Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Thursday 23 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Pio of Pietrelcina
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Rediscovering the sound of Byzantine churches

Lensnmatter | CC

Daniel Esparza - published on 04/18/17

Sharon Gerstel, art historian and archaeology professor at UCLA, is making acoustic maps of churches from the early Middle Ages.

If you ever had the chance to walk into a 4th-century basilica, you might have wondered what liturgy looked like back then. But the question of how did liturgy sound in, let’s say, the 4th century, is not asked that frequently.

That’s the question Christos Kyriakakis, the director of the University of Southern California’s Immersive Audio Lab, might have some answers for.

As Adrienne LaFrance reports in The Atlantic, the project that implies mapping, reconstructing and analyzing the acoustics of Byzantine churches began when Sharon Gerstel, an art history professor and UCLA archaeologist, realized her vast knowledge of Byzantine art still lacked something. “We always see Byzantine art images without thinking of their musical counterpart,” the researcher told LaFrance. “So many paintings of a certain period contain representations of hymns and hymnographers, but people were looking at these paintings as if they were mute.”

The research, which began in Thessaloniki, Greece, and also involved Berklee music production and sound engineering professor James Donahue, discovered (or confirmed) that Byzantine architects were indeed “tuning space.” “It wasn’t just about the architecture. They had these big jugs that were put up there to sip certain frequencies out of the air … They built diffusion, a way to break up the sound waves by putting striations in the walls. They were actively trying to tune the space.”

The project might even lead to the building of a “museum of lost sound” that would give the visitor the possibility of listening to the “acoustic maps” of these buildings. In fact, an acoustic map of the Parthenon is already on the way.

Read LaFrance’s full Article, as published in The Atlantic, here.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Domitille Farret d'Astiès
Attacked with acid as a baby, Anmol Rodriguez overcomes and inspi...
Our Lady of La Salette
Philip Kosloski
How Our Lady of La Salette can give us hope in darkness
Philip Kosloski
An alternative Hail Mary to Our Lady of Sorrows
Philip Kosloski
Pray this Psalm when you successfully recover from an illness
Cecilia Pigg
7 Ways the saints can help you sleep better at night
Philip Kosloski
Your body is not a “shell” for your spirit
Philip Kosloski
Why do some Eastern Catholics use spoons for Holy Communion?
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.