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Climbing the Invisible Mountain: The Apse Mosaics of St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai, and Their Sixth-Century Viewers

  • Andrew Paterson
Chapter

Abstract

This chapter focuses on the sixth-century apse mosaics in the basilica of the monastery of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Sinai. Its central image is a depiction of the Transfiguration of Christ, which according to the Gospel accounts took place on Mount Tabor in Palestine. One unusual iconographic feature of the mosaic is that no mountain is actually represented, the protagonists instead being depicted against a uniform gold ground. It is argued that the building of the basilica and the devising of its mosaic scheme may be understood partly as attempts to regulate the relic cult associated with the Bush, located immediately outside the basilica; pilgrims may have been instructed to ‘read’ the mosaics as a kind of ‘treatise’ in visual theology. At the same time, resident monks may have contemplated the symbolism of the Transfiguration scene in a more mystical sense, as an exhortation to climb the ‘invisible mountain’ to the vision of God.

Keywords

Byzantine iconography Pilgrimage and ascetic practices Religious art 

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew Paterson
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghEdinburghScotland

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