At the twelfth-century Church of the Panagia Arakiotissa in Lagoudera, Cyprus, two painted figures, Mary of Egypt and Zosimas, share communion across the opening of its southern exit. The subject comes from the seventh-century Life of Mary of Egypt, a tale of two strangers who miraculously meet in the desert; embedded within this narrative is the holy woman’s recounting of her sinful youth, conversion at a church threshold in Jerusalem, and subsequent exposure in the harsh wilderness. At Mary’s request, the priest monk Zosimas brings communion to her on the bank of the Jordan River, and from at least the tenth century, this scene was represented near doorways in Byzantine churches. At the Panagia Arakiotissa, viewers become intimate witnesses when they approach and pass between Mary and Zosimas on their way out the door. In this talk I consider the painting in relation to the reception of the Life in the ninth through twelfth centuries and situate it within the church’s painted program. Ultimately, I argue that Mary and Zosimas’ communion operates as an exit image, drawing its viewers into the company of travelers journeying through an unpredictable yet sanctified world and complicating ideas about the location and limits of sacred space.
Respondent: AnneMarie Luijendijk, Religion