14.06.11, Davies, Howard, and Pullan, Architecture and Pilgrimage

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Dorothy F. Glass

The Medieval Review 14.06.11

Davies, Paul, Deborah Howard, and Wendy Pullan. Architecture and Pilgrimage, 1000–1500: Southern Europe and Beyond. Burlington, VT:Ashgate, 2013. Pp. xviii, 286. ISBN: 9781472410832.

Reviewed by:

Dorothy F. Glass
University of Buffalo, Emerita

The volume reviewed here emerged from a conference held at the University of Cambridge in July, 2005. Entitled Architecture and Pilgrimage, 600-1600, its scope was broader than the resultant collection of papers published last year. Following an introduction by Paul Davies and Deborah Howard, the essays are divided into two sections: four grouped under the rubric Mediterranean Perspectives and five embraced by Italian Sacred Places as Pilgrimage Destinations. In the introduction, Davies and Howard argue that: “--relatively little research has centred directly on the role of architecture in pilgrimage. It is pilgrimage itself--the journey rather than the structure built to house the destination--that has captured the attention of modern scholars…”. (1) This seeming overstatement [1] is then followed by seven short, informative sections: Pilgrimage: Forms and Motivations, Pilgrimage Sites, Housing Pilgrimage, Movement, Display and Exaltation, The Shrine and its Funding, and The Pilgrim Experience and ‘Virtual Architecture’.

Henry Maguire leads off with “Pilgrimage through Pictures in Medieval Byzantine Churches.” After briefly reviewing the theses concerning festival cycles put forth in the classic works by André Grabar and Ernst Kitzinger, [2] Maguire posits that the topography of the Holy Land was implanted in the minds of Byzantine pilgrims by pictures. That impression could be created at local pilgrimage shrines by depictions of motifs that call to mind the loca sancta of the Holy Land, as well as in the Holy Land itself. Visitors to local shrines would thus experience mental and visual parallels to the shrines of the Holy Land thereby also enhancing the prestige of their local saint.

Avinoam Shalem follows with “The Four Faces of the Ka’ba in Mecca.” Located in the inner court of the great mosque at Mecca, the ka’ba is a nearly cubic building measuring 12 meters long, 10 meters wide and 15 meters high. Covered with the kiswah, a textile bearing inscriptions, the ka’ba is described in rich detail by the al-Andalusian traveler Abu al-Husayn Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Jubayr who went on a pilgrimage between 1183 and 1185. Using Ibn Jubayr’s evocative text, Shalem seeks to reconstruct the visual experience of the pilgrim who circumambulated the ka’ba. In doing so, he proposes that the pilgrim’s mental image of the ka’ba, the image with which he or she had arrived in Mecca, was perforce adjusted by the physical necessity of navigating around it. Thus, both Maguire and Shalem are concerned with the movement of pilgrims in and around specific spaces.

Wendy Pullan’s “Tracking the Habitual: Observations on the Pilgrim’s Shell”, although rather loosely related to the main themes of the volume, is a fascinating account of the long-lived prominence of the pilgrim’s shell, as well as an examination of the various guises in which it appears: as a souvenir of the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, as a scarcely noted background element, as an architectural decoration, and as the Concha Venera,. Pullan suggests that the regenerative associations of the Concha Venera may in part account for the long duration of the scallop shell motif.

The first section of Architecture and Pilgrimage, 1000-1500. Southern Europe and Beyond concludes with an article by Deborah Howard entitled “Venice as Gateway to the Holy Land: Pilgrims as Agents.” Her well-informed and knowledgeable remarks about Venice and the Holy Land are presented as a series of topics: “The Legacy of the Crusades,” “The Acquisition of Relics,” “Religion and Commerce in the Venetian Oltremare,” “Venice and the “‘Package Tour’ to the Holy Land,” “The Pilgrim Experience,” “Architectural Information in Pilgrim Narratives,” and the “The Fashioning of Venice as a Holy City.” The pilgrimage situation in Venice is, admittedly, difficult to discuss because, as Howard notes, the Venetians were involved in three important aspects of east-west cultural transmission: trade, diplomacy and pilgrimage. Howard reiterates the Venetians’ interest in commercial rewards. As for the relationship of the architecture of the city itself to pilgrimage, the evidence is slim. Certainly, the Venetians found it desirable to build hostels for the many pilgrims setting off from Venice to the Holy Land. But, as Howard observes, there are in Venice only a few instances of attempts to emulate the architecture of the Holy Land as seen, for example, at Sta. Fosca on the island of Torcello which resembles the Dome of the Rock.

“Italian Sacred Places as Pilgrimage Destinations,” the second part of the volume, begins with Claudia Bolgia’s essay entitled “Icons ‘in the Air’: New Settings for the Sacred in Medieval Rome.” She is concerned with Marian tabernacles erected in Roman churches to display icons and relics. These shrines were elevated structures that rose considerably above the altar. The first of this type is believed to have been commissioned by Pope Celestine III (1191-98) to house the Veronica in Old St. Peter’s. That pope wanted to restore the sanctity of Rome, for the city had long been in turmoil and, by doing so, to encourage pilgrims to venture to the Eternal City. Celestine III’s interest in relics was, of course, further developed by Innocent III (1198-1216) and also became a major topic of the Fourth Lateran Council held in 1215.

Bolgia is faced with a difficult problem because, as she notes, none of these Marian shrines is fully extant. Instead, they must be reconstructed from graphic evidence as well as from written sources and descriptions. The author provides a useful list of the shrines that formerly existed in Rome and the visual and written evidence that pertains to each one. Most of the sources are, unfortunately, not contemporary with the shrines but, rather, date to the second half of the fifteenth century. Other than that in Old St. Peter’s, these sorts of tabernacles were once housed in a number of Roman churches: Sta. Maria Nova, Sta. Maria in Portico, Sta. Maria Maggiore, Sta. Maria in Aracoeli, SS. Bonifacio e Alessio, and Sta. Maria del Popolo. The images they housed were not identical, but all shared the status of miraculous images. Additionally, these tabernacle structures were used for both icons and relics. Bolgia believes that it was more important for the shrines to be visible than to be accessible. This important study enhances our knowledge of the liturgical and physical setting of medieval churches in Rome.

Joanna Cannon takes on a difficult problem in her “Dominican Shrines and Urban Pilgrimage in Late Medieval Italy,” for, as she remarks, the Dominicans tend not to be associated with the founding of large and enduring centers that attracted pilgrims from a great distance. Cannon focuses instead on the establishment of local cults and their success. St. Dominic’s burial place in Bologna was believed to be a site of miraculous healing. The nascent cult was, however, stifled by the Dominicans themselves, for they found it unseemly. Instead, Saint Dominic’s remains were moved into the nave of the church of S. Domenico in Bologna and a shrine established there. Cannon then goes on to discuss other examples of the interment of Dominican saints such as St. Peter Martyr who is buried in Verona. The practice of placing the shrine in the nave was not uncommon and might, indeed, be considered efficacious, for the location in the nave allowed for frequent lay access. Sometimes, the relics were also processed. Cannon concludes by emphasizing the importance of local pilgrimage to Dominican shrines, a different phenomenon from the long-distance pilgrimages to major European sites.

Cannons’s informative study is complemented by the next essay written by Donal Cooper and Janet Robson. Entitled “Imagery and the Economy of Presence at the Tomb of St. Francis,” it seeks to examine the pilgrimage arrangements at the church of S. Francesco in Assisi and at the nearby Porziuncola, that is, the small church of Sta. Maria degli Angeli, where St. Francis founded his order and where he died in 1226. There was great interest in increasing the number of pilgrims to these two, notable Franciscan shrines. Sta. Maria degli Angeli was of primary importance on the pilgrims’ itinerary for, there, between vespers on August 1 and vespers on the following day, pilgrims could gain the highly desirable Perdono, a plenary indulgence known as the Pardon of Assisi. While obtaining the Perdono, the pilgrims would, of course have availed themselves of the opportunity to visit the basilica of San Francesco itself. Hence, under Pope Nicholas IV (1288-92), parts of the basilica were altered to provide appropriate architectural and liturgical spaces for the ever increasing number of visitors.

Paul Davies, in a highly interesting essay entitled “Likeness in Italian Renaissance Pilgrimage Architecture,” queries the notions of “copying” and “imitation”, a subject that has engaged the attention of art historians ever since the publication of Richard Krautheimer’s seminal essay on the subject: “Introduction to an ‘Iconography of Medieval Architecture’”. [3] Davies persuasively argues that the word “likeness” has greater utility in the context of the discussion of architectural similarity. He then goes on to address these notions of likeness through a detailed analysis of two fifteenth century tabernacles, that in SS. Annunziata in Florence and that in the Madonna of the True Cross in Impruneta, located in the contado six miles south of Florence. Davies argues in a stimulating and thought-provoking manner that the resemblance between the two tabernacles has little to do with questions of architect or artistic influence but, rather, with the devotional uses of the tabernacles, for the image enshrined in the Impruneta tabernacle, despite its location, contained Florence’s most significant miracle-working image.

Robert Maniura’s “Two Marian Image Shrines in Fifteenth-Century Tuscany, the ‘Iconography of Architecture’ and the Limits of ‘Holy Competition’”, the last essay in the volume, follows Davies in pursuing the notion of the inclusive, rather than the competitive, relationship between shrines through an analysis of of Giuliano da Sangallo’s Sta. Maria delle Carceri in Prato and the Marian cult centered at the nearby Pieve di Santo Stefano. Herbert Kessler’s brief “Afterword: Pilgrimage and Transformation” concludes the volume.

Architecture and Pilgrimage, 1000-1500. Southern Europe and Beyond is, in sum, an invigorating volume because it encourages the reader to think again about familiar objects and monuments, be they scallop shells or Marian shrines, in new ways and in new relationships. Many of the studies are especially effective in urging deeper thought about the movement of the spectator/participant and about the nature of the similarities between or among a group of monuments. This collection of essays should not, however, be understood as a comprehensive study of pilgrimage in southern Europe. For example, the, five essays comprising the second section entitled “Italian Sacred Places as Pilgrimage Destinations” are entirely devoted to Umbrian and Tuscan subjects and objects dating from the later Middle Ages. The Romanesque era is noticeably absent. Those interested in the earlier material may benefit from Paul Oldfield’s recently published Sanctity and Pilgrimage in Medieval Southern Italy, 1000-1200. [4]



1. One thinks, for example, of Romanesque pilgrimage churches such as that at Santiago de Compostela, where the architecture is arranged to allow pilgrims to view the relics.

2. André Grabar, Martyrium: recherches sur le culte des reliques et l’art chrétien antique, (Paris: C. Klincksieck, 1958); and Ernst Kitzinger, “Reflections on the Feast Cycle in Byzantine Art,” Cahiers archéologiques 36 (1988): 51-73.

3. Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1942): 1-33; reprinted in Richard Krautheimer, Studies in Early Christian, Medieval and Renaissance Art (New York: New York University Press, 1969), pp. 115-48.

4. (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

Article Details

Author Biography

Dorothy F. Glass

University of Buffalo, Emerita