On the Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy

 

Separation of the Soul from the Body, fol. 63v, Heavenly Ladder of John Klimax, 1081, Princeton, University Library, Manuscripts Division

‘He Who is at the Point of Death’: The Fate of the Soul in Byzantine Art and Liturgy

by Vasileios Marinis

This paper is an examination of the content and iconography of the Kanon eis Psychorragounta (Canon for He Who Is at the Point of Death). This was the most important component of an akolouthia by the same name, a liturgical service meant to be read and sung on one’s behalf shortly before death. The canon’s extensive use and impact are evident in that it was depicted at least three times, once in manuscript illumination and twice in monumental painting, unusual given the rarity of illustrations of minor services. Because of its inclusion in euchologia, the prayer books used by clergy containing all the services of the Byzantine Rite, the author argues that the akolouthia and its canon provided a canonical, Church-sanctioned understanding of death and its immediate aftermath and exerted a normative influence on people’s perception of the separation of the soul from the body and subsequent events. On the most basic level, the iconography of the canon is meant to illustrate its contents.

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