Hagia Sophia

Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium

Hardback or cased
Bissera V. Pentcheva
Published 22 Aug 2017
List Price £46.95

Only available to back order


“Evocatively rendered in careful prose, new photography, and recorded sound, this synthetic account breathes new life into a remarkable, elusive monument. Highly recommended.”

—M. Rautman, Choice

“The interdisciplinary methods of exploration and the development of digital technology in the cultural heritage preservation of the Hagia Sophia’s aural and visual environment in Pentcheva’s book are intriguing, well-researched, and rich to a depth previously unexplored. Hagia Sophia: Sound, Space, and Spirit in Byzantium is worth adding to any collection exploring new innovations in archeoacoustical, art historical, and architectural research in Byzantine or medieval periods.”

—Marianne R. Williams, ARLIS/NA Reviews

“This erudite, highly original book explores the ways in which the sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia engaged all the senses in a rich and dynamic exchange of air, sound, fragrance, movement, and light between heaven and earth to create an all-enveloping spiritual experience for the worshipper. Using sources ranging from modern acoustic science to sixth-century poetry, Pentcheva establishes a fluid, multisensory, kinetic interpretive model that will transform our understanding of Byzantine sacred space.”

—Deborah Howard, coauthor of Sound and Space in Renaissance Venice

“Reminds us not only how much the study of aurality in Byzantine studies has yet to offer but also what the hidden aspects of Hagia Sophia might still yield.”

—Mati Meyer, CAA.Reviews

Experiencing the resonant acoustics of the church of Hagia Sophia allowed the Byzantine participants in its liturgical rituals to be filled with the Spirit of God, and even to become his image on earth. Bissera Pentcheva’s vibrant analysis examines how these sung rites combined with the church’s architectural space to make Hagia Sophia a performative place of worship representative of Byzantine religious culture in all its sensory richness.

Coupling digital acoustic models and video with a close examination of liturgical texts and melodic structures, Pentcheva applies art-historical, philosophical, archeoacoustical, and anthropological methodologies to provide insight into the complementary ways liturgy and location worked to animate worshippers in Byzantium. Rather than focus on the architectural form of the building, the technology of its construction, or the political ideology of its decoration, Pentcheva delves into the performativity of Hagia Sophia and explains how the “icons of sound” created by the sung liturgy and architectural reverberation formed an aural experience that led to mystical transcendence for worshippers, opening access to the imagined celestial sound of the angelic choirs.

Immersive, deeply researched, and beautifully illustrated, this exploration of Hagia Sophia sheds new light on sacred space, iconicity, and religious devotion in Byzantium. Scholars of art and architectural history, religious studies, music and acoustics, and the medieval period will especially appreciate Pentcheva’s field-advancing work.


List of Illustrations



1 Sophia and Choros: The Making of Sacred Space in Byzantium

2 Inspiriting in the Byzantine Consecration (Kathierōsis) Rite

3 Icons of Breath

4 Aural Architecture

5 Material Flux: Marble, Water, and Chant

6 The Horizontal Mirror and the Poetics of the Imaginary

7 Empathy and the Making of Art in Byzantium





Bissera V. Pentcheva is Professor of Art History at Stanford University and the author of Icons and Power: The Mother of God in Byzantium and The Sensual Icon: Space, Ritual, and the Senses in Byzantium, both also published by Penn State University Press.

Examines the aesthetic principles and spiritual operations at work in Hagia Sophia. Drawing on art and architectural history, liturgy, musicology, and acoustics, explores the Byzantine paradigm of animation.