mountain
The three mountains presented in this paper demonstrate this structure and all are dedicated
to the cult of the Mother of God.

II The models of the Holy Mountains

Sinai ( )
Mount Sinai is the place of divine and miraculous theophany and consecration for Hebrew,
Christian and Islamic religions. It is described in dogmatic narratives such as the Tanakh, the
New Testament and in the Qurn as a meeting place between man and God.8 In the Jewish
culture there is no evidence of sacred topography on the territory of the Sinai Peninsula
which would map the events from the Biblical past, as can be seen in Christianity and Islam.
There is no evidence of Jewish pilgrimage in the Helenistic period that links Sinai and the
Holy Mountain with the place of Gods revelation to Moses (Ex 3, 14, 17), or the place for
receiving the Tables of the Law (Ten Commandments, Ex 24, 1231, 18) or the place of the
Burning Bush (Ex 3,112) described in the Old Testament.9 Even though Sinai is described
as one of the four holy places on Earth, together with the Garden of Eden, the Mountain of
the East and Mount Zion, it did not become a place of pilgrimage once Jerusalem had be


3 On the principles of creation and experience of

other places, in philosophical poststructuralist
interpretation: Michel Foucault, Von anderen
Rumen, in: Raumtheorie, Grundlagentexte aus
Philosophie und Kulturwissenschaften, Jrg Dn
ne/Stephan Gnzel (ed.), Frankfurt am Main 2006,
pp. 317327.
4 Aleida Assmann, Erinnerungsrume, Formen und
Wandlungen des kulturellen Gedchtnisses, Mnchen
2003, pp. 298339.
5 Holy Mountains, mountains and inner moun
tains are some of the characteristic motifs of Slavic
anchoretic literature and hagiographies. Cf. Nina
Gagova/Irena padijer, Dve varijante anahorets
kog tipa u junoslovenskoj hagiograiji Teodosije
vo itije svetog Petra Korikog i Jevtimijevo itije
svetog Jovana Rilskog, in: Slovensko srednjovekovno
naslee zbornik posveen profesoru oru Trifunoviu,
ed. by Zorica Viti, Tomislav Jovanovi and Irena
padijer, Beograd 2001, pp. 159171.
6 On the art and architecture of Mount Sinai and
Athos see: Paul Huber, Heilige Berge. Sinai, Athos,
Golgota. Ikonen, Fresken, Miniaturen, Zrich 1982;
id., Athos. Leben, Glaube, Kunst, Zrich 1982; Sinai,
treasures of the Monastery of Saint Catherine, Kons
tantinos A. Manais (ed.), Athens 1990; Kurt Weitz
mann/Mantolis Chatzidakis/Sventozar Radoji,
Die Ikonen. Sinai, Griechenland und Jugoslawien,
Freiburg im Breisgau/Wien et al. 1998; Athanasios
A. Karakatsanis, Treasures of Mount Athos, catalogue
of the exhibition: Treasures of Mount Athos,
Thessaloniki 1997; Sinaj, Vizantija, Rus, pravoslavnoe iskusstvo s 6 do naala 20 veka, katalog vystavki,
Oriana Baddeley and others (ed.), SanktPetersburg
2000; Robert S. Nelson/Kristen M. Collins, Holy
Image, Hallowed Ground. Icons from Sinai, ed. by
Robert S. Nelson and Kristen M. Collins, Los An
geles: J. Paul Getty Museum 2007; Approaching the
Holy Mountain art and liturgy at St. Catherines
Monastery in the Sinai, ed. by Sharon E. J. Gerstel,
Turnhout: Brepols 2010; Nikodim P. Kondakov,
Pamjatniki christianskago iskusstva na Athon, St. Pe
tersburg 1902; Hilandar monastery, Gojko Suboti
(ed.), Belgrade 1998; Kurt Weitzmann, Aus den Bibliotheken des Athos. Illustrierte Handschriften aus mittel- und sptbyzantinischer Zeit, Hamburg 1963;
Thomas Steppan, Die Athos-Lavra und der trikonchale Kuppelnaos in der byzantinischen Architektur,
Mnchen 1995; on the possible origin of Athonite
architectural design and creation of models in Byz
antine visual culture see: Anastasios Tantsis, The
socalled Athonite type of church and two shrines
of the Theotokos in Constantinople, Zograf 34
(2010), pp. 211.

7 For Holy Mountains in the Byzantine Empire, see:

AliceMary Talbot, Les saintes Montagnes
Byzance, in: Le sacr et son inscription dans lespace
Byzance et en Occident, sous la direction de Michel
Kaplan, Paris 2001, pp. 263275; AliceMary
Talbot, Holy Mountain, in: ODB II (Oxford Dic
tionary of Byzantium, vol. II), p. 941. In the Middle
Byzantine period there are also monastic Holy
Mountains in the Middle East, on Mount Olympus
in Bythinia, Auxentios, Latros, Galesia, Ganos and
medieval Serbia and the Balkans. Some of these
mountains were the topic of historical geography
section at the Congress of Byzantine Studies in
London in 2006. Cf. Heilige Berge und Wsten:
Byzanz und sein Umfeld, Peter Soustal (ed.), Wien
2009. The withdrawal of the monastic groups was
in accordance with ascetic life and the strivings of
those who genulect, but also with the rules of mo
nastic life in the Byzantine Empire, as was stated in
the research of Dionysia Papachrysanthu. See: id.,
Atonsko monatvo, Beograd 2004; (id., Ho athnikos
monachismos: arches kai organs, Athna 1992).
8 The space where Mount Sinai was formed was a
cult place for pagan people, Saracens, Nabateans
and others which adored idols and the star of Aph
rodite in that place. See: Sophia KalopissiVerti/
Maria Panayotidi, Excavations on the Holy
Summit, in: Approaching the Holy Mountain, ed. by
Sharon E. J. Gerstel and Robert Nelson, Turnhout:
Brepols 2010, p. 75.
9 Regarding the problem of locating Sinai in Israelite
tradition, or seeing Sinai as mythical place which
never had a role in the popular image of eschato
logical pilgrimage, cf. Allen Kerkeslager, Jewish
Pilgrimage and Jewish Identity in Hellenistic and
Early Roman Egypt, in: Pilgrimage and Holy Space
in Late Antique Egypt, ed. by David Frankfurter,
Leiden/Boston/Kln: Brill 1998, pp. 99225.

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


come Gods most important dwelling place. Sinai remains signiicant in transcendental
and symbolical memory as a place of ( Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah) and it
continues to be celebrated in Hebrew liturgical practice.10 Conversely, Christian sacred to
pography was constructed very early on Sinai.11 It was primarily consisted of a Holy Peak, a
hermitage, a cell, traces of visual culture in stone, altars and a monastery at the foot of the
divine mountain. According to the legend, the Monastery of Saint Catherine was erected as
a church for the monks, which had been established by Empress Helena, the mother of Em
peror Constantine.12 The monastery, located at the foot of the Holy Mountain, with a church
dedicated to the Mother of God, from the time of Justinian, cherishes the cult of the Burning
Bush, which in Christian interpretation represents the virginity of the Mother of God, a
bush that burns, but never burns out.13 (ill. 1)
Since its earliest period, the Christian church has constructed a sacred space on Mount
Sinai not only to commemorate Moses stay and his contact with God at the top of the Holy
Mountain, but also to commemorate other wellknown holy igures: the prophet Elijah, the
prophet Aaron, the hegumenos of the Sinai monastery, Saint John Climacus and, in the 12th
century, Saint Catherine.14 The monastic colony left traces of its sojourn on the mountain
after 363.15 The visual culture of Sinai consists of holy points, memorial stops which relect
the presence of God, saints or pilgrims. The remains of material culture include monaster
ies, hermitages, cells, praying places and parekklesion, as well as traces of visual communica
tion on the rocks and stones attesting of the pilgrims stay on this Holy Mountain.16
Pilgrimages to Sinai were undertaken in order to receive the blessings of contact with
divine nature and the dwelling places of God, but also with the goal that the chosen ones
would obtain supernatural powers.17 Early evidence of religious pilgrimage and pious prac
tice to Sinai comes from the Spanish pilgrim Egeria in the 4th century.18 She attests to God
serving practices, which took place both inside and outside the monastery, at the places
bearing the memory of divine theophany: Sed facta est oratio in ecclesia nec non etiam et
in horto ad rubum; 19 Similarly, Egeria conirms that even in the 4th century the entire
space of the Sinai monastic settlement was visualized by the holy space of Moses stay and
was thus a place of special pilgrimage: Locus etiam ostenditur ibi iuxta, ubi stetit sanctus
Moyses, quando ei dixit Deus: Solve corrigiam calciamenti tui et cetera. or: itaque

10 Cf. George J. Brooke, Moving Mountains: From

Sinai to Jerusalem, in: The Signiicance of Sinai.
Traditions about Sinai and Divine Revelation in Judaism and Christianity, George J. Brooke/Hindy Naj
man/Loren T. Stuckenbruck (ed.), Leiden/Bosten:
Brill 2008, pp. 7389, esp. p. 79.
11 The Sinai complex and its signiicance for the east
ern Christian church is conirmed by the library of
the Sinai Monastery with a collection of the old
Greek, Arabic, Syrian, Georgian, and also Slavic,
Glagolitic, Serbian, Russian and Bulgarian manu
scripts. For example cf. Vladimir Nicolas Bnch
vitch, Les manuscrits grecs du Mont Sina et le monde
savant de lEurope depuis le XVIIe sicle jusqu 1927,


Athen: Verl. d. ByzantinischNeugriechischen

Jahrbcher 1937; Aziz Suryal Aya, The Arabic
manuscripts of Mount Sinai, A hand-list of the Arabic
manuscripts and scrolls microilmed at the library of the
monastery of St. Catherine, Mount Sinai, Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins Press 1955.
12 Under Justinian I, after the death of Empress
Theodora 548 AD, according to an inscription in
the catholicon of the present monastery a new
church was built which was surrounded by fortiica
tion walls. On the Monastery of Saint Catherine
and donors inscription noticed as early as in the
15th century by the Russian pilgrim Danilo, a met
ropolitan from Ephesus, see: Ihor evenko, The

early period of the Sinai monastery in the light of

its inscriptions, in: DOP (Dumbarton Oaks
Papers) 20 (1966), pp. 255264, esp. pp. 256, 262:
inscription 4 and 5; John Galey, Sinai and the monastery of St. Catherine, George H. Forsyth/Kurt
Weitzmann (ed.), Cairo 1985; John Galey/Kurt
Weitzmann, Das Katharinenkloster auf dem Sinai,
Stuttgart 2003.
13 On the architecture of the Monastery in Sinai and
church see: Peter Grossmann, Architecture, in:
Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 2939; id., Early
Christian Architecture in Egypt and its Relation
ship to the Architecture of the Byzantine World,
in: Egypt in the Byzantine World 300700, Cam
bridge Univ. Press 2007, pp. 103136. Procopius
also testiies that the monastery was not built at the
top of the mountain, but much lower, and a military
fortress was built at the coast of the peninsula. Cf.
Johannes Grossmann, Der Bau des Sinaiklosters
nach Prokopios und Eutychios, in: Wiener Byzantinistik und Neogrzistik. Beitrge zum Symposium
vierzig Jahre Institut fr Byzantinistik und Neogr
zistik der Universitt Wien im Gedenken an Her
bert Hunger (Wien, 4.7. Dezember 2002) (BNV
24), Wien 2004, pp. 165176, esp. p. 171. The irst
one who interpreted the Burning Bush as Preigura
tion of the Mother of God was Saint Gregory of
Nissa in the Life of Moses. Cf. Grgoire de Nysse,
La vie de Mose: ou trait de la perfection en matire de
vertu, introd., texte crit. et trad. de Jean Danilou,
Paris 2000, p. 57, n. 3; Mirjana TatiDjuri,
Bogorodica u delu arhiepiskopa Danila II, in:
Arhiepiskop Danilo II i njegovo doba, Vojislav J. Djuri
(ed.), Beograd 1991, p. 396.
14 On the cult of Saint Catherine on Sinai see: Nancy
evenko, St. Catherine of Alexandria and Mount
Sinai, in: Ritual and Art. Byzantine essays for Christopher Walter, ed. by Pamela Armstrong, London
2006, pp. 129143; id., The monastery of Mount
Sinai and the cult of St. Catherine, in: Byzantium:
Faith and power (12611557), Perspective on Late
Byzantine Art and Culture, ed. Sarah T. Brooks, New
York 2006, pp. 118137; David Jacoby, Christian
pilgrimage to Sinai until the late ifteenth century,
in: Nelson/Collins, Holy Image, Hallowed Ground,
op. cit. (note 6), pp. 7892.
15 On the beginnings of monastic life on Sinai: Peter
Grossmann, Besuche und berflle in der vorjus
tinianischen Laura am Mosesberg, in: Byzantinische Zeitschrift (BZ) 92 (1999), Heft 2, pp. 455465.
The forms of monastic cells and dwellings of the
holy fathers of the Holy Mountain of Sinai from the
Early Byzantine period have been published in a
study by Uzi Dahari, from the Archeological Insti





tute in Jerusalem, see: Uzi Dahari, Monastic settlements in South Sinai in the Byzantine period, the
archaeological remains, Jerusalem: Israel Antiquities
Authority 2000.
The monastic community and settlement are rec
orded by the following Sinai pilgrims: Egeria (4th
century), Anonymus from Piacenza (6th century) as
Anonymos Athous Dionysiou from the 15th century,
cf. Bernhard Ktting, Peregrinatio religiosa. Wallfahrten in der Antike und das Pilgerwesen in der alten
Kirche, Mnster (Westf.): Regensberg 1950, p. 110;
Andreas Klzer, Peregrinatio graeca in Terram Sanctam. Studien zu Pilgerfhrern und Reisebeschreibungen
ber Syrien, Palstina und den Sinai aus byzantinischer
und metabyzantinischer Zeit, Frankfurt am Main/
Wien et al.: Lang 1994, p. 337.
On the pilgrimage to Sinai: Andreas Klzer, By
zantine and early postByzantine pilgrimage to the
Holy Land and to Mount Sinai, in: Travel in the
Byzantine world. Papers from the Thirtyfourth
Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birming
ham, April 2000, ed. by Ruth Macrides, Aldershot:
Ashgate Variorum 2002, pp. 160161; on the liter
ary context for pilgrimage in late antiquity see:
Georgia Frank, The memory of the eyes, pilgrims to
living saints in Christian late antiquity, Berkeley, Los
Angeles 2000.
Egerias travels, translated by John Wilkinson, War
minster: Aris & Phillips 31999 (London: 11981). On
the evidence of old liturgical praxis in Egerias de
scription of Jerusalem see: Heinzgerd Brakmann,
Am Ort der Freude stehen, Jerusalem, Egeria und
ein altkirchlicher Kultbefehl, in: Laetare Ierusalem.
Festschrift zum 100jhrigen Ankommen der Benediktinermnche auf dem Jerusalemer Zionsberg (= Jerusale
mer theologisches Forum, JthF, Bd. 10), Mnster
2006, pp. 175185.
Egeria, Itinerarium, 4.8, in: Egeria, Itinerarium.
Reisebericht, bers. und eingel. von Georg Rwe
kamp unter Mitarbeit von Dietmar Thnnes, Frei
burg im Breisgau/Basel/Wien et al.: Herder 1995
(= Fontes Christiani, Bd. 20), p. 136 and Egerias
travels, Wilkinson, op. cit. (note 18), p. 112: ,
but we had a prayer in the church, and also in the
garden by the Bush,

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


Ill. 2: The Monastery at Sinai

painted on the back of the
Archiepiscopal Throne in the
central aisle of the catholicon.
A work of the painter Ioannis
Kornaros, tempera, 18th
century,in: Sinai, treasures of
the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, Konstantinos
A. Manais (ed.), Athens 1990,
p. 15)


ergo singula, quemadmodum venimus per ipsam totam vallem, semper nobis sancti illi loca
demonstrabant.; videramus etiam et illum locum, in quo steterat ante rubum sanctus
Moyses, quando ei dixit Deus: Solve corrigiam calciamenti tui; locus enim, in quo stas, ter
ra sancta est.20 Egeria also describes Elijahs cave, his hermitage and the place where Elijah
himself built the altar.21
In Byzantine visual culture, a symbolic connection is made between physical elements
and their symbolic meaning. The network of sacred spaces begins with a stairway connecting
the monastery at the foot of the Holy Mountain to the top of it. The stairway dates from the
6th century, when it was built for the needs of the pilgrims.22 Climbing the stone steps (
) up to the summit of Sinai is paralleled to a spiritual ascension recommended by the
Ladder of Divine Ascent by an abbot of the Sinai Monastery of the Mother of God, John Cli
macus (525606) or Saint John of the Ladder as was later known. This handbook for Byzan
tine monks describing the road of metaphysical divine ascension to heavenly mountains must
have been inspired by the holy space of Mount Sinai.23 Correspondingly scholars have con
irmed that the physical set of steps was built during the 6th and 7th centuries, and the name
of John the abbot appears in the inscription on one of the arches leading to the top of Mount
Sinai. The inscription reads:
24 and corresponds to the period when Saint John of the Ladder was at Sinai. Ascension,
which is the aim of the monastic feat in terms of both physical and spiritual efort, is testiied
by this ladder and visualized in the famous 12th century icon from the Sinai Monastery show
ing the ladder and the monks struggle with demons.25
The construction of the sacred topography on Mount Sinai has become the model for
Byzantine anchoretic Holy Mountains throughout the entire territory of Eastern Christian
ity. Over the centuries, numerous hermitages and parekklesion commemorating the places
where saints stayed on this Holy Mountain, as well as certain miraculous events have been
20 Egeria, Itinerarium, Rwekamp, op. cit. (note 19),
4. 8, p. 136 and Egerias travels, Wilkinson, op. cit.
(note 18), p. 112: Near by you are also shown the
place where holy Moses was standing when God
said to him, Undo the fastening of thy shoes, and
so on. (Ex 3, 5); Egeria, Itinerarium, Rwekamp,
op. cit., 5. 1, pp. 136138 and Egerias travels, Wil
kinson, op. cit., pp. 112113: And all the way along
the valley the holy man were showing us the difer
ent places; Egeria, Itinerarium, Rwekamp,
op. cit., 5. 2, p. 138 and Egerias travels, Wilkinson,
op. cit., p. 112: we saw also the place where Mo
ses was standing before the Bush, when God said to
him, Undo the fastening of thy shoes: for the place
whereon thou standest is holy ground.
21 Egeria, Itinerarium, Rwekamp, op. cit. (note 19),
4. 2, p. 132 and Egerias travels, Wilkinson, op. cit.
(note 18), p. 111.
22 Saint Catherines Monastery, Sinai, Egypt, A photo
graphic Essay, text by H. C. Evans, New York 2004,
p. 27.

23 Saint John Climacus will become the role model of

hesychastic theology: Heiliger Johannes vom Sinai,
Klimax oder die Himmelsleiter, Athen: BergSinai
Stiftung 2000; on the theology of John Climacus:
John Chryssavgis, John Climacus. From the Egyptian
desert to the Sinaite mountain, Aldershot: Ashgate
24 For the salvation of Abba Iohannes the Abbot and
, cf. evenko, The early period of the Sinai
monastery, op. cit. (note 12), p. 257, inscription

No. 11, p. 263: |

, s. p.:
ig. 11A, ig. 11B.
25 Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 108, 155, ig. 24.

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


Ill. 3: Anonymous author,

Mount Athos and The
Mother of God named
Tricherusa (The Mother of
God of Three Hands /
, copper
engraving, Vienna 1763, the
Monastery of Chilandari, in:
Dinko Davidov, Svetogorska
graika, Beograd 2004, p. 34,
ig. 138

preserved within the framework of the material and visual culture of the sacred space on
Mount Sinai.26
Events in Sinai, such as the Vision of Moses or the Reception of Tablets of the Law, were
visualized in Byzantine culture at a very early stage, as can be seen in the mosaics of the
catholicon of the Sinai monastery from the 6th century.27 On the eastern wall above the tri
umphal arch in the sanctuary, the mosaics show images of Moses loosening his sandal before
the Burning Bush, and Moses receiving the Tablets of the Law.28 Gods encounter with Mo
ses in his Vision and Reception of the Tablets were often visualized in Byzantine illumination
of posticonoclastic period, as well as in the icons preserved in the Monastery of Saint Cath
erine in Sinai.29 Sinai icons from the end of the 12th and beginning of the 13th century show
images of the prophet Elias, who also lived on this Holy Mountain, as well as images of the
prophet Moses.30
The sacred topography of the Holy Mount Sinai was also visualized in pilgrims painted
and printed icons of Sinai from the 15th to the 19th century. These depictions provide an in
sight into the sacred topography of the landscape and of monastic life. Among them are the
icon of Iacovos Moskos from the irst quarter of the 18th century31, and, in the catholicon of
Sinai Monastery, an icon on the back of the archbishops throne made for the Archbishop of
Sinai Cyril II (17591789).32 (ill. 2)
Athos ( )
The model of the Holy Mountain Athos is crucial in the formation of sacred topographies
in the Balkans.33 It has a key role in transferring intellectual, artistic, architectural and an
choretic lifestyle throughout the entire Middle Ages to Athos, which even in ancient times
was described as the Holy Mountain. Its appearance and peak inspired the ancient ar


chitect Dinocrates to be the irst to form this mountain, and his plans were later recalled in
the Baroque period.34 The formation of the Christian Holy Mountain can be traced back to
written sources from the 9th and 10th century and is attributed to the founders of cenobitic,
monastic life on Athos Athanasius the Athonite, the Byzantine Emperor Nikephoros Pho
kas and the foundation of the Monastery of Great Lavra. The legend links the creation of
the Holy Mountain to the visit of the Holy Mother of God. The Holy Mountain Athos is
her garden, and she is the mother of all churches on Athos, whether they bear a dedi
cation to her or not.35 Her cult has been present on this Holy Mountain for centuries, which
is proven by numerous monastic dedications (in Chilandari, Iviron, Vatopedi, Philotheou),
miraculous relics and icons of the Mother of God in the Athos monasteries.36 (ill. 3) In Chris
tian theology and liturgy, the Mother of God is preigurated as the Holy Mountain. The
liturgical interpretations of the prophecies of the prophet Habakkuk (Hab 3, 119) and Dan
iel (Dan 2, 3135) celebrate her virginity as a mountain untouched and untamed and Christ
as a rock not created by human hand. Symbolic identiication of the Holy Mount with the
Mother of God is also based on the prophetic preigurations from the Old Testament (Is 2, 2
and 30, 29; Mi 4, 8; Ps 23, 3)37 which are incorporated into liturgy and prayers through
Christian theological learning and exegesis.38 In this way, The Mother of God, the Holy
26 Thus during centuries numerous parekklesion
would visually memorize the stay of particular saints
and prophets or events from Christian history. On
the appearance of the chapel of Saint John the Bap
tist, Saint Elias, Prophet Aaron, Saint Catherine,
Saint Pantaleon, Chapel of Saint John the Ladder,
see: Athanasios D. Paliuras, Das Katharinen-Kloster
auf der Sinai-Halbinsel, Sinai 1985, ig. 183184,
pp. 206213.
27 David Brown, Sinai in Art and Architecture, in:
The signiicance of Sinai. Traditions about Sinai and
divine revelation in Judaism and Christianity, ed. by
George J. Brooke/Hindy Najman/Loren T. Stu
chenbruck, Leiden: Brill 2008, pp. 313331.
28 Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 80 et seq., ig. 8, 10.
29 An example can be found in the illustrations of the
11th century copy of the Christian Topography by
Cosmas Indicopleustes (Sinai Codex, No. 1186, fol
75v) where we could see the Vision of Moses and
the Receiving of the Tablets of the Law. Cf. Mana
is, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint Cath
erine, op. cit. (note 6), p. 342, ig. 29.
30 Sinaj, Vizantija, Rus, pp. 242244, ill. 58, 59; Mana
is, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint Cath
erine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 110111, p. 164, ig. 34,
pp. 166, 167, ig. 36, 37.
31 On icon see: Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monas
tery of Saint Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), p. 131,
ig. 100.
32 Id., p. 15, p. 131, n. 97.

33 Panagiotis C. Christou, Athos. The holy mountain.

History, life, treasures, Thessalonik: Kyromanos
1990; Athanasios A. Angelopulos, Monaka zajednica
Svete gore, Manastir Hilandar 1997; id., Ho kosmos
ts orthodoxias sto parelthon kai sto paron,
Thessalonik 2006.
34 Werner Oechslin, Dinocrates and the Myth of the
Megalomaniacal Institution of Architecture, Daidalos (1982), Heft 4, pp. 726.
35 Domentijan, ivoti svetog Save i svetoga Simeona,
transl. Lazar Mirkovi, Vladimir orovi (ed.),
Beograd 1938, p. 61.
36 Mirjana TatiDjuri, udotvorne ikone presvete
Bogorodice na Svetoj gori Atonskoj, in: etvrta
kazivanja o Svetoj gori, Beograd 2005, pp. 4883;
A A.,
, in:
, Alexei M. Lidov (ed.), M 1996,
pp. 510525; Kriton Chryssochoidis, The Portai
tissa icon at Iveron monastery and the cult of the
Virgin on Mount Athos, in: Images of Mother of
God. Perceptions of the Theotokos in Byzantium, Maria
Vassilaki (ed.), Aldershot: Ashgate 2005,
pp. 133141.
37 Joseph Ledit, Marie dans la liturgie de Byzance, Paris
1976, pp. 9294.
38 ,
, Paris 1930, p. 53 ().

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


Mount is celebrated in church songs, daily worship and services.39 In the exegetical tradition
of the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzars dream of Prophet Daniel, the Holy Mount is seen
as a preiguration of the Mother of Gods utmost miracle, Gods Incarnation. The visualiza
tion of the typological celebration of the Mother of God as the Holy Mount in Byzantine art
can be found in 9th century Byzantine marginal Psalters and 14th century wall paintings from
the Balkans. In the Psalter miniatures, the Mother of God is present in the illustration
Ps. 67, 17 which is connected to the prophecy of Daniel (Dan 2, 34). The connection be
tween the Psalter and Daniels prophecy is established in Patriarch Germanus exegesis.40 In
contrast to the compositional solutions in the later painting where Emperor Nabuchodono
sor is represented alone, in the interpretations of Emperor Nabuchodonosors dream in the
Psalter miniatures, only Daniel is shown together with Emperor David, the author of the
Psalm. In the miniatures on folio 64r of the Chludov Psalter, folio 83v of the Pantokrator Psalter and folio 110v of the Barberini Psalter prophet Daniel is lying down, whereas David is
standing in front of an escarpment rock. On the top of the mountain there is a medallion
with the icon of the Mother of God with Christ.41 In the Bristol Psalter on folio 105, the bust
of Christ is shown instead of the medallion with the Mother of God, but the inscriptions ex
plain the meaning of the image in line with the interpretation that the Mother of God is the
Holy Mount and that Christ is the rock ( [] []).42
Similarly, in the composition of Nebuchadnezzars Dream in the painting of the church of
the Mother of God Perivlepta in Ochrid (1294/1295), the Mother of God is preigured as the
Holy Mount, but now in quite a diferent way compared to the manuscript tradition.43 This
composition is closer to the iconographical model mentioned in the painting manuals.44 The
central igure is Emperor Nebuchadnezzar lying on his bed, while the medallion with the
Mother of God is placed on the high rocky mountain. (ill. 4) The symbolic dimension of the
Ill. 4: The Mother of God
Mount in the scene of
Nabuchodonosors irst
Dream, 1294 /1295, The
Mother of God Perivlepta
Church, narthex, Ochrid
(photo Ivan Djordjevi)


Mother of God the Holy Mount is clearly underlined in this composition based on Daniels
interpretation of Nebuchadnezzars dream.
The Mother of God the Holy Mount is also present in the iconographic theme
.45 The iconographic type of the Mother of God of the Uncut Mount (gora
nerukosy;na) was developed, particularly in Russian artistic production of the 16th and the
17th century.46
The motif of The Mother of God, the Holy Mount can be found in many medieval
Serbian narratives which are especially signiicant in the tradition of the Balkan peninsula.
Thus, during Saint Savas stay in Mount Athos, the Holy Mount and the Virgin Mary
emerged in his dream, as a kind of vision or revelation.
When he went to bed to rest, the Mountain of wisdom, the Mountain
of God, the green mountain, the mountain soaked in the Holy Spirit,
the mountain resembling heaven, the mountain higher than the
heavenly mountains, suited to all angelic forces, i.e. pure Virgin and
the Mother of my God, from whom without a seed, without human
touch, from her virgin bonds as from a great mountain, according to
miraculous Daniel, Christ, the rock, was pulled, shattering all devilish
idols and by appearing in a dream, raised his soul.47
Similarly, Serbian writers conirm that the Holy Mount Athos was the place where the
Mother of God walked, that the monastic dwellings on it were the Holy Mothers villag
39 Ledit, Marie dans la liturgie de Byzance, op. cit.
(note 37), p. 93.
40 The typology of Daniels prophecy was frequently
expounded by the Fathers, and allusions to it recur
in 8th and 9th century texts, although only Germa
nus (ca 378 ca 448) actually associates it with this
Psalm. Cf. Christopher Walter, Christological
Themes in the Byzantine Marginal Psalters from
the Ninth to the Eleventh Century, in: Revue des
tudes byzantines 44 (1986), pp. 275276.
41 Sirarpie Der Nersessian, LIllustration des psau
tiers grecs du moyen ge II: Londres, add. 19.352,
in: Bibliothque des cahiers archologiques 5 (Paris
1970), p. 37, Planche 46; Charles Barber, Theodore
Psalter, Electronic Facsimile, Champaign, Uni
versity of Illinois Press 2000, fol. 84r; Marfa Vlaces
lavovna epkina/Ivan Dujev (ed.), Miniatury
Chludovskoj psaltyri, Moskva 1977, fol. 64; Suzy
Dufrenne, Lillustration des psautiers grecs du
moyen ge, in: Bibliothque des cahiers archologiques 1 (Paris 1966), p. 27, pl. 11.
42 Dufrenne, Lillustration des psautiers grecs, op. cit.
(note 41), p. 60, pl. 53.
43 Gabriel Millet/A. Frolow, La peinture de Moyen ge
en Yugoslavie, tome III: Serbie, Macdonie et Mont-





ngro, Paris 1962, pl. 13/1; Petar Miljkovi Pepek,

Deloto na zograite Mihailo i Eutihij, Skopje 1967,
p. 51; on the iconography and meaning of com
position of Nebuchadnezzars Dream in Deani
Monastery (1347/1348) see: Vesna Milanovi,
Starozavetne teme i Loza Jesejeva, in: Vojislav
J. uri/Gordana Babi (ed.), Zidno slikarstvo manastira Deana, Beograd 1995, pp. 218219, ig. 3.
Miodrag Medi, Stari slikarski prirunici, vol. II,
Beograd 2002, p. 486; id., Stari slikarski prirunici,
vol. III, Beograd 2005, pp. 222223.
On the iconography of the in
the wall painting see: Vesna Milanovi, Proroci su
te nagovestili u Pei, in: TatiDjuri, Bogorodica
u delu arhiepiskopa Danila II, op. cit. (note 13),
pp. 409423.
Svetozar Radoji, Epizoda o BogorodiciGori u
Teodosijevom ivotu sv. Save i njena veza sa sli
karstvom XII i XIV veka, in: Tekstovi i freske, id.
(ed.), Novi Sad 1965, pp. 114127.
In this manner medieval writer Theodosius from
Serbia described Savas vision. Cf. Teodose, ite
svetog Save, op. cit. (note 2), pp. 130131 (transl. by
Anja Mari).

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


Ill. 5: Mount Athos, Pars

Occidentalis S. Montis,
engraved by Alessandro della
Via, copper engraving, Venice
(?) 1713, the Monastery of
Vatopedi, in: Dinko Davidov,
Svetogorska graika, Beograd
2004, pp. 60 and 192
Ill. 6: Mount Athos, Pars
Orientalis S. Montis, engraved
by Alessandro della Via,
copper engraving, Venice (?)
1713, the Monastery of
Vatopedi, in: Dinko Davidov,
Svetogorska graika, Beograd
2004, pp. 60 and 193


Ill. 7: All Saints of Mount

Athos, engraved by Averikije
and Michael, monks from
Mount Athos, copper
engraving, 1866, the
Monastery Kutlumus, in:
Dinko Davidov, Svetogorska
graika, Beograd 2004, p. 75
and 222

es, and that the earth was consecrated by her sojourn on Athos. Medieval Christians be
lieved in the very presence of the Mother of God on Athos, which was conirmed by her rel
ics, icons and souvenirs. Describing her stay and the presence of her icon in the church of
Great Lavra, the Serbian monk and hagiographer Domentian wrote: And the holy tears
wetted the holy earth on which the pure Mother of God herself walked in holy steps. In the
texts of medieval Serbian writers The Holy Mother The Holy Mount was a very fre
quent motif. Domentian attests that: Mountain of the Mother of God the dwelling place
of God, declared by the prophets as the Holy Mountain, pure and shady, genuine Mother of
The sacred structure of the Holy Mount Athos consists of monasteries, monastic cells,
hermitages, dwellings and the Holy Peak of Athos. (ill. 5, 6 and 7) A complex sacred topog
raphy has been created on the entire monastic property, and sacred territories of all monas
teries are linked by the vertical principle of holiness with a dominant Holy Peak.
Treskavac monastery (monastQrq tryskavqcq)
In the central Balkans, one of the most representative examples of the formation of the sa
cred topography of the Holy Mountains is a cult place of the Mother of God, Treskavac mo
nastery, near Prilep. (ill. 8) Due to its vertical structure, the sacred topography transferred to
Treskavac resembles the model of the Holy Mounts of Sinai and Athos. This connection is
established in written sources as in the chrysobulls of King Duan to the monastery.49 In
the chrysobulls to the monastery Treskavac, King Duan clearly compares Treskavac to Sinai
and Athos:
And then there is a well-known monastery of the Holy Mother of
God called Treskavac, which is adorned not only by its ediice and
external decorations, but also by the laws and constitution of the holy
fathers who live there. If someone were to extol the monastic life on
Mount Sinai or the Holy Mount of Athos, no less should he praise the
life and constitution of the monks who reside here.50
48 Domentijan, ivoti svetog Save, op. cit. (note 35),
p. 118 (transl. by Anja Mari).
49 On the sacred topography of the Treskavac Monas
tery and the cult of the Treskavac Mother of God:
Svetlana SmoliMakuljevi, Sakralna topograija
manastira Treskavca, in: Balcanica 35 (2004),
pp. 289293; id., Manastir Treskavac, Beograd 2013,
(Wall painting of the Treskavac monastery), MA thesis,
Belgrade 2006. On the creation and transmission of
diferent forms of holiness, and diferent forms and
functions of creating holy space and time: Alexei
M. Lidov, Hierotopy. The Creation of Sacred
Spaces as a Form of Creativity and Subject of Cul
tural History, in: Hierotopy, The creation of sacred
spaces, id. (ed.), Moscow 2006, pp. 3248. On the
models of dispersion of the holy space according to

the principle translation Hierosloymi in: New Jerusalems, The Translation of Sacred Spaces in Christian
Culture, id. (ed.), Moscow 2009.
50 Cf. Treskavac, charter I, 1, in: Spomenici za srednevekovnata i ponovata istorija na Makedonija, IV, Vladi
mir Moin (ed.), Skopje 1981, pp. 7778: idi\e
Estq monastQr prysvetqE bogorodice ]\e glagolEmoE mysto tryskavqcq, ne toliko zdaniEmq i
vqny[qnimq oustroEnq, Eliko Estq zakonomq i
oustavomq svetQhq wtqcq \ivou{ih, vq nemq
pryoukra[enq i pryproslavqnq. A{e bo kqto pohvalitq \itiF inokomq \ivou{imq vq Sinaiscyi
gory ili vq gory Svetyi aTonqscyi, da pohvalitq
\e i sihq \itiF i oustavq ne houdq[e. (transl. by
Anja Mari).

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


The structure of the Athos model inluenced Treskavac in various ways: the cult of the
Mother of God, the monastic lifestyle, and visually, by forming a sacred topography accord
ing to the vertical principle of the holiness of the place. At Treskavac not only is the cult of
the Mother of God and speciically the regional miracleworker, the Holy Mother of Tres
kavac, preserved; but it is also believed that her steps can be heard in monastic quarters
even today. Written and archaeological sources also reveal that anchoretic as well as cenobitic
life blossomed at this mountain monastery. From the middle Byzantine period, cenobitic life
has been airmed in the established monastery with catholicon and refectory, and there are
material remains of anchoretic life of the guardians of the Golden Peak such as cave
parekklesion, hermitages and many holy and cultic springs, other monastic dwellings, gar
dens and orchards.51 The vertical sacred topography of Treskavac monastery is uniied by the
Holy Summit the Golden Peak, with its golden cross, which is the inal destination of mo
nastic pilgrimage.


Ill. 8: The Monastery

Treskavac and the Holy Peak
Zlatovrh, Prilep, Macedonia,
2006 (photo Svetlana

III The Holy Peak

As the goal of spiritual and physical ascension, the Holy Peak represents the most important
and symbolic space in the sacred topography of the Holy Mountain. Since the earliest time,
it has been the place of permanent theophany. In Christian culture, the Holy Peak is a place
of memory for the meeting between God and Moses, Christs prayer on the Mount of Olives
and Christs Transiguration on Mount Tabor.
Throughout history, the peaks of Christian Holy Mountains have often been former
places of ancient oracles. On the holy Mount Sinai, on the peak of the holy Mount Athos, on
Zlatovrh which is an integral part of the sacred topography of the Monastery Treskavac, the
existence of material traces of preChristian cultures was established.52 Therefore the process
of Christian sacralization started from the top. The sacralization of the Holy Peak involved
placing crosses and chapels at the summit, such as the chapel on Mount Horeb, parekklesion
dedicated to Transiguration on Athos, or the cross placed at Zlatovrh near Treskavac.53 Ar
cheological inds as well as pilgrims notes further testify to the visual mapping of this space.
The Holy Peak was not inhabited by monks at all times, but it was a place where some
would spend periods of time. A stay on a Holy Peak was a great feat; it was the place dedicat
ed to divine service and was visually marked.54 There was a twofold sacralization of the peak,
through visual and material culture and liturgical prayer at this place by priests, monks,
those seeking God and pilgrims.
According to historical sources, in the period before Emperor Justinian (527565), there
was a small church at the holy summit of Mount Sinai. (ill. 9) The theologian and Bishop of
Cyrrhus, Theodoret (393457)55 provides information that it was most likely built by the
irst pilgrim Julianos Saba. The notes made by the pilgrim Anonymous of Placentia (or Pia
cenza), who stayed at this holy place around 560, testify to the existence of the small church
at the top of Mount Sinai and to its dimensions of roughly six Roman feet at each side (1.8m
x 1.8m).56 The Pilgrim Egeria records that this church was ecclesia non grandis,57 and Pe
ter Grossmann supposes it was a small chapel with only a small apse or niche in the eastern
51 SmoliMakuljevi, Sakralna topograija manastira
Treskavca, op. cit. (note 49), pp. 299313.
52 Cf. KalopissiVerti/Panayotidi, Excavations on the
Holy Summit, op. cit. (note 8), p. 75; Smoli
Makuljevi, Sakralna topograija manastira Treskav
ca, op. cit. (note 49), p. 307.
53 SmoliMakuljevi, Sakralna topograija manastira
Treskavca, op. cit. (note 49), p. 289, with old
54 Grossmann, Besuche und berflle in der vorjusti
nianischen Laura am Mosesberg, op. cit. (note 15),
pp. 455465.
55 Cf. id., pp. 455456, n. 2, 3; Chryssavgis, John Cli
macus, op. cit. (note 23), p. 2, n. 4; Ephraim Syrus,
Hymni de Juliano Saba et Theodoret, in: Historia
Religiosa, II PG 82.1316.

56 Grossmann, Besuche und berflle am Mosesberg,

op. cit. (note 15), pp. 455457.
57 Egeria, Itinerarium, Rwekamp, op. cit. (note 19),
3. 3, p. 126: In eo ergo loco est nunc ecclesia non
grandis, and Egerias travels, Wilkinson, op. cit.
(note 18), p. 109: The church which is now there
is not impressive for its size (there is too little room
on the summit), but it has a grace all its own.

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


During the reign of Emperor Justinian, the small chapel of Julianos Saba was trans
formed into a threenaved basilica, to which a rich archeological evidence testiies.58 The ar
cheological material connects this basilica with the church of the Mother of God at the foot
of Mount Sinai from the time of Justinian.59 It has not been determined when the basilica
from Justinianic times was destroyed, but as a testament to it there is a small mosque which
was built during the 11th or 12th century by using the material from the older earlyChristian
construction.60 The current chapel at the peak of Mount Sinai was reconstructed in the 20th
century (1934?) using old red granite blocks from the Justinians church.61 The church is a
small single nave construction, domed with a doublepitch roof, dedicated to the Holy Trin
ity. The western wall contains a biphora, or double lancet window. The small pillar in the
middle of the biphora window has a spiral shape, and the western facade was modeled on the
western facade of the catholicon of Saint Catherine monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai.
Holy Peaks are also places where new visions and miracles occur. In Byzantine culture,
memories are evoked by repeating rituals, monastic prayers and pilgrimages. An indication
that the Holy Peak of the Holy Mountain was a place of feat is the stay of Saint Simeon Sty
lites (390459), who spent a whole week awake at the peak of Mount Sinai praying.62 The
peak itself is not inhabited by monks, but it is rather a place to visit and from which the
prayers ascend. The monks themselves lived in their cells around the Holy Peak. As the
pilgrim Egeria noted in the 4th century: All there is on the actual summit of the central
mountain is the church and the cave of holy Moses. No one lives there. (Ex 33, 22)63 For


Ill. 9: The Chapel of Holy

Trinity on the Holy Peak
Sinai, 2007 (photo Sebastian
Schwertner, Erlangen)

Procopius of Caesarea (500565) also life on the summit of the mountain is not possible:
For it is impossible for a human to spend a night on the peak, since constant crashes of
thunder and other terrifying manifestations of divine power are heard at night, striking ter
ror into a mans body and soul.64
Just as the dome in Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture symbolizes heaven above heav
ens, similarly the Holy Peak in the symbolic topography of the Holy Mountain stands for
a visible place which is the best guide to the invisible Mountain.65 Staying at the Holy
Peak entails a certain religious behaviour, as a testimony of the love of God and purity. In
the Life of the Serbian Saint Sava (written before 1295), the medieval Serbian writer and
monk of the Chilandari Monastery Theodosius states that the asceticism on the Holy Peak
was important in the anchoretic life of medieval Eastern Christianity. He describes Saint
Savas departure to the Holy Peak of Sinai: And after he had had a rest at the monastery, he
climbed to the Holy Peak to genulect to the place where God came down many times and
spoke to Moses.66
The Life of the Serbian Saint Sava also indicates that divine services were held on the
Holy Peak, which is also testiied by Egeria in the Early Christian period. As stated by Theo
dosius: Having spent the whole holy fortieth in the monastery, fasting with brethren, he
went to the Holy Peak every Saturday and performed the allnight standing there on Sun
days with poems and prayers.67

58 On the plan of the irst early Christian church and

the church from the period of Justinian on Moses
Mount, cf. Peter Grossmann, Architecture, in:
Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 3739, drawing 4;
KalopissiVerti/Panayotidi, Excavations on the
Holy Summit, op. cit. (note 8), pp. 8192, pl. 1, 2.
59 Cf. Peter Grossmann, Architecture, in: Manais,
Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint Cather
ine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 3739, drawing 4; John
Galey, Das Katharinenkloster auf dem Sinai, Stuttgart
2010, p. 84.
60 Sinai is also an important pilgrimage site for Islam,
since Moses is reputed as a signiicant prophet in
Islam. The mosque on the peak belongs to the
group of six mosques which are mentioned in the
early 12th century Arabic inscription which is kept
in the Monastery of Saint Catherine. Cf. Kalopissi
Verti/Panayotidi, Excavations on the Holy Summit,
op. cit. (note 8), p. 83.
61 Compare the appearance of the western facade of
the church from Saint Catherine Monastery, in:
Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint
Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), p. 48, ig. 10.
62 Cf. Theodoret, Historia Religiosa, VI; Grossmann,
Besuche und berflle am Mosesberg, op. cit. (note
15), pp. 456457.

63 Egeria, Itinerarium, Rwekamp, op. cit. (note 19),

3. 5, p. 128 and Egerias travels, Wilkinson, op. cit.
(note 18), p. 109.
64 Cf. Procopius of Caesarea, On Buildings [De Aediiciis], V. viii. 19, 7., in: History and Hagiography
from the Late Antique Sinai, Daniel F. Caner (ed.),
Liverpool 2010, Appendix II. Sinai Defences, 7.,
p. 276.
65 On the symbolism of the Dome as heaven above
heavens, in early Christian and Byzantine architec
ture see: Oskar Wulf, Das Raumerlebnis des Naos
im Spiegel der Ekphrasis, in: Byzantinische Zeitschrift (BZ) 30 (19291930), pp. 535536; Baldwin
Smith, The Dome. A Study in the History of Ideas,
Princeton 1950, pp. 7980; Kathleen E. McVey,
The domed churches as Microcosm. Literary
roots of an architectural symbol, in: DOP (1983),
pp. 81121; Gordana Babi, Kraljeva crkva u Studenici, Beograd 1988, pp. 35 and 69, with older litera
ture. On the symbolic meaning of Saint Mount in
the writing of Saint John Climacus see: Johannes
vom Sinai, Klimax oder die Himmelsleiter, op. cit.
(note 23).
66 Teodose, ite svetog Save, op. cit. (note 2),
p. 183.
67 Ibid.

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


Saint Sava also visited the Holy Peak of Athos, coming from Vatopedi Monastery: From
there he climbed to the longdesired Athos, where he genulected and stood through the
night, and uttered many prayers from the bottom of his heart and when he suiciently be
stowed the Holy Peak with joyous and warm tears, which spoke to the Lord, he was granted
ascension.68 The same religious conduct was revealed on Saint Savas visit to the Holy Peak
of Mount Tabor: From there he came to the Holy Mountain Tabor, and in the church he
bestowed the holy place and the top of the Holy Mountain with warm tears, where Christ
revealed to his disciples the glory of his divinity through transiguration.69
The accounts of Vasily Grigorovich Barsky provide a good example of pilgrims practice
in the 18th century and also bear witness to monastic life and the monks treatment of the
Holy Mountain. He talks of his own experience and notes the practice of climbing to the top
of the Holy Mountain. (ill. 10) Describing the route that leads to the peak of Athos from the
Great Lavra, Barsky notes:
Here the route spreads to the very top of Athos, and there is no other
way. It takes about three hours to climb to the top. In the irst hour
one can reach the spring, the well, which stands near the road and all
passers-by drink from it; in the second hour one might come to the
temple of the Mother of God, and in the third to the very top of the
mountain, where there are no trees, just plain rocks, strong wind,
snow and thick fog. There is an icon preserved in the church of the
Mother of God, of which many monks from Lavra testify that had
belonged to the chapel of Transiguration from the peak of the Holy
Mountain, but that it had been carried down due to great storms
which damaged it. The monks told me they used to go together to
genulect at the top of the Holy Mountain. At the very top there is a
small church, built from plain rock and erected in honor of
Transiguration of the Lord Jesus Christ.70
In visual memory and culture, pilgrims paper icons have portrayed the Holy Mountains
with their sacred topography beginning from the 15th century. These unique praying sou
venirs for pilgrims and the faithful throughout the Eastern Christian world reveal the
places which are recalled with nostalgia by all pilgrims. Among the crucial sacred places of
the Holy Mountain, the peak is also specially emphasized. The Holy Peak was visually em
phasized in both painted and paper icons with topographic images of Mount Sinai. The peak
of Sinai is always represented on the paper pilgrimage icons by Moses receiving the Tables
of the Law.71 At the top of Athos a chapel has been drawn, dedicated to the Transiguration.72
Sinai is known to have inspired the Cretan artist El Greco, who emphasized the Holy Peak
of Moses Mount in his picture View of Mount Sinai and the Monastery of Saint Catherine
(c. 1570) and thus indicated its importance through the language of symbolic landscape of
his time.73
Holy Mountains in the Eastern Christian culture followed the topographic structure de
ined by the hierarchical vertical principle, above below.


In Byzantine visual culture and the medieval Balkans, Holy Mountains were places of
reminiscence of important events of biblical history. These places are inhabited by monks
and anchorets who live according to monastic rules. The basic model of the Christian topog
raphy of Holy Mountains was established in Sinai; it was then transferred to the monastic
Mount Athos, as well as to more regional Holy Mountains such as the Holy Mountain of
Treskavac. The sacred peak in the sacred topography of these mountains dominates the
space, bearing complex symbolic meanings and providing believers with a point of connec
tion between the divine and the earthly.

68 Id., p. 23.
69 Id., pp. 161162.
70 a ,
1723 1747 , 2000,
pp. 488491 (transl. by Anja Mari).
71 Dor Papastratos, Chartines eikones, orthodoxa
thrskeutika charaktika 16651899, II, Athenes 1986,
ig. 380, 381, 383, 385, 387, 388, 391.
72 Id., ig. 420, 421, 422, 423, 461, 492.

Ill. 10: The Chapel of

Transiguration on the Holy
Peak of Mount Athos,
postcard, ca 1930 (archive
Svetlana SmoliMakuljevi)

73 Manais, Sinai, treasures of the Monastery of Saint

Catherine, op. cit. (note 6), pp. 910; Christina
Stancioiu, On the Painted Ancestry of Domenikos
Theotokopouloss Sacred Landscapes of Mount
Sinai and the Monastery of St Catherine, in:
Approaching the Holy Mountain, art and liturgy at
St Catherines Monastery in the Sinai, ed. by Sharon
E. J. Gerstel, Turnhout: Brepols 2010, pp. 537562.

Svetlana Smoli-Makuljevi. The Holy Mountain in Byzantine visual culture of medieval Balkans


Edition Bibliothek Werner Oechslin

Studien und Texte zur Geschichte der Architekturtheorie
herausgegeben von Werner Oechslin
Akten des Achten Internationalen Barocksommerkurses
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Umschlag: elige, Der Mensch in der Welt zwischen Gut und

Bse und seine Bestimmung auf dem Weg zu Gott,
Radierung, gezeichnet und gestochen von Dominique Barriere,
in: Theologia | Ascetica | sive | Doctrina Spiritvalis
Vniversa | Ex Svis Principiis | methodice, et breviter
dedvcta, | et ad vsvm parata | a | Christophoro Schorrer
Societatis Iesv. | Rom, Ex Typographia Vareij. MDCLVIII

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