501 Treasures of Byzantium: No. 4-8.

This project is a celebration of many of the greatest treasures of Byzantium, which includes its art, icons, monuments and sites. The ranking of treasures is really arbitrary since the list is, of course, only my opinion. Nearly all of the greatest or most recognized Byzantine treasures will appear here, but I hope there will also be many wonderful surprises of, obscure valuable objects or works of art, that are not always talked about. If anything, this project will make for a valuable resource. Enjoy!

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No.4: Icon of the Archangel Gabriel, St Catherine Monastery, Sinai Egypt, 13th century.

A very fine treasure, housed in the St Catherine Monastery, is the icon of Gabriel, painted on a wooden panel (105 x 75cm). As God’s messenger, Gabriel (above) is depicted holding the pilgram’s staff in his left hand, while making a gesture of adoration with his right. (This is often the reverse in other icons.) Interestingly, have you ever noticed that in every single icon of Gabriel, he is depicted with curly hair? It seems to denote purity and the incorruptibility of the angels. Charged with announcing all the mysteries in preparation for the incarnation of Christ, it is easy to see why Gabriel is a favourite angel depicted in Byzantine/Orthodox art.

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No.5: Woman carrying a pitcher 6th C. Pavement of the Imperial Palace Istanbul, Museum of Mosaics.

There isn’t a lot that remains of the Great Palace of Constantinople. Tourists today can still get a glimpse of the some of the amazing floor and wall mosaics that survived from the long past home of Byzantine emperors. Amongst scenes of both nature and mythology is this interesting mosaic of a woman carrying a pitcher. Only a fraction of it survives, but I find it intriguing nonetheless.

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No.6: Detail of the kings, David and Soloman, from The Descent into Limbo (Anastasis) wall mosaic, Nea Moni, Chios, 11th C.

One of the great rulers of Hebrew history, Soloman stands side by side with his father. He is usually depicted as a young man without a beard, but in this case he is definitely bearded. To differentiate between the two, Soloman (to the right) has a darker beard.

This detail appears on The Descent into Limbo mosaic in the Nea Moni monastry in Chios. Commissioned by Emperor Constantine Monomachos IX, the monastry was built by artists sent from Constantinople in the 11th Century.

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No.7: Pilgrim’s St. Mena flask between two camels, (probably) Abu Mina, Egypt, c. 4th-7th century.

This terracotta ampullae was used by Christian pilgrims to carry back home water or oil from the great pilgrimage site at Abu Mena, near Alexandria of St. Mena. Scores of flasks very similar to the one above have been found by archeologists with St. Menas name and image stamped upon it. He was a late-third-century Egyptian Roman soldier who was martyred for his Christian faith. Pilgrams visiting the site at Abu Mena most probably hoped to be healed from sickness, merely by being in the vicinity of his burial site.

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No. 8: The Ascension. Manuscript illumination. Homilies of James of Kokkinobaphos, 12th Century.

Second only to the Hagia Sophia, it would not surprise me that the building represented in this manuscript is the Church of the Holy Apostles. The church and its status was revered by both emperors and patriarchs. Most of the early Byzantine emperors were buried there too. However, its most important treasures were the relics of saints and martyrs and its vast wealth of gold and gems that it had accumulated over time through donations. It would never be the same again after the 1204 sack of Constantinople, even though it was restored late in the 13th century. Eventually, it was demolished by the Ottomans, because it had fallen into a horrible decaying state by the mid fifteenth century.

Photo Credit: Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge appropriate credit. All images are in the public domain except the St. Mena’s flask image is used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.