Byzantine treasures in Venice

The beauty and power of Byzantine amulets is the subject of an exhibition which opens in Venice today. «Approaching Byzantine Man Through the Eyes of a Collector» displays items from the George Tsolozidis collection and was organized by the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies of Venice and the Museum of Byzantine Culture in Thessaloniki. The exhibition will be opened by Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios at 1 p.m. and will run to November 10. Composed of 210 objects (the Tsolozidis collection comprises some 3,000 pieces), the exhibition showcases items from religious ceremonies of the Orthodox Church, as well as amulets, rings and other items of personal use. Dating back to the second and third centuries AD and all the way forward to the 19th century, all the objects are of huge artistic interest, as well as being fascinating from a historical point of view, given that they were extremely rare outside the borders of the Byzantine Empire. The exhibition includes a large number of crosses: Some of these were worn by the faithful, while other larger ones were used in various liturgical services. Furthermore, the show includes censers and holy vessels that were used in the communion service. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a bronze bishop’s signet dating back to the sixth century. Another fascinating item is an 11th-century bronze lock, cast in the shape of a wild goat. Private worship Going back to antiquity, amulets are objects which have always been associated with private worship. These lucky charms were, and still are, used to protect the holder from the evil eye, as well as to heal the wounds of both body and soul. Historians have traced the origins of amulets back to the Near East and Egypt. Gold was in high demand when making the various amulets, while little bronze bells, known as tintinnabula, were used mainly to protect children. Magnets, on the other hand, were used to ease arthritic pains, while jet was used in order to facilitate childbirth. Herbs and plants were also popular. Peony root, for instance, was used as a remedy against attacks of epilepsy, the evil eye, witchcraft and fever. Amulets were also important after death, protecting the deceased from demons. Conference «Exorcizing Evil: Faith and Superstition in Byzantium» is the title of a one-day conference which is also scheduled to take place tomorrow in Venice, complementing the exhibition’s public inauguration. Greek and Italian scientists will attempt to analyze various theories, among which is a study that places the origins of exorcism in Jewish tradition – only later is it believed to have been passed on to Christians. Though Christianity fiercely fought against pagan customs, many of these were retained. Such is the case with amulets, whose purpose remained to avert evil through the use of benign, supernatural powers that had influence over both the animate and inanimate, ultimately determining life and death.

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