My PhD dissertation in Byzantine art history utilized digital methods such as photogrammetry, vector modeling, and web mapping to argue that monumental ceiling crosses were designed objects used to manipulate the experience of viewers in Cappadocian monuments.

McMichael, Alice Lynn. “Rising Above the Faithful: Monumental Ceiling Crosses in Byzantine Cappadocia.” PhD dissertation, The Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2018. CUNY Academic Works: https://academicworks.cuny.edu/gc_etds/2553


Rising Above the Faithful: Monumental Ceiling Crosses in Byzantine Cappadocia

The design of Byzantine architecture created viewing conditions that reveal social and spatial contexts of Christian ritual, private devotion, and expressions of identity. This is apparent in the decoration of ceilings, which were crucial visual elements within spatial relationships in late antique and medieval architecture but are rarely discussed because few examples survive. However, Byzantine Cappadocia, a region that is now central Turkey, has a high number of extant medieval ceilings in its rock-cut architecture. About eighty monuments there have monumental ceiling crosses that were painted or carved in relief between the sixth and eleventh centuries. In this dissertation the three case studies in St. Sergius Chapel in Göreme (sixth century), St. Basil Church in the Gomeda Valley (late ninth to tenth century), and a tomb in Karabaş Church in the Soğanlı Valley (ca. before 1061) demonstrate viewing experiences that use aniconic imagery to reflect Byzantine approaches to spatial relationships over time. They also reflect ways that aniconism and the formal properties of the cross symbol were indicative of medieval visuality and the evolving Cult of the Cross.

            This dissertation approaches the process of viewing as experiential and socially constructed. It elucidates ceiling design as a means of guiding the viewer’s spiritual and social activities within architectural spaces. Comparative methods using textual sources (such as hagiography) and material evidence (comparative objects and the monuments themselves) demonstrate Cappadocians’ sophisticated sense of design using both aniconic motifs and the iconicity of the cross, highlighting the role of the visual as an essential element of Byzantine spirituality.