Displaying Liturgical Poetry: The Church of Marko’s Monastery near Skopje
The interplay of ecclesiastical poetry and murals is one of the key aspects of church decoration in late Byzantium and Late Medieval Serbia. The project I undertook at Dumbarton Oaks addresses the murals of the church of St. Demetrios near Skopje, FYROM, which are notable for their emphatic incorporation of motifs drawn from the liturgy. This church, the katholikon of a monastic establishment commonly known as Marko's Monastery, was the foundation of the Serbian kings Vukasin and Marko Mrnjavcevic. The frescoes were painted in 1376/77.
My inquiry was twofold. Central to the first part of the investigation were poetic texts and rituals associated with the celebration of Lent and Holy Week. These services receive a complex visual articulation through a group of images: Akathistos Hymn to the Theotokos, Christ as the Wisdom of God, Mary’s Lamentation and Christ depicted as the Man of Sorrows. I analyzed the role of the changes brought about by the Neo-Sabbaite liturgical reform and the adoption of the Jerusalem Typikon, focusing on the heightened emotionalism of the liturgical poetry performed during Lent and Holy Week services and the articulation of the multilayered interpretations of Christ’s Incarnation and Sacrifice. I concluded that these images were intended to elicit emotional responses from the monastic community and to prompt their active participation in the liturgy.
Secondly, I studied works of hymnography associated with St. Demetrios, patron saint of Thessalonike, with regard to the presence of iconographic motifs. My research revealed that images of the patron saint in Marko’s Monastery assemble visual and poetic elements to convey messages and to emphasize certain aspects of the cult.