By Yannis D. Varalis and Constantine Dolmas | University of Thessaly
The cover of this Gospel Lectionary (dim. 29.5 × 20.8 × 9 cm) is made of two wooden boards enveloped with purple velvet. Metal cast plaques and filigree stripes, partly gilded and enameled with cobalt, light blue, green, and pineapple yellow are nailed with pins on the front board. Three cherubs and a bicephalous eagle border the central plaque with the Crucifixion; four roundels with the symbols of the Evangelists are set in the corners; and twelve small panels with scenes of the Dodekaorton are fixed along the perimeter; sixteen autumn orange and nine olive green gemstones, transparent or opaque, are set on all plaques and stripes. The back board is covered by a perforated silver sheet and bordered by stripes with foliage partially gilded and rendered in repoussé. The same roundels with Evangelists’ symbols are set around the central plate, which bears the representation of the enthroned Christ amidst busts of the apostles set in a scroll. The dedicatory inscription is split in twelve parts, each on a metal plate between the cherubs and the panels of the front cover; the letters and the guide-lines are made with twisted wire. Nowadays the Gospel book is kept at the church of St. Nicholas at Retziani, the modern village of Metaxochori in the region of Aghia, Thessaly, and is preserved in quite good condition.
The Lectionary contains the basic passages from the Gospels that are read aloud and rhythmically during the Divine Liturgy. The Gospel Lectionary is usually decorated in most lavish forms, because it has a major processional and ostentatious role when it is carried ceremoniously from the prothesis to the altar table in the Lesser Introit or «Little Entrance»; it contained the Word of the Lord, who was the Logos (the Word) of God. Written late antique sources mention Gospel covers made of silver and gold with precious stones, pearls and/or ivory. Examples include the Gospel carried by the deacon to Maximianus’ left in the famous mosaic with Justinian and his retinue at San Vitale, Ravenna, dating from the mid-6th century, and the Gospel cover of Queen Theodelinda, kept at the Museum and Treasury of the Monza cathedral, dated to the late 6th or early 7th century. Later, the Gospel books were usually covered by copper alloy, silver or gold sheets that enveloped the outer faces of the binding boards. These sheets, cast or in repoussé, enameled and/or gilt, displayed a surface in relief, often split in panels, the central and largest of which contained a representation of Christ or the Virgin while the flanking squares contained busts of saints and apostles. From the thirteenth century onward, the iconography of the Gospel book covers became more established: the Crucifixion is set in the middle of the front and the Descent into Hell in the middle of the back cover, as is indicated by the Gospel book covers of the Protaton church and the Great Lavra Monastery, on Mount Athos, the Marciana Library, Venice, and the National History Museum, Sofia. As has already been observed, such an arrangement of the repertoire echoes the organization of the iconographic subjects on the precious revetments of Palaiologan icons; in most cases such revetments comprise border bands with medallions or squares with Dodekaorton scenes and/or busts of saints.
What is new in the Dimos’ Lectionary binding is the plethora of metal plaques nailed on the boards, especially on the front. This kind of decoration derives from Byzantine book covers where few fittings are placed at the center and in the corners, so as to retain and decorate the leather or the velvet that envelops the boards. Plentiful silver-gilt fittings are very rare, like in the mid-13th century Bardzrberd Gospels. The technique and style of Dimos is found in more than fifteen book covers which are recorded in churches and monasteries in Thessaly and in the Skiathos and Andros Islands, as well as at the Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens. These Gospel book covers seem to have been generated by the same Retziani workshop, in which goldsmith Dimos may have played an important role, in the last quarter of the 17th and the first half of the 18th century. Some of its products seem to have reached monasteries of a certain reputation, like the Gospel book covers of the Bačkovo monastery, Bulgaria, and the upper parts of the crosses of Stefan Uroš Dečanski and Stefan Dušan at the Decani monastery, Serbia, dated to the 17th century; on these book covers and crosses we find the same small metal icons enameled with blue and light green. The dedicatory inscriptions displayed on book covers, chalices, fans, procession crosses and icon revetments produced by this Retziani workshop preserve not only the names of silversmiths and their towns of origin, but also attest to the names of the wealthy donors, mostly clerics, who wished to refurbish their churches with ecclesiastical silver from a renowned local workshop.
Ἐτοῦ|το τὸ θῆον κὲ | ἡερὸν ἐβαγγέ|ληο ε(ἶν)|ε ἀπὸ τ[‘] | (Ρέ)τζαν[η] | ἀπὸ τὸν Προ|φήτη Ἰλήα [διὰ] | (συν)δρο(μῆς) Κομ(η)ν|άνης Κόμηνε ἱερέος | Σήμον ἡερέος | κὲ εὐκιάστη ἀ|πὸ χηρ(ὸς) Δήμου | ἀπὸ τὴν Ρέτζα|νη κὲ νὰ μνημονέβουντε πάντο|τε ἐπὴ ἔτος ἀπὸ Χ(ριστο)ῦ ‚αχογ’. «This divine and holy Gospel is [dedicated] to the church of Prophet Elijah at Retziani [by] the expense of the priest Komenanis <Komine>, [and] of the priest Simon and was made by the hand of Dimos of Retziani, [in order to] commemorate [the donors] forever, in the year of the Lord 1673».
Ballian, Anna. "Silverwork produced in Ottoman Trikala (Thessaly): Problems of Taxonomy and Interpretation." In Ottoman Metalwork in the Balkans and in Hungary. Edited by Ibolya Gerelyes and Maximilian Hartmuth, 11–35. Budapest: Hungarian National Museum, 2015.
For some preliminary remarks on the Retziani workshop.
Ballian, Anna. "Liturgical Implements." In Faith and Power (1261–1557), edited by Helen Evans, 116–124. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004.
Drumev, Dimitŭr. Zlatarsko izkustvo. Sofija: BAN, 1976.
For the Bačkovo Gospel book cover.
Rainer, Thomas. Das Buch und die vier Ecken der Welt. Von der Hülle der Thorarolle zum Deckel des Evangeliencodex. Wiesbaden: Reichert Verlag, 2011.
Šakota, Mirjana. Dečanska Riznica. Drugo dopunjeno i izmenjeno izdanje. Novi Sad: Manastir Visoki Dečani, 2016.
For the crosses at Dečani Monastery.
Taft, Robert F. The Byzantine Rite. A Short History. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1992.
A good source for the Orthodox liturgy.
Velmans, Tania. "La couverture de l‘Évangile dit de Morozov et l’évolution de la reliure byzantine." Cahiers archéologiques 28 (1979): 115–136.
For Late antique and Byzantine Gospel book covers.