Medieval Studies Workshop: Maria Terss and Maria Evangelatou

Wed November 3rd 2021, 10:00am - 12:00pm

Speaker(s): Maria Terss (Stanford, Art History) and Maria Evangelatou (UCSC, Art History)


Maria Constantina Terss (Art History, Stanford) - From Glory to Glory: The liturgical post-iconoclastic Pentecost image
Between the years of 726-787 CE and 815-843 CE, limitations on the expression of the divine through figural imagery, the eikon, become restricted in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. After this Iconoclastic crisis, the winning, iconophile party, the iconophiloi (friends of the icon), popularized their official stance through the creation of new images of Christ, the Virgin and the Saints. Traditionally, art-historians have focused upon the depictions of sacred persons. Rather, this paper, sheds light on an image of a sacred event—the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Its delineation is integral for Iconoclasm scholarship as one of the first ninth-century mosaic images installed in the patriarchal church of Hagia Sophia. This project brings together for the first time in their iconophile setting two ninth-century Pentecost images: the now lost mosaic of Hagia Sophia and the surviving illumination of the Paris Gr. 510, both, commissioned by patriarch Photius. At first glance, the works seem to be a historical commemoration of a biblical event, but, in the post-iconoclast context, I argue, this role subsides to one that is liturgical. Although iconophile image theory changes between the two iconoclastic controversies, the role of the image remains the same—glory. This it shares with the function of the liturgy. The post-iconoclast Pentecost images depict visibly the transformation of this intangible glory into one that can be grasped by the senses. This sensorial aspect is addressed through phenomenology and social history to uncover socio-historical frameworks that reveal and cultivate affect. Iconophile image theory of John Damascene (seventh-century), Theodore the Studite (eighth-ninth century) and Patriarch Nikephoros (eighth-ninth century) will be analyzed in conjunction with liturgical works or the Mystagogia of Pseudo-Dionysius (late fifth-early sixth-century), Maximus the Confessor (seventh-century) and patriarch Photius (ninth-century). This research further grounds iconophile image theory in its liturgical use.

Maria Evangelatou (Art History, UCSC) - Female Materialities at the Altar: Mary’s Priestly Motherhood and Women’s Eucharistic Experience in Late Antique and Byzantine Churches
This recently published book chapter is part of an ongoing research project that explores theology and gender dynamics in the Byzantine cult of Mary, focusing primarily on three overarching questions: 1. How the theology of the Incarnation and Mary’s role in it were communicated to the congregation through texts and images often encountered in church spaces and rituals or on private devotional objects. 2. How gender constructs were both reflected and promoted in Byzantium through that same material. 3. How the gendered identity of Marian devotees could have impacted the ways men and women related to the Theotokos. Since female experiences were rarely recorded for posterity by women themselves, exploring the third question largely entails hypothesizing possible ways women could have related to Mary on the basis of their common female duties vis-à-vis the Virgin’s unique privileges. The pre-circulated writing sample presents a case-study of the above issues by discussing Mary’s exceptional Eucharistic role and what it could have meant to women, who, like her, had to perform the quintessential female duties of weaving, childbearing, and food production, but, unlike her, were excluded from the priesthood. Looking forward beyond the limits of this chapter, what other questions should we be asking when researching gender in the Byzantine cult of Mary? How can we recuperate female experiences that have been silenced? At the same time, to what degree are we imposing our own gender sensibilities to the past and what can we do to avoid inserting too much of ourselves into the material we study?


RSVP: Contact Johannes Junge Ruhland at jmjr [at] to receive the Zoom link