Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The miraculous Byzantine eulogiai /

Οι θαυματουργές βυζαντινές ευλογίες


To sum up, in the Early Byzantine period  pilgrimage  mementoes were produced at the shrine and probably distributed for free to the pilgrims. It was to this fact and  the substances they contained (e.g. myron, oil or sacred  soil), which  also came from the holy places, that they owed their miraculous nature. Nevertheless, a series of facts allow us to suppose that already  in this period the production of pilgrimage devotionalia had been passed  to privately run workshops, not directly connected with the shrines, which with the latters’ connivance – or perhaps un- beknown  to them – produced objects  with the same  function,  which  we might describe  as “imitations” of the genuine  mementoes. This can be seen  above  all in  a  series  of  artefacts,  intended  for  individual  use  or  personal  devotion, which  used  the loca sancta  iconography together with magical/apotropaic motifs, i.e. with subjects of a religious nature but not derived from the “official” traditions  or teachings of the Church.

In the Middle Byzantine period  this  picture  changes significantly. Both the material  remains  and  the sources  allow us to assert  that  the production of pilgrim mementoes for a whole area passed into the hands of local  workshops. The koutrouvia from Thessaloniki and  the crusader workshop  in Acre bear witness  to this  view. Moreover the iconographical analysis  of the  koutrouvia  has also  allowed  us to trace  what  might  be described  as a form of competition between the two loca sancta in Thessaloniki that attracted pilgrims, the basilica of St Demetrios and the monastery of St. Theodora.

There is less information available as regards distribution of the eulogiai, but in every case the indications to date allow us to posit that, just as in the early period, in the Middle Byzantine period too mementoes were available free of charge from the shrines, since the cost of producing these artefacts was negligible in comparison to the profits the church could make from the potential donations from the faithful. It was the promise of a miracle that attracted the gifts from the laity and the eulogiai were the tangible proof of that possibility.

Finally, the production and distribution of pilgrim tokens seems to change radically in the Late Byzantine period, since a sort of commercialization and “globalization” emerges in this aspect of the pilgrimage as the period progresses. The glass medallions mass produced in Venice, which Venetian merchants distributed to the biggest, most popular shines of the day in East and West, constitute crucial evidence of these changes. In my opinion it is the reappearance in the Eastern Mediterranean, after the creation of the crusader kingdoms, of Western pilgrims, who as mentioned above had very different views about going on pilgrimage but also about the use and importance of pilgrim souvenirs, that underlies these changes.

Ιn the end that is what is so striking about these simple, cheap objects; the fact that, by studying them alongside the sources, we can discover a great deal both about the economic activities and the mentalité of medieval man.

* Dr. Vicky Foskolou,
"Blessing for sale? On the production and distribution of pilgrim mementoes in Byzantium",
Byzantinische Zeitschrift,
Vol. 105, Issue 1, pp. 53–84,
ISSN (Online) 1864-449X, ISSN (Print) 0007-7704,
DOI: 10.1515/bz-2012-0004, December/Δεκέμβριος 2012.

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