Mapping Sacred Spaces

Forms, Functions, and Aesthetics in Medieval Southern Italy

By investigating how forms and concepts of sacred space were created in Medieval South Italy within a broader European and Mediterranean context, the project aims at enriching the knowledge of pre-modern societies while experimenting with new epistemological tools shared among the humanities and digital technologies.

Sant'Agata de' Goti (BN), San Menna, interior

Over the centuries, and especially through the liturgical reforms of the Roman Church (Council of Trent and Vatican II), medieval sacred buildings in the Italian Peninsula have gradually been transformed into unitary spaces, containers that can be embraced with the gaze and crossed more or less freely in their sub-spaces, inside and outside the time of the liturgy. On the contrary, the physical dimension of the sacred in a medieval church was based on a studied architectural alternation between fill and void; on the relationship between inclusion and exclusion in/from the places of the holy, with a certain degree of permeability; and on the aesthetics of materials and images.

The project aims to fully analyze the sacred space in the Middle Ages in an area corresponding to the Regnum Siciliae, between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. Over the Middle Ages, the 'Mezzogiorno' was a dynamic area of interaction between different cultures, often with experimental and transcultural material and figurative results. This territory will be subjected to systematic investigation, in its peninsular and insular extension, bearing in mind other territories and other interlocutors that were in dialogue with Southern Italy in the cultural and ritual spheres: Rome and the Patrimonium Petri, Byzantium, the coasts of North Africa.

Ravello (SA), Cathedral, slab coming from the medieval liturgical furnishings

South Italy is still little investigated from the point of view of the reconstruction of sacred spaces and liturgical contexts, and especially lacking in complex methodologies that take into account the interactions between space, image and ritual performance. The potential offered today by the integration of archaeology and art history with digital technologies is particularly effective for this kind of reconstruction and analysis. The project is based on an approach that is both historical and archaeological and will be directed from the outset towards the systematization of the collected data (compilation database, relational database) and the formulation of reconstructive hypotheses of sacred spaces in their medieval facies.

Rosciolo (AQ), Santa Maria in Valle Porclaneta, ambo and pergula

The research will focus on the architectural space from the point of view of the articulation of the ritual areas and their decoration. A fundamental role in the creation of subspaces and the perception of the sacred is played by monumental liturgical furnishings, today almost completely disappeared or dismantled and preserved as erratic materials, whose reconstruction and analysis (in terms of form, function, and aesthetic values) is the first aim of the research. The project's first step will thus be the historical reconstruction of the spatial contexts and of the rituals involved. Further steps of investigation are the dynamics of interaction between the Holy and the society, and the maps of the socio-historical presence inside and outside the sacred space that will result from the topographic and topological reconstructions of chapels and tombs.

One of the main products of the project, which is offered  as a tool for future studies on the South, is the establishment of a corpus of liturgical furnishings and their elements related, with appendices regarding function, shape, liturgy and liturgical space, materials, techniques and ornamental motifs. For selected monuments, a complex digital reconstruction of the sacred space will be realized through multidimensional 3D and 4D modelling. All data will be anchored to a digital cartography that can be interrogated from the macroscale (territorial) to the microscale (architectural fragments and decorative models).

Opus sectile pattern from the Cappella Palatina, Palermo
Left to right: visible light picture, UV light fluorescence, B&W pattern, design, chromolithography by Andrea Terzi 1872

Events

From Words to Space – Textual Sources for Reconstructing and Understanding Medieval Sacred Spaces

Sible de Blaauw, Elisabetta Scirocco
Mar 27, 2019 - Mar 28, 2019
Villino Stroganoff, Via Gregoriana 22, 00187 Rom
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