by Jelena Bogdanović. Oxford University Press, July 2017. 456 p. ill. ISBN 9780190465186 (h/c), $60.00.
Reviewed November 2017
The Framing of Sacred Space is a major contribution to the field of Byzantine studies. Having devoted over a decade to studying churches of the Byzantine rite and earning both a master’s as well as a PhD., Bogdanović’s book is impeccably researched. As such, the book includes a thorough list of abbreviations, credits for the illustrations, maps highlighting sites, numerous black and white as well as color photographs, well drawn drawings with scale, an extensive bibliography and a comprehensive index. Seven tables follow the text block and provide further details such as listing original texts which reference canopies.
Canopies are defined here as centrally planned columnar structures, important in many different time periods and contexts - religious and secular. Bogdanović has chosen to concentrate on the Byzantine canopy or domed church. She presents archeological evidence of key structures, both Byzantine and post-Byzantine. Canopies framed altars, baptisteries, installations for holy water, ambos or speaking stands, tombs, icons, church bells, and episcopal thrones and Bogdanović discusses each type, including details about their building materials, inscriptions, and use of patterns. While the author surveys many baptismal canopies, including a third century example at Dura Europos, those for altars are identified as the most prevalent.
Several canopies are examined in detail in a chapter on place-making, and in presenting information about the different canopies which once graced the Hagia Sophia, the author turns to historical references to show how this structure can be seen as the ideal Byzantine church in terms of its architecture and conceptual design. The canopy there takes on the role of micro-architecture and serves to help establish the church as a temple of wisdom. It becomes a marker of sacred locations within the structure.
Bogdanović concludes that the canopy as a form becomes a symbol of the sacred in the Byzantine tradition with its focus on ritual. She states “The canopy thus becomes a symbol for what is built, what is not built, and what cannot be built” (p.299). This author’s scholarly study serves to further knowledge in architecture, fine arts, and religion. The book is highly recommended for research level library collections in these areas.