Tessellated Pictures and Traditional Piety
Nearly 300 years before the rise of a 'Christianized,' Eastern Roman Empire, generations of inhabitants in the Eastern Mediterranean and Near East had witnessed a considerable variety and evolution of religious thought. As a result of the expansion of Christian sects throughout the Near East and Mediterranean, in 325 CE, Emperor Constantine I convened a theological council to unite his vast kingdom in the East under a single religious creed. While revisions to the text of the first 'Nicene Creed' and subsequent councils would be organized, many dissenting factions refused to relinquish their long-held beliefs and traditions. Some of these 'heterodox' sects resisted the religious arm of the Empire and concealed their practices while continuing to worship in secrecy. Clues to the subversion of 'orthodox' ecclesiastical mandate may still persist in the mosaic programs of extant churches in the Mediterranean and Transjordan. In particular, the general design of mosaics in the Transjordan (e.g., the Petra Church, Petra; the Church of SS. Lot and Procopius, Khirbet al-Mukhayyat; and the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian, Jerash) are somewhat similar, yet divergent from designs found within churches from the Italian Peninsula (e.g., the Theodorean Basilical Complex, Aquileia; the Church of San Vitale, Ravenna; and the Church of Sant'Apollinare in Classe, Classe). The purpose of this thesis is to use the principles of semiotic theory to re-evaluate the use of symbols and icons within sacred mosaic programs, juxtaposed against the historical and ecclesiastical context surrounding their creation.