16.05.05, Buchwald, Churches EA and E at Sardis

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Eric Ivison

The Medieval Review 16.05.05

Buchwald, Hans, appendix by Anne McClanan. Churches EA and E at Sardis. Archaeological Exploration of Sardis Reports, 6. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015. pp. xxiii, 341. ISBN: 9780674504400 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Eric Ivison
College of Staten Island, City University of New York

The late Professor Dr. Hans Buchwald (1933-2013), who was the author of the volume under review, was a practicing architect and distinguished Byzantine architectural historian (for a biography see: , accessed 15 Feb. 2016). His first monograph, The Church of the Archangels in Sige near Mudania. (Vienna: Böhlau Verlag, 1969), began an academic career that applied the exacting standards of the German tradition of bauforschung, the scientific analysis of historic buildings and excavated architecture, to the Byzantine church buildings of Asia Minor (modern Turkey). Buchwald was a pioneer in the application of these methods, which went beyond seriated building typologies, and an aesthetic or liturgical appreciation of Byzantine ecclesiastical architecture. Buchwald was the author of numerous journal articles and book chapters that are essential reading for the Byzantine architecture of western Asia Minor, ranging from early Byzantine basilicas, to the churches of the Lascarid period of the thirteenth century (many of these shorter publications are gathered together in a collective volume, H. Buchwald, Form, Style, and Meaning in Byzantine Church Architecture, Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999). As the useful "Foreword" to this volume by Nicholas Cahill (present director of the Archaeological Exploration of Sardis) records, Buchwald's association with the Sardis excavations began with a visit in 1965, and in 1972 he was invited to publish the churches designated EA and E, located in the area of Sardis designated P(actolus) N(orth), that are the subject of this volume. Preliminary reports on these excavations, carried out between 1961 and 1963, followed by further work in 1972, 1973, 1980 and 2000, appeared in the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research. Buchwald published a major article on Church E in 1977 (Jahrbuch der Österreichischen Byzantinistik, 26 (1977), 265-299), and an overview of churches EA and E in the volume edited by G.M.A. Hanfmann, Sardis from Prehistoric to Roman Times (Cambridge, Mass., 1983). This 2015 volume is Hans Buchwald's final report on churches EA and E, and was therefore the culmination of over forty years of meticulous recording and study, drawing upon a lifetime of work on the Byzantine architecture of Asia Minor. Sadly, as Nicholas Cahill's "Foreword" (vii-ix) and the "Note" by Grazia Buchwald (xi) explain, Hans Buchwald did not live see his final publication in print.

The monograph is fronted by a "Foreword" by Sardis director Nicholas Cahill, and a note from Grazia Buchwald, which provide the introduction to Hans Buchwald's main text. Cahill remarks that the volume's intended scope was originally much wider, aiming to survey all of the known churches of Sardis, but that subsequent studies and publications slimmed the present volume to just churches EA and E, resulting in a tighter and much more focused study. Cahill writes that following Han Buchwald's death, editors Katherine Kiefer and Marcus Rautman sought to incorporate final revisions and additional findings without changing Buchwald's interpretations, which were subject to then current knowledge (ix). Cahill also notes, as does Buchwald himself throughout the work, that the volume is more an architectural than archaeological study, owing to the fact that the churches were not subjected to systematic stratigraphic excavation. Throughout the volume Buchwald shows an admirable restraint that demonstrates a deep awareness of the limitations of the fragmentary and imperfect data available. Consequently, the publication relies upon the meticulous architectural analysis of masonry types, the abutment and stratigraphic sequence of walls and foundations, measurement of the structure, and precise examination of architectural elements and mosaics (the aforementioned bauforschung approach). This systematic architectural analysis is then combined with termini post quem provided by isolated coin finds, and by placing Church EA in a broader architectural and chronological context by its comparison to other monuments. This methodology permits a relative dating of the architectural phases of Church EA in the absence of a definitive building inscription or foundation deposits of diagnostic pottery with associated coins that could have enabled closer dating. The dating of Church E is tighter, with Buchwald dating the building's construction to "probably" between 1230-1245 on the basis of historical context and architectural comparanda. However, these factors in no way reduce the importance or nullify the volume's conclusions, which are always presented with a sensible caution and impeccable reasoning that is built upon a solid body of data.

Given the complexities of this analysis, the English and Turkish reader will be grateful for the Summary/Özet at the start of the main text, which lays out the key arguments for the architectural phases in a concise and accessible way. The chapters that follow present the architectural/archaeological evidence and Buchwald's detailed arguments for the chronological phasing and reconstruction of the buildings. Church E was the first church structure to be discovered at Pactolus North, but it turned out to be only the latest church erected at the site. Church E had been had been built over the eastern portion of an earlier, basilica-plan church, designated Church EA to distinguish it from its successor. Church E was excavated in its entirety, revealing a sophisticated inscribed-cross church, once capped by five domes and vaulting, but due to a modern road and housing, the excavation of the preceding basilica Church EA was limited to the north side aisle, nave, and apse, the northern edge of the south side aisle, the central and northern part of the narthex, and the units and chapel on the north side of the atrium. Most of the atrium and structures to the west were destroyed by the erosion of the River Pactolus, and only a small sliver of the unit fronting the atrium to the west was explored. Despite this, enough was cleared to enable Buchwald to reconstruct an outline plan of Church EA and its atrium, and to identify up to fifteen masonry types which he assigned to multiple phases assigned to the fourth through twelfth centuries. A further three masonry types were associated with Church E, with later additions being made during the Turkish period (for all these masonry types and phasing, see especially figures 4-12). More than one hundred burials were excavated that had been dug into and around churches EA and E, and in the ancient roadway designated the Street of the Pipes that flanked the north side of Church EA.

The volume is well organized and follows a logical, chronological format, with chapters 1-4 discussing in turn the architectural phases of Church EA and its successor Church E, with chapter 5 presenting the supporting catalogues of architectural sculpture and furnishings. This is followed by a set of nine tables presenting levels (absolute heights) of select archaeological and architectural features, measurements of Church EA in Roman and Byzantine feet, masonry and mortar types, brick and tile sizes, proportions of comparable basilica churches, and measurements of columns and imposts, and find-spots of coins. An appendix by Anne McClanan follows containing a catalogue of the graves associated with churches EA and E. The illustrations supporting the text are generous and to the usual high standards of the Sardis Reports, running to 375 black and white figures. These figures comprise state and reconstructed plans, transverse sections through the architectural remains, reconstructed elevations and sections of Church E, line drawings of architectural fragments and sculpture, and numerous excavation photographs. A comprehensive bibliography and index complete the volume.

Chapter 1 presents the evidence for the original form of Church EA, categorizing it as a "simple aisled basilica" (11), and skillfully piecing together the very meager evidence for its possible reconstruction and interior decoration of floor mosaics, marble revetment, and wall paintings. In the absence of more diagnostic dating evidence, Buchwald argues that coins found in sealed contexts in the foundations of the apse and nave floor mosaic provide a terminus post quem of 348 A.D., suggesting a possible initial construction date "as early as the 340s and completed around 350" (9). Buchwald argues that further coin and architectural evidence is suggestive of further stages in building activity spanning the third quarter of the fourth century and the early fifth century. This dating would make the original EA basilica church one of the earliest known from Asia Minor, although Cahill in his "Foreword" notes that late Roman coins could remain in circulation at Sardis for some decades after their minting (viii). After placing the first Church EA in the broader context of other "simple aisled basilica" churches by considering their plans, proportions, and features, Buchwald proposes that the original basilica Church EA could have served as the city's cathedral, with an adjacent bishop's residence. Buchwald also links the siting of the church outside the city walls with two reburials incorporated into later phases of the complex, and argues that the EA basilica was built to venerate the burials of local martyrs.

Chapter 2 presents evidence for later additions, changes or repairs to the original EA Church complex. These comprised eastern pastophories, the western atrium, which was paved with mosaics, an Entrance Bay from the Street of the Pipes, and a West Unit with a mosaic floor fronting the atrium. These additions also included the North Chapel, identified by Buchwald as a diaconicon, and a North Courtyard or corridor flanking the atrium and basilica, which Buchwald links to the use of catechumens, although no baptistery was excavated at Church EA. The nave was repaved with an opus sectile pavement and an inscribed closure slab can probably be dated to the sixth century. Through careful architectural analysis, Buchwald is able to determine the sequence of these additions, but acknowledges that these constructions "cannot be dated with certainty" (57). On balance, Buchwald assigns these additions to the late fourth to fifth and sixth centuries on the basis of their relative place in the construction sequence of Church EA, and by reason of functional considerations.

Chapter 3 turns to the later history of Church EA, assigned to roughly the seventh to twelfth centuries. This is the most poorly documented period of Church EA, in part due to its demolition in advance of the construction of the completely new Church E. The entire EA complex was destroyed "perhaps in the seventh century" and abandoned. A chapel (the West Chapel) was later erected over the ruined atrium, and is tentatively assigned by Buchwald to the late seventh century. Chapter 3 also addresses evidence for a larger-scale reconstruction of the nave and aisles, thus recreating a basilica-type church with enclosed aisles on the foundations of the original Church EA. The earlier floors were roughly patched and the walls were plastered for new wall paintings. Again the dating evidence for this phase is meager. Buchwald assigns this reconstruction to the ninth century, largely on the basis of fragments of sculpted closure slabs associated by Buchwald with a chancel screen, which were later reused in Church E. Of particular interest were two graves (Gr72.2 and Gr73.19) identified as possible martyrs' graves that Buchwald argues were translated to a new location beside the south wall of the nave. The sequence of burials in and around Church EA appears to have begun in the Middle Byzantine period, perhaps responding to the presence of these holy tombs.

Chapter 4 is devoted to Church E, which was the best preserved phase at the site. From its plan, substantial architectural fragments of walls and domes, and surviving fragments of internal furnishings, Buchwald was able to reconstruct Church E comprehensively, producing reconstructed elevations and sections, and to date it, on the basis of historical context and architectural parallels, to the period 1230-1245. Church E was well constructed and designed, richly articulated and decorated in brick on its exterior, and furnished on its interior with glass vault mosaics, wall paintings, and a finely carved chancel screen. Church E therefore constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of the architecture of the period of Lascarid rule (1204-1258) in western Asia Minor. Also of great interest is the construction of a sunken chamber or Pseudocrypt, which preserved two earlier medieval graves and an adjacent wall painting from medieval Church EA. Buchwald makes a good case for identifying these graves as saints' tombs, arguing that their continuing veneration led to the construction of Church E. The interesting post-Byzantine Turkish history of Church E is also outlined, when the building was turned over to domestic occupation and industrial processes, up to its likely destruction by an earthquake in the sixteenth century.

The final chapter, chapter 5, presents the catalogues of fragments of architectural sculpture and furnishings, and proposes the assignment of certain groups of material to the phases of Church EA and Church E. Of especial interest is the discussion and proposed reconstruction of the chancel barriers in churches EA and E. The appendix by Anne McClanan on the graves associated with churches EA and E provides the best discussion of this cemetery to date, and a full inventory of the associated finds. Although the poor stratigraphic dating evidence does not permit the division of the cemetery into more detailed phases, it remains important for our understanding of Byzantine burial practices during the Middle Byzantine and Lascarid periods.

This volume is an important contribution to the study of the Byzantine architecture and archaeology of Asia Minor on multiple levels. First, it is a major contribution to our knowledge of the Byzantine archaeology and history of Sardis, in that it presents a highly detailed record of one of its major Christian monuments, tracing its history over more than a thousand years. Of particular interest is the continuity of memory and cult implied by this long history, especially the evidence for a possible martyr cult as the primary focus of the church site through the centuries. Second, it constitutes a significant addition to the corpus of published churches from Byzantine Asia Minor, which fully engages with the broader literature of monuments from Turkey and further afield, thus contributing to a better understanding of architectural developments across the region. Finally, this volume achieves a high standard of publication that places it in comparison with other detailed publications of Byzantine churches in Turkey and the Middle East. Above all, this monograph demonstrates the architectural and archaeological complexities of such multi-phase monuments, and the need for their systematic study and careful interpretation. Hans Buchwald's final publication can thus serve as both an inspiration and a model to future scholars, as well as a fitting monument to a great scholar of Byzantine architecture.

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