UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Beyond reuse : spolia's implications in the early Christian Church Grzesiak, Larissa


When Vasari used the term spoglie to denote marbles taken from pagan monuments for Rome’s Christian churches, he related the Christians to barbarians, but noted their good taste in exotic, foreign marbles. Interest in spolia and colourful heterogeneity reflects a new aesthetic interest in variation that emerged in Late Antiquity, but a lack of contemporary sources make it difficult to discuss the motives behind spolia. Some scholars have attributed its use to practicality, stating that it was more expedient and economical, but this study aims to demonstrate that just as Scripture became more powerful through multiple layers of meaning, so too could spolia be understood as having many connotations for the viewer. I will focus on two major areas in which spolia could communicate meaning within the context of the Church: power dynamics, and teachings. I will first explore the clear ecumenical hierarchy and discourses of power that spolia delineated through its careful arrangement within the church, before turning to ideological implications for the Christian viewer. Focusing on the Lateran and St. Peter’s, this study examines the religious messages that can be found within the spoliated columns of early Christian churches. By examining biblical literature and patristic works, I will argue that these vast coloured columns communicated ideas surrounding Christian doctrine. In addition to proposed ideological functions related to triumph (both in the Church’s emergence as a legal religion and the luxurious benefaction of the emperor), and interiorization (the idea that architecture reflected how Christian religious experience was turning inward), I will argue that spoliated columns had the capacity to communicate three major tenets of Christian salvation to their viewers – the concepts of rebirth, the Church’s mission of proselytization, and the fulfilment of salvation in an embodiment of Heavenly Jerusalem.

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