Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Dino Marcantonio on the Ambo

Architect Dino Marcantonio is continuing his series on parts of the church building, this time with an article on the ambo.

An excerpt:

As lovely as these pieces are, they are but a pale shadow of St. Germanus's ambo at the Hagia Sophia, perhaps the most beautiful ever constructed. The description of it by Paul the Silentiary is worth a read. Essentially, the ambo, a larger and higher cousin of the examples above, sits in a slightly elevated enclosure defined by a colonnade of eight large columns. The columns, which Paul calls "flowers of stone," support an ornate entablature, and between them, a wall as high as a man. The platform of the ambo proper is itself raised up on eight columns (unlike the examples above) such that there is a domed space underneath for a chorus. It was all highly ornamented in gold, silver, bronze, ivory, and exotic marbles.

The plan of the ambo at the Hagia Sophia. The upper part of the ambo is described to the left, and the lower part to the right.

Here is how Paul describes its effect on viewers.

"And as an island rises amidst the swelling billows, bright with patterns of cornfields, and vineyards, and blossoming meadows, and wooded heights, while sailors, as they steer by it, are gladdened, and the troubles and anxieties of the sea are beguiled; so in the middle space of the boundless temple rises upright the tower-like ambo of stone, with its marble pastures like meadows, cunningly wrought with the beauty of the craftsman's art."

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