Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity considers the Greek and Latin texts inscribed in churches and chapels in the late antique Mediterranean (c. 300–800 CE), compares them to similar texts from pagan, Jewish, and Muslim spaces of worship, and explores how they functioned both textually and visually.
These texts not only recorded the names and prayers of the faithful, but were powerful verbal and visual statements of cultural values and religious beliefs, conveying meaning through their words as well as through their appearances. In fact, the two were intimately connected. All of these texts – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and pagan – acted visually, embracing their own materiality as mosaic, paint, or carved stone. Colourful and artfully arranged, the inscriptions framed human relationships with the divine, encouraged responses from readers, and made prayers material. In the first in-depth examination of the inscriptions as words and as images, the author reimagines the range of aesthetic, cultural, and religious experiences that were possible in spaces of worship.
Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity is essential reading for those interested in Roman, late antique, and Byzantine material and visual culture, inscriptions and other texts, and religious life in the ancient Mediterranean.
Table of Contents
List of figures
Chapter One: Introduction
Writing and reading in the temple
Literacy as red herring?
Chapter Two: Material texts
The colors and surfaces of texts
Colorful texts and their contexts
Textual materiality and immateriality
Texts in (and of) pieces
Colored texts, colored forms
For the love of materials
Chapter Three: Framing texts, framing belief
Framing the late antique frame
Framing texts in the Roman world: The tabula ansata
Tabulae from sculpture to mosaic
Framing in circles
Object frames and Christian innovation
Framing religious experience
Chapter Four: Ekphrasis and experience
Ekphrasis on the move
Reading in motion
Responding to interiors
Reading and voicing voice
Chapter Five: Embedding texts into images
The origins and functions of Christian "titles"
Tituli on and off the page
Tituli in the east
From wall to floor: Reading texts underfoot
Viewing sacred speech: The unfurled scroll
From scroll to book
Titles for images?
Chapter Six: Embedded prayers
Prayer in the late antique world
Praying in motion
Motives and modes of prayer
Sanctifying the interior, part by part
Writing, reading, seeing, praying
Prayers for the faithful
Conclusion: Reading and seeing faith
Sean V. Leatherbury is Assistant Professor of Art History at Bowling Green State University, USA, and Research Associate of the European Research Council-funded project Monumental Art of the Christian and Early Islamic East, based in the Faculty of Classics at the University of Oxford, UK. His research focuses on Roman and late antique visual and material culture, and examines the relationship between art and text, issues of identity, and the transformation of the so-called minor arts from the Roman to the Byzantine period. His work has been supported by fellowships from the Getty Research Institute, USA, the Bard Graduate Center, USA, and the Council for British Research in the Levant, UK, and by funding from the Association for the Study and Preservation of Roman Mosaics, UK, and the Oxford Centre for Byzantine Research, UK. Currently, he is completing a monograph on the late antique floor mosaics of Syria and co-editing a volume on late antique art and local identities.
"[T]he innovative approach to contemporary perception and performance of and with inscriptions in a religious context makes Sean Leatherbury's book an important study for understanding late antique epigraphy." - Bryn Mawr Classical Review
"Sean Leatherbury has produced a volume that yields new perspectives and establishes a paradigm for future study while also synthesizing a vast array of scholarship... Inscribing Faith's lavishly illustrated pages...bathe images and texts in clarifying new light while guiding readers through a wonderland of late antique monuments. Sean Leatherbury never downplays the difficulties of reconstructing the experience of the late ancient viewer but in this wide-ranging study he has provided some of our best hope of sharing it." - The Classical Journal
"Sean Leatherbury leads the reader into an enlightening study... Inscribing Faith breaks new ground in its singular focus on free-standing inscriptions and texts embedded within frames and figurative images... Readers of Inscribing Faith in Late Antiquity will be grateful for the author’s fluid and engaging style of writing, his capacious bibliography, and the many images that can now been seen in a new light. That Leatherbury has broadened his analysis to include “pagan,” Jewish, and Muslim inscriptions and spaces only enhances the value of this richly documented study. Indeed, one looks forward to more enlightening works from this gifted historian." - Review of Biblical Literature