A revisionist revisits…. Canterbury Pt. 4-iii

Because the last three posts have been long ones, this one is pretty short.

Moving northwards from Oria and Tarento, along the via Francigena, we are in country testifying to the enduring power of tradition, in imagery and customs re-interpreted to survive the  effects of war, time, conquest, and religions introduced or imposed.  Imagery can do this; it can retain faithfully the forms and original character of things long after memory of their formal codes of belief are quite lost.

Here, it seems hardly surprising that a fifteenth-century manuscript should still evince a Hellenistic origin and character; the following is but one instance of many within this manuscript. You either see it, or you don’t. The medallion celebrates Alexander’s admiral, Nearchus.

medallion Hellenistic celeb Nearchus voyagefol 72r-ii centre blog fairy







I am no great enthusiast for using genetic patterns to explain cultural products: one’s Y haploid group does not determine what languages one learns, what books one reads or whether or not one has  intellectual capacity and curiosity.  But such maps do illustrate one thing well: the oldest and most natural lines of movement across a region.  That shown below shows why southern Italy was more open to influence from Syria and north Africa than from the north, and there existed a similar connection between Greece and north Africa.  The sea-lanes were travelled regularly, from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, before the end of the second millennium BC.,  Sicily serving as a form of half-barrier which effectively directed that movement from its eastern side to the coast of North Africa.  Within the southern end of the peninsula, as in Sicily, Hellenistic workshops produced artefacts in Egyptian style before the rise of Rome. [1]


The Great Angel.

To Christianity, Michael is the name of that great Angel whose role is that of defender and deliverer, and the church still says that Michael’s shrines on the hilltops were first made in the fifth century AD.  But that same character, under a name now forgotten, had been  revered  in this part of the world from the time the  first urban settlements occur, in the seventh or sixth centuries BC.

Originally manifesting attributes of both male and female, it must have once been widely known. In the eastern Mediterranean, the earliest strand of Jewish religious thought carries a trace of some similar character [2] and by Strabo’s time it must have been known to the peoples who lived in the south in his time:Samnites, Brutians and  Lucanians.

When the first Roman emperor in Byzantium promoted Christianity as the preferred religion, Michael changed his religion too.

Basilicata Melfi hermafroditos

Basilicata – Melfi

Basilicata Melfi bronze Michael female

Basilicata – Mefi


Michael Monastery of Sinai

Monastery of Sinai.


Michael Shaftesbury Psalter

Shaftesbury Psalter

St.Michael bronzein Italy from Constantinople

flower servant aegis angel

4thC BC


Michael Gravina and Gargano late 16thC

late 16thC Gravina/Gargano southern Italy


Abbey of Mont “Saint-Michel au péril de la mer” off the west coast of France


Norman French Mont St Michel

detail of a manuscript written in Norman French. Mont Saint Michel, Normandy coast.

He became the first winged figure in western and Byzantine Christian art, but does does not appear so in Christian iconography until the middle of the 1st millennium AD, unless this Coptic figure said to date to the 1stC AD, is an exception.

Michael Coptic allegedly 1stC AD

Michael Coptic allegedly 1stC AD

When Theodore passed through (if he did) the populace paid their taxes to a Langobard king, but  century later the Langobard’s hold which was always tenuous, was gone and the kingdom dissolved. They left little trace in the south, no more than a few buildings and those mainly ecclesiastical.  On the other hand, Michael certainly impressed them.  Remnants of the Langobard population congregated in Benevento and  around Naples, and since the road from Benevento to the Adriatic touches the sea near a cave-shrine to Michael at Gargano, it became their most revered shrine too.  That road became known as the ‘Langobard Way’ – an important pilgrimage route in medieval times.

Via_Appia_map Rome to Brindisi

The via Appia through Benevento. The cave at Gargano is by Manfredonia, known in Roman times as Sipontum.



[1] see László Török, Hellenistic and Roman Terracottas from Egypt (1995) refers to Besques (1963) and (1992) as authority in this connection.

Simone Mollard-Besques, Catalogue raisonné des figurines et reliefs en terre-cuite grecs, étrusques et romains [Musée du Louvre. Département des antiquités grecques et romaines, Paris : Editions des Musées nationaux. (1954 and 1992)

[2] The older figure may represent the original ‘Adam’, made in the image of the creator-deity. In the works of the Jewish law, the earliest idea of Adam has him also, in one version of the creation story, both male and female, for the text reads literally: “male and female He created him” – not ‘them’ as the translations have it.  Michael’s name is translated as if it meant “Who is as Gd?” which is the import of the name, though in the original was expressed as  [the being who] “is as Gd” – that is, made as the image of the deity.

Apulia mirror world detail blog

vase – Apulia. 6thC BC

Jewish religious thinking had very early moved away from that idea of the male-and-female being, the story of Adam’s rib showing the moment of  distinction between the sexes as one held to be natural and intended by Gd.  Margaret Barker, The Great Angel: a study of Israel’s second God, SPCK (1992) remains the principal study of the ‘Great Angel’ in Jewish thought available in English.



Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s