Skip header content and main navigation Binghamton University, State University of New York - Harpur

2015 Romano Lecutre

Romano Lecture examines 'salvaged stones'
   of early churches

By Tania Rahman

To pave the way for construction of new holy sites, early Roman Christians used the locations of existing cult sites and expanded current structures to create larger shrines for their own worship. This in turn led to erosion of the sacred site's history.

In order to explain the extent of the implications of these actions, Ann Marie Yasin shared insight on the creation and institutionalization of Christian cult history in a talk called "Salvaged Stones and Records of Renovation: Material Histories of Early Churches in Late Antiquity" for the 2015 Mario and Antoinette Romano Lecture on March 20. The lecture series was established to give experts in history, economics, art history and medicine a platform to speak.

To celebrate the Romano's' "spirit of limitless curiosity and drive to learn," Yasin, an associate professor of classics and art history at the University of Southern California, used her background in Roman and late antique art and culture to shed light on these understudied sites based on her research findings as well as her book, "Saints and Church Spaces in the Late Antique Mediterranean: Architecture, Cult, and Community."

Yasin began on a personal note of her study-abroad semester in Rome during college to explain how she discovered the significance of how the history of architecture is written in the context of new architecture. She called her experience "an exhausting, thrilling overlay of the senses," as she learned about Rome's ancient topography, further fueling her interest in the subject.

According to Yasin, churches that were in existence for a long time were modernized in order to meet new demands. She referred to four key points to address how buildings shaped perceptions of time and how they served to mold a community's understanding of history.

Visceral commemoration was one important explanation of the past. Yasin pointed out how ancient inscriptions on holy buildings often gave inaccurate information on the building's history when translated, such as crediting certain individuals for building parts of the church when in fact, they were not even alive at that point in time. This was important to note because these inscriptions influenced the way modern viewers of the sites interpreted the churches.

"The impact that inscription meanings and the architecture of churches evoked powerful emotions from visitors," Yasin said, asserting how "the new shapes the old."

A second point was the matter of singularization. This involved drawing attention to the oldness of parts of buildings, or "elements of sites spared from destruction or modernization." In examination of the physical properties of the current building, inconsistencies with certain other elements of the church are made clear, such as in age and history. Studying the treatment of some slabs of work brings attention to blatant changes that occurred in the site, Yasin said. She cited the example of excavations that occurred in the Basilica of the Three Emperors, a small Roman church, that revealed where some pieces were originally located, offering evidence of historical stories.

Yasin went on to describe her third and fourth points, which were "accumulation" and "body memory materialized." The former can be described as memory commemorative constructive devices, while the latter allows memorialization of physical bodies. Yasin described holes in slabs that were found in these sites that provided "palpable testimony of a history of ritual practice," an event that would otherwise go unnoticed had it not been for exploration of these churches' pasts.

"These things communicate nameless masses of others before who carried out ritual devotions," Yasin said.

To Yasin, it is important to study these alterations and renovations because it permits glimpses of earlier chapters of these churches' histories. She exudes her enthusiasm in her book, where she allows readers to experience the past in a way that "engages the senses and allows different temporal associations," as one would experience while physically witnessing the sites.


Connect with Binghamton:
Twitter icon links to Binghamton University's Twitter page YouTube icon links to Binghamton University's YouTube page Facebook icon links to Binghamton University's Facebook page Instagram

Last Updated: 3/1/17