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Abstract

In general the iconographic details recorded in the hagiographic literature are pretty meagre. Authors focus on the miraculous properties of icons. The Coptic lives of the saints may be selected as representative for the Early Christian and Byzantine hagiography. The Martyrdom and Miracles of Saint Mercurius the General and other lives contain stories about the Saint’s icons. We have some information about church decoration in the East, but, it does not look as impressive as John of Gaza’s extensive ecphraseis of St. Sergius’ and St. Stephen’s complex decorative programmes. However, we actually find a number of interesting minor descriptions in the church histories, in the theological polemic on icons, and in the hagiographies. A Syriac manuscript from the British Museum preserves a chronicle of the monastery of Qartamin, Mor Gabriel. I focus on a chapter which describes the church’s construction and its interior decoration. The essential part of the art terminology, which we know from the Coptic texts, consists of the Greek borrowings. The Syriac texts show an entirely different pattern. The Syriac description compiled by an anonymous monk from Qartamin resembles the hymn on the Edessa Cathedral. The Syriac art description in general evolved along entirely different lines from the Greek ecphrasis. Greek borrowings in the discussed Syriac texts are rare, and if they do appear, they are limited to only certain words.
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