The Sion Treasure (BZ.1963.36.1-3,11 and BZ.1965.1.1,5,12) is an extensive and varied group of liturgical objects and church furnishings discovered in the early 1960s in southern Turkey. A significant part of this treasure is in Dumbarton Oaks, while much of it is housed in the Antalya Museum, with a few pieces in private collections. The treasure’s name derives from the niello inscription on an oblong polycandelon mentioning “Holy Sion,” possibly the church or the monastery for which the objects were made. Many Sion Treasure items are inscribed for a Bishop Eutychianos, who is otherwise unknown. Several other individuals are named, but they, too, are unknown among historical sources. Many objects are unique—for example, a cross-shaped polycandelon and a peacock censer. Almost all the objects in the treasure are of exceptionally high quality, and many were in excellent condition when they were found, like the patens. Some pieces, however, were bent or crushed, suggesting that they were going to be melted down and their metal reused. If, as is supposed, the treasure was buried during the early seventh century, when Sasanian invasions were followed by Arab incursions, the Byzantine imperial authorities most likely were calling in church silver to mint coins in order to pay the wages of the emperor’s army.
Like many objects in the Sion Treasure, this incense burner has a handsome niello inscription recording its donation by Bishop Eutychianos. It reads, “In fulfillment of a vow and for the salvation and the remission of sins of the most humble bishop Eutychianos, amen."
It is embellished with richly symbolic images—repoussé portraits of Christ, Saint Peter, and Saint Paul, and supports of peacocks and dolphins. Solid cast, the supports are attached to the censer by rivets.
Censers were used to spread the smoke and the aroma of smoldering incense around the altar and other areas of a church where a religious ceremony would take place. This would cleanse the air of malevolent spirits and purify it for Christian celebration. The censer thus had practical and symbolic purposes: Christ and the saints symbolized the teachings of the Christian church, whose tenets were disseminated through the services and readings in monasteries and congregational churches; the peacock symbolized, through its lush and colorful feathers, paradise, or alluded to the resurrection, because its flesh was thought to be incorruptible like the eternal body of Christ. This impressive incense burner performed its two roles at the same time in the Christian liturgy—purification and the symbolic dissemination of Christian ideas.
- S. Zwirn
S. A. Boyd, "A 'Metropolitan' Treasure from a Church in the Provinces: An introduction to the Study of the Sion Treasure," in Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium: Papers of the Symposium held May 16-18, 1986, at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. ed. S.A. Boyd and M.M. Mango (Washington, D.C., 1992), 5-37, esp. 10, 18 n. 87, 22, fig. S18.1-2, checklist no. 18.
I. ?ev?enko, "The Sion Treasure: The Evidence of the Inscriptions," in Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium: Papers of the Symposium held May 16-18, 1986, at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. ed. S.A. Boyd and M.M. Mango (Washington, D.C., 1992), 39-56, esp. 49.
P. Meyers, "Elemenetal Compositions of the Sion Treasure and Other Byzantine Silver Objects," in Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium: Papers of the Symposium held May 16-18, 1986, at the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, and Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C. ed. S.A. Boyd and M.M. Mango (Washington, D.C., 1992), 169-89, esp. 173-174, 181, no. 51, table 1.
D. Piguet-Panayotova, "Three Hexagonal Decorated Silver Censers and their Artistic Environment," Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser. 49 (1998): 31-32, fig. 12, 13.
G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 90-91, 96, pl. p. 97.
L. Nees, Perspectives on Early Islamic Art in Jerusalem, Arts amd Archaeology of the Islamic World 5, ed. M.R.-O. Marcus Milwright, Lorenz Korn (Leiden, The Netherlands, 2016), no. 5.3
Purchased from George Zacos (dealer) by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Switzerland, 1965.
Given by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., 1965.
Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.