- Approaching the Holy Mountain: Art and Liturgy at St Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai ed. by Sharon E. J. Gerstel and Robert S. Nelson
To label this volume 'fascinating' feels like an injustice. Centred on the 'Holy Mountain' of Sinai and St Catherine's Monastery, this is a book for anyone interested in the site of Sinai, the Monastery of St Catherine specifically, and Byzantine/Orthodox Christian monasticism generally. The essays in this collection also cover topics such as landscape in icons and landscape as icon, pre-Byzantine and Byzantine liturgy, pilgrimage and pilgrims, architecture, art, archaeology, and even European engagement with the Near East over the last millennium, from Slavic pilgrims to Venetian painting to American [End Page 326] photographic expeditions. It is no surprise, given that the book arose out of an exhibition of Sinai icons and manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and an associated symposium, that it is marvellously illustrated.
Early chapters chart previous studies of St Catherine's Monastery, drawing particular attention to it as a repository of icons and architectural heritage, but also highlighting a recent move away from cataloguing and photographing icons and manuscripts as the primary activities of scholars interested in St Catherine's in the Sinai. New interests are revealed more fully in subsequent chapters. A particularly engaging theme evident in a number of contributions is the projection and development of 'Sinai' as place and style. This is not necessarily any particular local artistic or manuscript styles, although there are indications of these (see, for instance, pp. 34-72, 345- 414), but rather a sense of how Sinai was represented and interpreted within and beyond the physical boundaries of monastery and mountain. This in turn situates Sinai as a useful focal point for discussions about religious, cultural, and artistic exchanges between 'East' and 'West'. Similarly, the rich archive of St Catherine's is mined (with great success) for ways of observing and interpreting changes within the Byzantine/Orthodox tradition that continues at Sinai, and for gaining a more detailed appreciation of what changes in architecture, art, and liturgy can be observed there since the beginnings of monastic habitation of the site.
The University of Tasmania