Historical Pilgrimages: Delphi and Hosios Loukas

Last weekend we took a trip to upper central Greece to visit Delphi. If you have read The Odyssey (or other classical texts) you know Delphi is the place to consult the oracle. If a person was facing a tough choice, let’s say to attack a city or not, they would make the trek to Delphi to make a sacrifice and ask the oracle to decide for them. Whatever the oracle said is exactly what they did. It is interesting because there are many archeologists and chemists, among others, who have tried to explain how this divination could occur. Some say there were drugs involved. Others say that underground gas pockets caused them to become frantic and spout prophecies. The professor leading our group told us not to believe any of these theories, since the oracle of Delphi is not something that needs to be explained in a logical way. It was simply the practice for these people to accept the prophecies they received. This is made even more interesting by what I am currently learning in my Philosophy class. We have just crossed through the period of the scientific revolution and are reading Descartes. We are discussing how strict scientific thinking emerged only after the scientific revolution, and, after this point, westerners are unable to think of things as ‘true’ unless these things are scientifically quantifiable and ‘prove-able.’ It makes sense, then, that we have a difficult time accepting the oracle as a thing that is unexplained. Here is a photo of the archaeological site:

This is the lower portion of the site. The actual oracle consultation happens higher up in the mountain where you can faintly see the other columns.

The very best part of the field trip was visiting the Hosios Loukas monastery in Boeotia, founded in the early 10th century by the hermit Saint Luke (not to be confused with the Evangelist of the Gospel of Saint Luke). The artwork in the monastery and the crypt (!) was so beautiful. My Byzantine Art & Architecture midterm is tomorrow, so allow me to rehearse the information in the photos’ captions.

These buildings are adjoined (remember this for later), but were built at different times. On the right is The Church of the Theotokos. It has a slim “Athenian dome” and has a cross-in-square floor plan. It was built in the 10th century and is the oldest cross-in-square type building in Greece. Very important in byzantine architecture! The church on the left, named Katholikon, was built in 1011/12. It has a heavy octagonal dome. Both churches were built with the cloisonne technique: each stone of the church is framed by bricks. Both churches are decorated with pseudo-kufic script. This script is made of decorative characters which imitate Arabic Kufic letters. It is called pseudo because it does not spell any real words. It shows just how influential Islam was on Western art and architecture.
Here is a photo of the mosaics in the narthex of Katholikon. They’re stunning. The mosaics have been expertly restored by removing each tile (called tesserae), adding new mortar, then resetting the tile. Something worth noting is the abstract nature of the empty backdrop. There is no sense of “place” in these icons.
The crypt lies below Katholikon. The relics of St. Luke are actually kept upstairs in the hallway that joins the two churches, but St. Luke’s tomb was here for many years. The crypt also held funeral ceremonies and commemorations. The crypt is decorated with frescoes. Some of them were damaged early on as pilgrims would chip pieces off the walls to take home with them. Vandalism is an age old problem, folks!

And an obligatory photo of the flora and fauna:

One of our favorite local pollinators off to make some delicious Greek honey, or “μέλι.” Yum!

That’s all for now – as soon as mid terms are complete they will whisk us away to Thessaloniki (Northern Greece) for an entire week. I feel like the bees, bouncing here and there, but buzzing right along nonetheless. There is much to see and do, but the rewards are sweet!


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