St. Paul of Thebes among the Serbs: Hierotopy and the Translation of the Holy Land of Egypt into the Visual Culture of Medieval Serbia

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Nebojsa Tumara



Translation of the Holy Land through the creation of “New Jerusalems” was an important aspect of medieval Christian culture and a matrix for spiritual life during the Middle Ages. In that respect, the monastic centres established by members of the Nemanjić Dynasty of Serbia were no exception. There, the rendering of the Holy Land and Egypt of the desert fathers in visible form was one of the main hierotopic concerns. In that process, the visual representation of St. Paul of Thebes became a prominent motif in medieval Serbian monastic centres. His visual hagiography decorates various Serbian monasteries from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, including among others Studentica, Žiča, Dečani, Mileševa, Sopoćani, Hilandar, Gračanica, the Patriarchal Monastery of Peć, the Church of St. George in Staro Nagoričane, and Ravanica Monastery. By following the reception of St. Paul’s vita into the visual culture of medieval Serbian lands, this paper will explore the different phases involved in the process of translating Egypt into medieval Serbia, arguing that for the creators of various heterotopic projects, the setting of Egypt of the desert fathers was reinterpreted to suit particular theological positions or to support specific political assumptions.


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