FEATURE Image: The Hindu Temple of Greater Chicago, 10915 S. Lemont Road, Lemont IL. Author’s photograph, 7/2017 5.75 mb
What is Hierotopy?
It is a term developed at the start of the 21st century by Alexei Lidov (b. 1959), a Russian art historian who specializes in Byzantium.
Hierotopy derives from two Ancient Greek words meaning “Sacred Space” and in a specifically broad sense.
Hierotopy is the study of the creation and frequent re-creation of sacred spaces whose inter-disciplinary application extends to a vast array of media (i.e., images, shrines, architectural spaces, pilgrimage, song, incense, ritual, natural forces, such as light and darkness) as well as spans the areas of art history, archeology, cultural anthropology (diversity in social practice), ethnology (groups and culture), and religious studies.
What hierotopy is NOT.
What hierotopy is not is the study of the phenomenology of the sacred. Rather, it is a look at projects that express the sacred and the relationship of the sacred and the mundane. It is a universal language posited in a nearly infinite number of forms marked by creative human activity and expression.
As such, icons and other sacred artifacts, for example, are not seen only as isolated objects but as part of any wider project to express a wide scope of communication of the sacred and mundane. It is these projects themselves – including both their conceptual and artistic aspects, as well as the historical developments leading to their formation – which are the primary focus of hierotopic study.
The wide range of Hierotopic projects takes in churches and sanctuaries but also architecture, lighting design, city places, and rituals, feasts and ceremonies.
Hierotopic projects are not limited to churches and sanctuaries but can be landscapes, architectural compounds, and greater entities such as urban settings. While edifices and other macro-art and architecture are hierotopic, so are individual and simple yet equally powerful components such as the use of light in church architecture as well as sacred (including revealed religious and other) ceremonies, feasts, and folk customs.
From photographic images of Lourdes grottos, labyrinths, and Hindu prayer poles to visual demonstrations of higher planes of the ineffable and transcendent.
While my photographs as a hierotopic project can include original sacred spaces which are those that appear as the result of a theophany (Ancient Greek meaning “appearance of a deity”) or a representative thereof, it can extend to its re-creation elsewhere, such as, popularly, a Lourdes grotto or Hindu prayer pole. Other hierotopic projects can involve less tangible ideas but look to express a higher order so that by way of the hierotopic project a common bond or experience on or towards such higher planes is manifested between the created sacred space and its human participant or beholder, such as, to start, the prayer labyrinth.
The hierotopic photograph may be limited only by its power for expression.
In regard to these photographs, seeing hierotopy as the study of the creative direction of projects coordinating artists and specialists in shaping a unified and comprehensive vision of the relation of the sacred and mundane, they share in its hierotopic object by being their own hierotopy project. In the seeking to capture others’ creative projects in the communication of the sacred and mundane along with those embodied human interactions with or among them, each photographic image is its own original hierotopy – and possibly suggests an opening for others to assemble theirs.