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by Archaeology Newsroom

The Pillar as Symbol of Christ in Byzantine Art

The pillar mentioned in various Biblical texts is often interpreted as a Christological symbol by the Church Fathers. With a similar symbolism it is used in the Early-Christian and the Medieval art of East and West. Three examples from the art of Byzantium are presented in this article. In the sixth-century mosaics decorating the katholikon of the Monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai a pillar is represented between the two lobes of the window on the face of the apse. It is aligned with the Lamb of God, the medallion with trie cross, the figure of Christ and the bust of David, all placed on the vertical axis of the mosaic. It is probable that here the pillar symbolizes Christ, and thus its presence between the theme of the Burning Bush and that of Moses Receiving the Tablets of Law reinforces the central theological significance of the mosaic ensemble: Before incarnation God revealed his presence only through visions, symbols and commandments, while after his incarnation he appeared in flesh before men. In the miniature on folio 147v of cod.Paris.gr. 510 (879-882) the single pillar of a peculiar edifice that stands next to the Annointment of David is represented on the same vertical axis with the altar of the Sacrifice of Abraham and the column anointed by Jacob. It seems that here the pillar functions as a Christological symbol, enriching the multiple references of the miniature to the doctrine of Incarnation. On folio 28v of cod.Christ Church gr. 12 in Oxford (1265-1300) Mathew is depicted next to a slender pillar, crowned with the bust of Christ Emmanuel. Both the iconographic type of Emmanuel and the pillar that symbolizes Christ emphasize the doctrine of Incarnation, which is especially stressed in the beginning of the Gospel of Mathew.