International Conference of Historical Geographers 2015

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134 Topographies of piety: maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (2)
Convenor(s) Veronica della Dora (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
Rehav (Buni) Rubin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)
Chair(s) Rehav (Buni) Rubin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)
Timetable Friday 10 July 2015, Timeslot 2 (11:30 - 13:15)
Room Royal School of Mines, Room G.06 - DO NOT USE 2020
Session abstract The proposed session will discuss different aspects of the role of sacred places and landscapes as geographical elements in the religious experience. The papers will explore different ways in which sacred sites and their surroundings were experienced and represented in different Christian traditions from late antiquity to the early nineteenth century and how they contributed to articulate both personal piety and collective geographical imaginations. Geographically the papers will exhibit case-studies around the Mediterranean basin and beyond it, from Ireland and Spain in the West to the Balkans, Cyprus, Egypt, Sinai, Palestine and Syria in the East. The papers will focus on different periods and cultural contexts, with particular emphasis on the Byzantine and post-Byzantine, which have been largely overlooked by Anglophone historical geographers. The papers will employ a variety of approaches, including iconographic and textual analysis, as well as phenomenology, and they will span historical geography, history, art history, archaeology and architecture. This wide scope will provide a fertile ground for an interdisciplinary discussion on the spatial dimensions of Christian pilgrimage and devotional practices, with a particular attention to materialities, mobilities, performance, and representation.
Linked Sessions Topographies of piety: Maps, texts, icons and pilgrimage (1)
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details:
Topographical Icons and the Quest for the Sacred: St. Ivan and His Legend
Vessela Anguelova (Independent Scholar)
In the 1790s a little-known monastery on Rila Mountain in southwestern Bulgaria claimed its place in the sphere of the sacred through new icons of its patron saint. These icons showed St. Ivan, Rila monastery and Rila Mountain in the relatively new devotional medium of prints. Paper icons of places had been inundating devotional iconography since the 1730s. Ivan’s icons, however, reveal a compelling reason for the sacralization of places in the post-Byzantine world, and also unveil the changing function of devotional images. I argue that the sacralization of Rila was motivated by the monastery’s economic concerns and had an impact on local politics. The self-reliant monks promoted their foundation by appropriating Ivan, a sainted hermit who lived on the mountain. They first acquired his relics, and popularized them with a variety of texts in the 15th century. Later, the monks took advantage of the new developments in devotional iconography, and advertised their monastery in new topographical icons of the saint. The icons turned the foundation into a major pilgrimage destination thus bringing a constant influx of funds. The fame of the monastery was instrumental to local politics. Advocates of the movement for the reestablishments of the Bulgarian autocephalous Church advanced their cause presenting Rila as the epitome of religiosity of the ethnos.
The Orthodox pilgrimage route in the Holy Land (seventeenth to eighteenth centuries)
Rehav (Buni) Rubin (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, small booklets describing the holy places in Jerusalem and the Holy Land were popular among Orthodox pilgrims. These illuminated manuscripts are known as Proskynetaria (Proskynetarion in the singular), a Greek term for a pilgrimage memento, and they are located today in various libraries and collections around the world. Most of them were written in Greek but one in Old Slavic and one in Italian are also known. They were produced for and bought by pilgrims in Jerusalem and it was the Jerusalemite Orthodox Patriarchate that stood behind them. The texts reveal in detail the list and the order of the sacred sites visited by the Orthodox pilgrims in Jerusalem, in its vicinity, and even farther, in Jericho and the Jordan River, in Tiberias, Nazareth and Mt. Tabor and in Bethlehem. Moreover, some of the illustrations enable us to examine the complex topographies of these sacred sites. This paper will analyze these booklets, the pilgrimage routes therein described, and the Orthodox narrative that was encoded into them. Finally, it will shed light on the differences between the Orthodox pilgrimage route and the routes that were common among the Catholic pilgrims at that time.
Topographies of Piety and Optics of Truth: Vasilij Grigorovich Barskij’s Pilgrimages to Mt Athos (1725-1745)
Veronica della Dora (Royal Holloway, University of London, UK)
The life of Vasilij Grigorovich Barskij (1701-1747) can be described as a pilgrimage in much more than a metaphorical sense. Barskij left his native Kiev in his early twenties and returned in his late forties, one month before his death. Animated by a mixture of curiosity, thirst for knowledge, and personal piety, in this time span he unceasingly travelled through an extensive network of shrines, monasteries and ecclesiastical schools in central Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. In the course of his wanderings he was tonsured monk, learnt Greek, and left us with nearly 500 pages of observations and drawings. The proposed paper focuses on the accounts of his two visits to Mount Athos, the largest monastic centre in Greece and in the Orthodox world. In these accounts Athos’ twenty Byzantine monasteries function as narrative containers and as objects for spatial experimentation. In the sketches accompanying the account of his second visit, the monastic buildings are captured from impossible vantage points and through plans illustrating the dynamics of liturgical performance and other aspects of monastic routine. Altogether, Barskij’s sketches operate as ‘cultural extensions of sight’. They linger between space and place; between old sacred topographies and Enlightenment visual enquiry.
Confronted with the Religious Landscape: The Journeys of Nikos Kazantzakis to Mount Athos and Sinai
Christos Kakalis (McGill University, Canada / The University of Edinburgh, UK)
This paper examines the place-experience of the author Nikos Kazantzakis during his journeys to Mount Athos (1914) and the monastery of St. Catherine of Sinai (1927) through his published travel accounts. Arguing for the importance of embodiment in the experience of religious topoi, the paper explores the way these literary pieces, written in the first half of the twentieth century, map the sacred topographies illuminating different aspects of Athonite and Sinaite architecture and natural landscapes. Combining traces of the romantic period with a Nietzschean nihilism and a Bergsonian experiential approach, Kazantzakis’ writings follow the birth and early development of phenomenological thought. His travel testimonies are textual transpositions of the places that he visited. They suggest a representation/interpretation of geography in which the actual phenomena happening while travelling there are reciprocally interconnected with the body-perception of the writer. The passage through the Egyptian and Athonian deserts, the interaction with the communal rituals of monastic life, constant recollection of Scriptural associations are all included in his literary deployments of geographies of piety, impregnated by an intense Odyssey-like exploration. Seeing through the lens of Kazantzakis writing, the paper seeks to further explore the meaning and pilgrimage identity of these places as expressed in the dynamic interrelation between literature and geography.