Byzantine Pilgrimage Art
Dumbarton Oaks, Trustees for Harvard University, Washington, D.C., (1982)
There were few phenomena in the history of Byzantium which mobilized more people, wealth, and artistic creativity than did pilgrimage. Within a few generations of the foundation of the Empire by Constantine the Great, the east Mediterranean had come alive with pious travelers. Among the first was Constantine’s own mother, Helena, who, ac- cording to Eusebius,
journeyed to the Holy Land at her son’s request to dedicate his newly-built churches located at the sacred sites identified with the Birth, Death, and Ascension of Christ-Bethlehem, Golgotha, and the Mount of Olives (Life of Const., 3.4lff.). Thousands were to follow in a mass mobilization of body and spirit which grew uninterrupted until the Arab conquest of the Holy Land in the seventh century. The story of the Early Byzantine pilgrim survives in travelogues and guide books, in historical texts and theological tracts, in scores of popular legends generated by miracle- working saints, and, most palpably, in hundreds of surviving pilgrim “souvenirs” and huge, abandoned shrines at the holy sites. All bear witness to a broadly-based, popular movement which, surprisingly, had neither precedent in the Bible nor mandate among the Church Fathers.