Saturday, January 13, 2007

Book Review: Holy Image, Hallowed Ground: Icons from Sinai

Edited by Robert S. Nelson and Kristen M. Collins

Holy Image, Hallowed Ground is a book which goes along with the J. Paul Getty Museum's exhibition of a number of icons from the remote and storied monastery of St. Catherine which sits at the foot of Mount Sinai in the Egyptian desert. Indeed, anyone interested in monasticism cannot but consider St. Catherine's, Sinai, as one of the most important monastic centres.

This ancient monastery has been a site of pilgrimage for many centuries and is the longest continuously inhabited monastery in all of Christendom. By virtue of its remoteness, it has also been one of the most stable, through the periods of iconoclasm and the rise of Islam in the East.

The icons which come from this monastery have a particular appeal and importance for the reason that during the iconoclasic heresy, while many icons were destroyed in major centres such as the See of Constantinople, such was not the case at St. Catherine's. As such, some of the icons here, and reproduced in the book, pre-date the period of iconoclasm. We thus are given a unique historical insight into the history and development of this important form of sacred art in a place unscathed and relatively uninterrupted by the accidents of history. (In Western terms, it would be as though we were able to find a monastic centre in England that remained unchanged and untouched by the Reformation.)

One of the particular appeals of Holy Image, Hallowed Ground is that many of the images in the exhibition and the book have never be seen outside of the walls of the venerable monastery -- that is, until now.

As for those images, the book includes over 237 colour images, many of which are full page illustrations. Aside from the pictures of the icons are other interesting images, not the least of which the images of the monastery church itself, including in its liturgical context.

The book comes in an oversized softcover or hardcover volume, as is usual for "art books" and would make an important addition to any personal library which finds a place in it for iconography or sacred art.

Hardcover: $75.00 USD
Softcover: $50.00 USD

For more information or to order: J. Paul Getty Museum

Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox Church
Alfredo Tradigo
383 pp.

It is also worth mention that the Getty Museum has published a smaller book which serves as a kind of compendium that explains the basic visual vocabulary of the icon (including particular icons), as well as the role and symbolism of the icon in the Christian East. This particular book includes 400 colour illustrations and would make for a good introductory volume for one seeking to learn more about the basic meaning and place of the icon in the churches of the East.

Softcover: $24.95 USD

For more information: J. Paul Getty Museum

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