Architecture and Pilgrimage, 1000-1500: Southern Europe and Beyond. Edited by Paul Davies, Deborah Howard and Wendy Pullan. Farnham: Ashgate, 2013. Pp. xvii + 286.

Entering the term “pilgrimage” into a library catalogue calls up over 2,000 titles and nearly 30,000 articles. This begs the question: how much more can be said about people travelling from one place, and then back again? Examining pilgrimage, and even its architectural context in particular, is not a unique enterprise, with John Crook’s work on early medieval shrines being an excellent example of such work. [1] Architecture and Pilgrimage’s contribution to the field, however, is both valuable and entertaining, and points the way for further research. This book is a collection of papers first aired at the “Architecture and Pilgrimage 600-1600” conference held in July 2005 at the University of Cambridge. The overriding theme of the volume is the articulation of the pilgrim’s experience of the shrine, an experience which may be partly recreated by examining the architectural fabric associated with both the journey and the destination of medieval pilgrims. The value of this approach lies in the geographical focus combined with the emphasis on the structure’s role in mediating the experience of the pilgrim.

Like a great many Ashgate publications, this one is strikingly well-illustrated with both colour and black and white photography. The extensive use of images is very welcome, and the images highly complement the work’s content. Each paper is followed by its own endnotes with an extensive index and bibliography arranged at the back of the volume. The extent to which the work has been indexed makes it an especially valuable tool, with similar ideas and interpretations arising in several different papers. Indeed, some authors use the same material for making different, but not mutually exclusive arguments; hinting at the types of discussion which may have taken place during the conference itself. For example, the 1621 longitudinal section of Santa Maria Maggiore is used to examine the forms of medieval tabernacles in Claudia Bolgia’s work, while Paul Davies uses the drawing to discuss the tabernacles’ iconography of location, and is compared to analogous structures. There is an implicit conversation taking place here, one which perhaps could have been made explicit with more references made to the other papers.

In the first paper, “Pilgrimage through Pictures in Medieval Byzantine Churches,” Henry Maguire examines the relationship between the pilgrim’s expectation of holy places, and their actual experience at their destination. He writes, “Just as the image evoked the Holy Place, the Holy Place evoked the image in the mind of the pilgrim” (p. 31.). Using the example of Hosios Loukas, Maguire concludes that “truth” could be experienced via two-dimensional images and also from external reality. This tension between expectation and reality appears in many of the papers within the volume, making Maguire’s paper an excellent starting point.

Second is Avinoam Shalem’s paper, “The Four Faces of the Ka’ba in Mecca,” in which he examines the twelfth-century pilgrimage account of the Muslim Abu al-Husayn Muhammad ibn Ahmad Ibn Jubayr who completed the Hajj in 1183. In Mecca he visited the large cube shaped shrine, the Ka’ba. Shalem, like Maguire, focuses on the dissonance between the pilgrim’s expectations and the reality he confronted on arrival at Mecca. Here the experience of a three-dimensional object “involves the clash of the imagined image of Mecca […] with the real observed holy space” (p. 43). This shift from two-dimensional to three- (and even four) dimensional experience left its mark on Ibn Jubayr’s writing, and Shalem cleverly teases out these aspects in the pilgrimage account through analysis of both liturgical practices, and the materials which cover and make up the Ka’ba itself.

Wendy Pullan’s piece, “Tracking the Habitual: Observations on the Pilgrim’s Shell,” acts like a close-reading of a particular object, in this case the conch shell associated with Saint James and the pilgrimage camino to Santiago de Compostela. Pullan traces the shell’s earliest appearance in both the literature and art associated with the camino, interpreting it as part of the medieval background noise one would encounter whilst travelling. The result is a highly entertaining and useful example of material culture studies which brings to light the relatively complicated history of a familiar object, both on the camino, and more broadly as an attribute in representations of Saint James.

The final paper in part A of the volume, which examines the “Mediterranean Experience,” is Deborah Howard’s “Venice as Gateway to the Holy Land: Pilgrims as Agents of Transmission.” In a book of very fine papers, Howard’s possibly shines brightest, focusing on Venice as both a city of passage and also a pilgrimage destination in itself. Howard points out that the Crusades and the loss of Acre by Christian forces did not extinguish Venetian interactions with the Holy land, it only “complicated their interests in the Eastern Mediterranean.” Forms of buildings were traded back and forth between Venice and the Holy Land, mediated by a variety of travellers, including merchants.

Part B is titled “Italian Sacred Places as Pilgrimage Destinations,” and begins with Claudia Bolgia’s “Icons ‘in the Air’: New Settings for the Sacred in Medieval Rome.” Here the author examines the similarity between relic and icon tabernacles associated with the Virgin Mary and Saint Veronica in Rome. Similar two-level structures were constructed, with an altar on the ground floor and the relic or icon above; this similarity between the two indicates an interchangeable devotional function for both relic and icon, the latter standing in for the former when moved.

Joanna Cannon writes on “Dominican Shrines and Urban Pilgrimage in Later Medieval Italy.” This is a very well-structured paper which helps clarify the relationship between the shrine of Saint Dominic and subsequent shrines in Dominican churches. Cannon examines both the forms of the shrines, as well as their location in the church, as reflecting the monument devoted to Saint Dominic himself.

Donal Cooper and Janet Robson offer “Imagery and the Economy of Penance at the Tomb of St Francis.” This, in combination with Cannon’s paper above, gives the reader an overview of mendicant pilgrimage practices. The authors describe the process of moving around the shrine of Assisi in the lower church, where the famous frescoes help direct the focus the attention of the pilgrim. This is an excellent synthesis integrating text, image, and architecture, as well as their relationship with the pilgrim’s experience of visiting the shrine.

Paul Davies’ paper, “Likeness in Italian Renaissance Pilgrimage Architecture,” takes on the difficult subject of architectural iconography, although he is certainly not the only author to do so. He examines two tabernacles, one in the city of Venice and the other in Impruneta several miles to the south, and in doing so problematizes the relationship between the two as we currently understand it. Davies paper offers fascinating examples, but the language of iconography he uses is confusing. For example, having stated in the beginning he would eschew the use of the word “copy” to describe a strong formal relationship between two structures, Davies instead states he will use the term “likeness” (p. 187). This wise and prudent measure is undermined by his subsequent use of the term simulacra in many places; a word which is never explained in terms of describing a hyper-reality of devotional space, and its wider postmodernist sense. This is not to take away from the larger subject with which Davies deals, including the fascinating example of the facades of Santa Maria della Quercia, and Santa Maria del Soccorso Corchiano.

The final paper in the volume is Robert Maniura’s “Two Marian Image Shrines in Fifteenth-Century Tuscany, the ‘Iconography of Architecture’ and the Limits of ‘Holy Competition.’” Here Maniura examines the relationship between the Santa Maria delle Carceri in Prato, and Santa Maria della Pieta in Bibbona, and their relics. Both have “exclusive” and “inclusive” aspects of devotional response; the latter helps overcome institutional rivalry. Both structures share formal similarities, such as their centre-plan surmounted by a dome, and both are dedicated to Saint Mary. However, instead of competing for pilgrims, they could work together for devotional purposes and at least partly overcome the economic desires associated with lucrative pilgrimage locations

The work of Richard Krautheimer, and his famous essay on architectural iconography looms large throughout this volume. [2] It testifies to the importance of Krautheimer’s theory, whilst acknowledging that it is not without problems; it offers a framework through which the experience of architecture may be examined. In Architecture and Pilgrimage the subject, having been grounded specifically in time and place, offers a more complete reading than Krautheimer could have given. As Davies points out, Krautheimer’s description of one building “copying” another borders on the unhelpful, instead there are a variety of elements at play when visiting a shrine; one is like another, but it is not a facsimile. The journey, the time, the individual locations, the expectations, the images, the liturgy, and the layout of a shrine all combine to create an experience that is, in one way or another unique, and hence difficult for any historiography to describe completely. In the afterword, Herbert L. Kessler describes this richness of experience, quoting Jaś Elsner’s call “to conceive of a more chaotic climate of disparate, diffracted, and sectarian groups, possibly in conflict with each other, with those who run the site and with their forebears” (p. 238). The volume certainly does that, and indicates that research on the architecture of pilgrimage will continue, and that is no bad thing.

By focusing the discussion on the eastern Mediterranean Sea the authors have allowed the conversation on medieval pilgrimage architecture to expand beyond formalist readings of architectural history or archaeology, making room for an interesting and original contribution to how pilgrimage shrines were read by contemporaries. It is largely successful in this endeavour, but the nature of conference proceedings means there is no argument running through the entirety of the work. Some papers end just when a more expansive article would continue, leaving, in some cases, only a snapshot of some pilgrimage experiences. This is not the fault of the authors, but the format of the collection. However, the extensive bibliography invites the reader to explore the topics of the papers even further, and to continue the conversation in future work. The work is highly engaging, and well worth looking through if dealing with the subject of late medieval architecture, pilgrimage, as well as broader aspects of aesthetics, iconography or material culture.

Karl is a DPhil student at the University of Oxford (Keble College). His thesis is titled Edifice and Education: Structuring Thought in Twelfth-Century Europe, which examines the role of architectural imagery in medieval education and exegesis. He is the current recipient of the Hawksmoor medal for architectural history. He is also interested in a diverse range of fields, such as art history, manuscript studies, intellectual history, and the history of science.

[1] John Crook, The Architectural Setting of the Cult of Saints in the Early Christian West c 300-c1200 (Oxford, OUP, 2000).

[2] Richard Krautheimer, “Introduction to an ‘Iconography of Medieval Architecture,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 5 (1943) 1-33.

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