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22 X, 4.45 (Warsaw time), Grzegorz Ochała (Leiden Universiteit & UW), The Cathedral of Faras as a monument of Nubian memory

(by Zbigniew Doliński (model) and Piotr Ligier (photo) - Museum Archivies, CC BY-SA 3.0 pl

The discovery of the cathedral at Faras in the 1960s marks the birth of modern studies on medieval Christian Nubia. Since this moment, the building, its interior and surroundings have been object of countless studies dealing with its particular aspects. Particular attention was paid to the cathedral’s complex architecture, its magnificent wall paintings, and innumerable wall inscriptions. Architecture was comprehensive published by Włodzimierz Godlewski in 2006 and the crowning of the studies on the murals is the recent catalogue by Stefan Jakobielski. These two works, alongside many other smaller or bigger contributions, greatly improve our understanding of the cathedral complex, yet, with their focus on some special features, they rarely refer to its functioning as a whole in its different dimensions.

The present paper will deal with various aspects of the whole complex in an attempt to comprehend it through the Nubians’ own eyes. My main purpose is to try to see what the faithful attending the liturgical services saw and how they perceived what they saw. I will thus endeavour to analyse the most conspicuous features of the cathedral (architecture, wall paintings, and inscriptions) entangled in their mutually defining image-text-context relationship. The theoretical background for my study is provided by Pierre Nora's groundbreaking concept of ‘lieux de mémoire’. The concept, although fervently criticised and already quite exploited, seems a perfect framework for studying such a building as the cathedral of Faras. In this way, I hope to unravel (some of) the manifold and multidimensional meanings hidden behind (some of) its features and to demonstrate (some) mechanisms of memoria Nubiana in working.