Home > Late Antiquity > The Trinity, Poreč, and a strange little inscription from Tegea

The Trinity, Poreč, and a strange little inscription from Tegea

Those of you who follow my Twitter feed know that I spent the end of last week reading H. Maguire’s and Anne Bennett Terry’s Dynamic splendor : the wall mosaics in the Cathedral of Eufrasius at Poreč. (University Park 2007). It’s a pretty fantastic book that delves deeply both into the techniques that produced a set of amazing 6th century mosaics, but also how they were “restored” at various times an what they likely meant to their audience. Like many scholars of Late Antique iconography and iconography, Maguire and Bennett regard these mosaics as being both dynamic in a diachronic sense (that is, restored and meaning different things to different people over time), but also dynamic in the sense of being multivalent with many of the images capable of sustaining multiple interpretations at the time of their production.

I was struck by one particular interpretation. The cathedral had several images that evoked the Trinity. Maguire and Terry relate these images to the ecclesiastical controversies that rocked the end of Justinian’s reign and, in particular, the Three Chapters Controversy which arose over the course of the Fifth Ecumenical Council (553) and led to a number of bishops from the province of Illyricum to break communion with the church in Constantinople and side, initially with the Pope regarding the doctrines promulgated by this council. In short, western bishops felt that by declaring anathema the works of Theodore of Mopsuetia, Theodoret of Cyrus and Ibas of Edessa, the Emperor rejected the orthodoxy established by Chalcedon. This was a traditional rallying cry for bishops in the west (and including the province of Illyricum) who saw Justinian’s efforts to promote a compromise position between miaphysites/monophysites in the East and the strict Chalcedonianism of the West (led generally by the Pope) to be heretical. The definition of the Trinity was a central statement at the Council of Chalcedon and so the Trinity became an important symbol for both schismatic Western bishops and Eastern Emperors as they sought to demonstrate their adherence to the spirit of Chalcedon and Orthodoxy.

This interested me largely because, while writing my dissertation, I had struggled with a strange inscription from a church in southern Greece. At the three-aisled basilica of Thyrsos at Tegea (also studied by H. Maguire in his Earth and Ocean: The Terrestrial World in Early Byzantine Art (University Park 1987)), best known for its dramatic early 6th c. (?) calendar mosaic in its central nave, there is a small “chapel” attached to the northern wall of the nave (others have suggested that this chapel is, in fact, a fifth aisle). The church itself is poorly published as a building and the exact chronological and architectural relationship between the chapel and the main body of the church is unclear. The humble style of the floor mosaic in the chapel, especially when compared with the floors in the main nave, suggest that this annex space is later or at least the decoration of this space is later in date than the fancy mosaics in the central nave.

The mosaic floor from this chapel includes a strange and poorly preserved inscription. The text, as far as I know, does not exist in proper edition. I include my catalog entry from my dissertation here:

This text derives from Orlandos 1973 which includes a small, grainy photograph which is no help at all in determining the actual text of the inscription. The text begins with a strange version of the sanctus that includes four “holies”. As far as I know this version of the sanctus has no liturgical parallels and is likely a mistake in transcription or a mistake in the creation of the mosaic. The text does not, however, continue with the words of the sanctus (or at least any known sanctus), but provides a small bit of exegesis. The next line would appear to read Lord God with the Son and the Holy Spirit. This draws in a phrase from the Trisagion (Lord God) and mashes it up (as the kids would say) with trinitarian language. Again, this exact way of representing the Trinity does not appear, as far as I know, in any liturgical text. I read it here to mean: Holy, Holy, Holy (ignoring the fourth Holy) = Lord God with the Son and the Holy Spirit.
This is a pretty speculative interpretation, but it could resonate with the increased interest in Trinitarian doctrine in the later 6th century. This would fit the buildings terminus post quem, if we accept that this more modest inscription likely dated to some time after the completion of the much more elaborate calendar mosaic in the main nave. Moreover, as I have argued elsewhere, there is some evidence that Greece was an area in which the emperor had particular interest concerning doctrinal matters. This was probably because the province of Achaia (and all of Illyricum Orientalis) fell under the direct rule of the emperor, but under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the papacy. This divergent jurisdiction had led to problems throughout the 5th and 6th centuries as the churches of Achaia, Epirus, and elsewhere in the Balkans maneuvered politically to align themselves with powers that provided them with the most benefit and accommodated their theological perspectives. So, the appearance of a Trinitarian inscription in Tegea might well resonate with the Trinitarian mosaics analyzed by Maguire and Terry in Istria at Poreč as another effort by a Greek congregation to articulate their theological and political position in the complex world of 6th century ecclesiastical politics.
Categories: Late Antiquity
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