Image and Community: Representations of Military Saints in the Medieval Eastern Mediterranean
By Heather A. Badamo
PhD Dissertation, University of Michigan, 2011
Abstract: Devotion to military saints flourished in Egypt and the Levant in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the era of the Crusades. During this period of conquest and expansion, icons of warrior saints were made in great number. Image makers responded to local concerns by depicting the saints as fierce soldiers: St. Mercurios could be seen slaying an enemy of the faith, St. George performing a miracle of salvation, or St. Theodore brandishing a sword. The cults flourished in frontier zones, contested areas of shifting boundaries where the warrior saints fought to protect their own against those holding rival beliefs.
The focus of this dissertation, which draws on visual and textual material, is the cult of warrior saints in Egypt and the Levant as practiced in eastern Christian communities living under Muslim rule. This study works against traditional disciplinary geographies by considering icons from Egypt, the Levant, and Byzantium in their interrelations. At the heart of the project are images in various media (wall paintings, panel paintings, pilgrimage tokens, manuscript illustrations, and seals), which are examined in relation to an array of textual sources (passions, miracle accounts, homilies, hymns, epigrams, geographies, apocalypses, monastery books, polemical texts, traveler’s accounts, and chronicles). The first three chapters of the dissertation draw on an array of late antique and medieval sources to provide a background for the study of the militarization of saints the Middle Byzantine period.
Chapters four and five treat the phenomenon of militarization as revealed in images and miracle accounts. Chapter six offers an in-depth study of images and religious practice in the Levant, focusing on a set of icons at the Monastery of St. Catherine at Sinai and the wall paintings at Deir Mar Musa in Syria. This chapter reveals the instability of iconographic forms and meanings in area characterized by shifting boundaries and populations. The dissertation ends with a focused analysis of the extensive program at the monastery of St. Antony in Egypt, which positions military martyrs as the predecessors to monks, fighting spiritual battles. This chapter reveals the role of sacred images in bolstering faith and communal cohesion.
Top Image: Detail of a sixth or seventh century flask depicting St. Sergios on horseback, surrounded by the inscription: “Blessing of the Lord of Saint Sergios.” Image from Walters Art Museum