The book cover is part of the Sion Treasure, an extensive group of silver vessels and revetments for a church in southwest Asia Minor of the sixth century.
Enclosed within a frame composed of a meander with rosettes at the corners is an arcade which in turn encloses a cross and two trees. The Latin cross, with flaring arms, has a beaded edge and tear-shaped serifs. Flanking it are trees represented as large leaves whose tips bend inwards towards the cross. The arcade is constructed of columns with spiral and vertical fluting, foliate capitals and a horseshoe-shaped arch articulated with a zigzag pattern. In the spandrels of the arch are tall leaves while inside it are two, superimposed shell motifs. This cover has rectangular cuttings along one edge to attach it by straps to its mate, BZ.1963.36.10, which has the same decorative scheme and pattern of gilding.
The single arcade was a sign of honor in Roman and Byzantine art. The arch focused attention on the image displayed below it as well as symbolically protected it. On a book cover for a Christian text, the cross symbolized the presence of Christ, understood in the tradition of Christian exegesis as “the tree of life … in the midst of the garden” (Genesis 2:9). The arcade with the cross can also be understood as the entryway into the book it actually protected, the Bible, and thus served as the symbol of the salvation that was to be gained. Furthermore, because the holy book was placed on the altar and read during the sacred liturgy, its imagery expressed the communal belief in a heavenly paradise.
- S. Zwirn
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[caption misprinted accession number BZ.1936.36.9]