Category Archives: (3) How Art Shaped Our Society & Us – 500 AD to 1000 AD

Spotlight: Winchester Cathedral (originally built 642 AD) – of largest cathedrals

Winchester Cathedral

The Winchester Cathedral—one of the largest cathedrals in England and greatest overall length of any Gothic cathedral in Europe—is located in Winchester, Hampshire, England.

In 2005, the building was used as a film set for The Da Vinci Code, with the north transept used as the Vatican. Following this, the cathedral hosted discussions and displays to debunk the book.

Winchester Cathedral is possibly the only cathedral to have had popular songs written about it. “Winchester Cathedral” was a UK top ten hit and a US number one song for The New Vaudeville Band in 1966. The cathedral was also the subject of the Crosby, Stills & Nash song, “Cathedral” from their 1977 album CSN. Liverpool-based band Clinic released an album titled Winchester Cathedral in 2004.

The cathedral possesses the only diatonic ring of 14 church bells in the world, with a tenor (heaviest bell) weighing 1.81 tons (4,000 lbs.).

Nowadays the cathedral draws many tourists as a result of its association with Jane Austen, who died in Winchester on 18 July 1817. Her funeral was held in the cathedral and she was buried in the north aisle. The inscription on her tombstone makes no mention of her novels, but a later brass tablet describes her as “known to many by her writings.”

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winchester_Cathedral

Spotlight: The Book of Kells (800 AD) – masterwork of calligraphy

Book of Kells

The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript Gospel book in Latin, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament together with various prefatory texts and tables. It was created by Celtic Monks ca. 800 or slightly earlier.  It is a masterwork of Western calligraphy and represents the pinnacle of Insular illumination. It is also widely regarded as Ireland’s finest national treasure.

The illustrations and ornamentation of the Book of Kells surpass that of other Insular Gospel books in extravagance and complexity. The decoration combines traditional Christian iconography with the ornate swirling motifs typical of Insular art. Figures of humans, animals and mythical beasts, together with Celtic knots and interlacing patterns in vibrant colors, enliven the manuscript’s pages. Many of these minor decorative elements are imbued with Christian symbolism and so further emphasize the themes of the major illustrations.

The manuscript takes its name from the Abbey of Kells that was its home for centuries. Today, it is on permanent display at the Trinity College Library, Dublin. The library usually displays two of the current four volumes at a time, one showing a major illustration and the other showing typical text pages, and the entire manuscript can be viewed on the library’s Digital Collections portal.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Book_of_Kells

Spotlight: Muhammad the Prophet (c. 570 AD – c. 632 AD)

muhammad (1)

Muhammad was a religious, political, and military leader from Mecca who unified Arabia into a single religious group under Islam. He is believed by Muslims to be a messenger and prophet of God. Muhammad is almost universally considered by Muslims as the last prophet sent by God for mankind. While non-Muslims regard Muhammad to have been the founder of Islam, Muslims consider him to have been the restorer of an unaltered original monotheistic faith of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.

Muhammad was orphaned at an early age and brought up under the care of his uncle Abu Talib. He later worked mostly as a merchant, as well as a shepherd, and was first married by age 25. Being in the habit of periodically retreating to a cave in the surrounding mountains for several nights of seclusion and prayer, he later reported that it was there, at age 40, that he received his first revelation from God. Three years after this event Muhammad started preaching these revelations publicly, proclaiming that “God is One”, that complete “surrender” to Him is the only way acceptable to God, and that he himself was a prophet and messenger of God, in the same vein as other Islamic prophets.

Muhammad gained few followers early on, and was met with hostility from some Meccan tribes; he and his followers were treated harshly. To escape persecution, Muhammad sent some of his followers to Abyssinia before he and his followers in Mecca migrated to Medina (then known as Yathrib) in the year 622. This event, the Hijra, marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar, which is also known as the Hijri Calendar. In Medina, Muhammad united the tribes under the Constitution of Medina. After eight years of fighting with the Meccan tribes, his followers, who by then had grown to 10,000, took control of Mecca in the largely peaceful Conquest of Mecca. He destroyed the pagan idols in the city and then sent his followers out to destroy all of the remaining pagan temples in Eastern Arabia. In 632, a few months after returning to Medina from The Farewell Pilgrimage, Muhammad fell ill and died. By the time of his death, most of the Arabian Peninsula had converted to Islam, and he had united Arabia into a single Muslim religious polity.

The revelations – which Muhammad reported receiving until his death – form the verses of the Quran, regarded by Muslims as the “Word of God” and around which the religion is based. Besides the Quran, Muhammad’s life (sira) and traditions (sunnah) are also upheld by Muslims as the sources of sharia law. They discuss Muhammad and other prophets of Islam with reverence, adding the phrase peace be upon him whenever their names are mentioned.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad

Spotlight: The Dome of the Rock – 691 AD

Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is a shrine located on the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. The structure has been refurbished many times since its initial completion in 691 AD.  The site’s significance stems from religious traditions regarding the rock, known as the Foundation Stone, at its heart.

The Dome of the Rock is in the centre of a greater Muslim shrine, known as the Haram ash Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), which Muslims believe commemorates Muhammad’s miraculous Night Journey into heaven.

The Dome of the Rock is located at the visual center of a platform known as the Temple Mount. It was constructed on the site of the Second Jewish Temple, which was destroyed during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. In 637 AD, Jerusalem surrendered to the Rashidun Caliphate army during the Muslim conquest of Syria.

According to some Islamic scholars, the rock is the spot from which Muhammad ascended to Heaven accompanied by the angel Gabriel. Further, Muhammad was taken here by Gabriel to pray with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus.

The Foundation Stone and its surroundings is the holiest site in Judaism. Though Muslims now pray towards the Kaaba at Mecca, they once prayed with the Jews towards the raised platform on which the Dome of the Rock stands. Though Muhammad changed the direction of prayer for Muslims after a spat with a Jewish tribe, both groups traditionally regarded the location of the stone as the holiest spot on Earth, the site of the Holy of Holies during the Temple Period.

The most propitious site for Jewish prayer is the spot that is nearest the Foundation Stone. Because Muslim authorities refused to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, the custom developed of praying near the Western Wall, since it was the site nearest to the Foundation Stone, or on the Mount of Olives facing the site of the Temple.  According to Jewish tradition, the stone is the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac; most Muslims believe it was Ishmael, not Isaac, who was to be sacrificed.

In Christianity it is believed that during the time of the Byzantine Empire, near the spot where the Dome was later constructed was where Constantine’s mother built a small church, calling it the Church of St. Cyrus and St. John, later on enlarged and called the Church of the Holy Wisdom.

A number of buildings have been designed as copies of the Dome of the Rock. These include the octagonal Church of St. Giacomo in Italy, and the octagonal Moorish Revival style Rumbach Street synagogue in Budapest.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_rock

Spotlight: Ancient Library of Alexandria, Egypt – 640 AD destroyed

Alexandria

Ancient Library of Alexandria, built in the 3rd century B.C. and destroyed in 640 A.D.

The Ancient Library of Alexandria was the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world. Built under the Ptolemaic dynasty, which ruled Egypt during the Hellenistic period, the library is famous for both its alleged 300,000 scrolls (books) and its destruction—resulting in the loss of so much knowledge and books. The library itself is known to have had an acquisitions department and a cataloguing department.

The Library at Alexandria was in charge of collecting all the world’s knowledge, and most of the staff was occupied with the task of translating works onto papyrus paper. According to philosopher Galen, any books found on ships were taken to this library.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Library_of_alexandria

Spotlight: Hero and Leander – an epic Greek Poem from 550 AD

heroandleander

Hero and Leander is story of Hero–a priestess of Aphrodite—and Leander—a young man living on the opposite side of a strait from Hero. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the strait to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.

Succumbing to Leander’s soft words, and to his argument that Aphrodite, as goddess of love, would scorn the worship of a virgin, Hero allowed him to make love to her. These trysts lasted through the warm summer. But one stormy winter night, the waves tossed Leander in the sea and the breezes blew out Hero’s light, and Leander lost his way, and was drowned. When Hero saw his dead body, she threw herself over the edge of the tower to her death to be with him.

This great mythical story has been used extensively over the years in literature and the arts.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hero_and_Leander

Spotlight: Horyuji Temple (built in 607 A.D. in Japan) – oldest existing wooden building

horyuji

Widely acknowledged as the oldest wooden building existing in the world, the Horyuji is a Buddhist temple in Nara Prefecture, Japan serving as both a seminary and monastery. The temple was dedicated to Yakushi Nyorai—the Buddha of healing.

The treasures of the temple are considered to be a time capsule of Buddhist art from the sixth and seventh century. Much of the frescoes, statues, and other pieces of art within the temple, as well as the architecture of the temple’s buildings themselves show the strong cultural influence from China, Korea and India and demonstrated the international connection of the countries of East Asia.

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*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horyuji_temple