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The Sion Treasure Book Covers (Christ between Saints Peter and Paul)

The Sion Treasure Book Covers (Christ between Saints Peter and Paul)
The Sion Treasure Book Covers (Christ between Saints Peter and Paul)
Washington, D.C., Dumbarton Oaks,
inv. no. BZ.1963.36.8, upper cover
Silver with gilding; 250 x 238mm
Constantinople (?); 550-60

This cover, one of a pair (the back cover is less well preserved), is part of an enormous treasure of silver furnishing for a Church of the Holy Sion, almost certainly at Korydalla in what is now southern Turkey. Buried during the seventh-century Muslim raids, the treasure was unearthed in 1963 and divided between Dumbarton Oaks and the Archaeological Museum in Antalya. It includes some seventy other pieces, among which are book covers featuring the cross , and such ecclesiastical furnishing as patens, chalices, lamp-holders, and architectural revetments. Inscribed “For the memory and repose of Prinkipios, deacon, and Staphane and Leontia,” the binding seems to have been made in the Byzantine capital as an ex-voto to a shrine on the route to the Holy Land.

Like the Freer Gospels’ binding, the two covers were nearly identical; but in this case the figures are the same, front and back. Christ is portrayed holding a book and blessing, standing between the two apostles who seem to be listening to him while raising their hands in gestures of preaching. The cover thus identifies the gospels with Christ himself and the lessons contained in them with the teachings of the Lord’s disciples. While the five bosses on the pictured book symbolize Christ and the four gospels that recount his life and teachings, the aedicule (niche or doorway) that dominates the actual cover introduces the theme that scripture is the gateway to eternal life. The great conch or half-dome flanked by stars above the three men symbolizes heaven; the peacocks—also found on the Rabbula Gospels canon tables—stand for the paradise, lost when Adam and Eve sinned, to which Christ will return the faithful. Christ teaching, flanked by Paul at the left and Peter at the right, was a theme often represented in church apses and so allusion may have been intended to the Church, which safeguards and disseminates scripture.
HLK (author bios)

Boyd and Mango, 1992.

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