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This website is built to expand the argument developed in the book beyond the constraints of the text into the domain of sound and video. The audio samples supplement the analysis and offer a variety of Byzantine cathedral chants. They are followed by two videos: the first brings together the recitation of segments of Paul the Silentiary’s ekphrasis of Hagia Sophia with the sound of cathedral chant auralized in the current interior of the Great Church; the second video features a segment of Cappella Romana auralized live in the acoustics of Hagia Sophia during their concert at Stanford’s Bing Hall, February 1, 2013.

Hagia Sophia Interior Nave

Hagia Sophia, view towards the dome


Auralization identifies the process of imprinting a room’s acoustic signature (Impulse Response) on a recorded or live sound. The sonic energy exhaled in the interior interacts with the vast interior volume and reflective surfaces, resulting in an extremely long Late-field Reverberation lasting over ten seconds.  Below, you can listen to a few auralizations of Byzantine cathedral chant sung by Cappella Romana and imprinted with the acoustics of the current condition of Hagia Sophia’s interior.


Teleutaion, meaning “last” because it identifies the ultimate psalm sung for cathedral vespers on Pentecost, Ps.18(19) (Florence, Laurenziana MS Gr. Ashburnhamensis 64, fols. 258–264v, dated to 1289); musical edition by Ioannis Arvanitis.

© 2013 Jonathan Abel

Koinōnikon - Dry (Anechoic)

Koinōnikon or Communion verse, Ps.142(143):10 (Grottaferrata, MS. Gr. Γ γ 1, fol. 195v and Γ γ 7, fols. 67v-68r, dated to the 13th century) for the cathedral celebration of Pentecost; musical edition by Ioannis Arvanitis. This segment of the recording bears minimal room acoustics; it is produced by placing the microphones close to the mouths of the singers and selecting a non-reverberant interior (The Stage at CCRMA).

© 2009 Cappella Romana

Koinōnikon - Auralized from the Ambo

The following segment of the Koinōnikon auralized with Hagia Sophia’s acoustic signature from a position close to the Byzantine ambo where the elite choir of psaltai would have been.

© 2013 Jonathan Abel

Koinōnikon - Auralized from the Nave

The remaining melody auralized with Hagia Sophia’s acoustic signature from a position setback in the nave.

© 2013 Jonathan Abel

Kekragarion Psalm

Kekragarion or Ps.140 (141), melody reconstructed on the basis of two manuscripts (Athens, National Library, MS. Gr. 2061, dated to 1410-1425, and Athens, Nat. Library, MS Gr. 2062, dated to 1355-1385); musical edition by Ioannis Arvanitis; performed by the Byzantine Greek Choir directed by Lycourgos Angelopoulos and the Chapel Choir of St. Peter's College, directed by Charles Janz for the special service of the Constantinopolitan Cathedral Vespers celebrated in the Chapel of St. Peter's College, Oxford, May 26, 2001. For the Oxford performance, texts and music edited by Alexander Lingas and Ioannis Arvanitis. Kekragion identifies the fixed Psalm sung at cathedral vespers featuring a special refrain appended for Paschal Vespers, the Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross (September 14), and for other festal Saturday and Sunday services.

© 2011 Jonathan Abel


Cheroubikon or chant of the cheroubim sung at the procession with the offertory gifts at the beginning of the Byzantine Eucharist Liturgy.  This version is attributed to Gregorios Protopsaltes (1778-1821) and sung by the Greek Choir of Lycourgos Angelopoulos in the Refectory of Fontevraud's monastery, The Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, The Greek Byzantine Choir, dir. Lycourgos Angelopoulos (Paris: Opus 111, 1993), OPS 30-78. The audio was processed so as to transform the recorded acoustics of Fontevraud's monastery into an approximation of Hagia Sophia’s reverberation.

© 2010 Jonathan Abel



Prokeimenon is a short psalmic verse prefacing the readings from the Epistle in the Divine Liturgy (Eucharist rite), or introducing the Old Testament readings at hesperinos (vespers) or the New Testament at orthros (laudes). This particular example was sung for the Feast of St. Basil on January 1.  The verses of Ps. 48(49): 1–4 are re-arranged in a new order, different from the Psalter. The melody reconstructed on the basis of three manuscripts (Athens, National Library, MS. Gr. 2061, dated to 1410-1425; Athens, Nat. Library, MS Gr. 2062, dated to 1355-1385; and Patmos, MS Gr. 221, dated to 1162–1179).

© 2011 Jonathan Abel

The Aesthetic of the Liquescent

The film brings together the components that can produce a sensually saturated phenomenon of animation in Hagia Sophia: moving light, polymorphy, reverberant sound, and poetry focusing the imagination on the oneiric and metaphysical.  These sensual stimuli are inaccessible nowadays because of the way the building is structured to be experienced as a museum; it has with limited opening hours and a ban on any performance using the human voice.


The film traces in the course of a day how natural light animates inert matter endowing it with liveliness and movement. It also integrates passages from the ekphrasis of Paul the Silentiary, which was originally performed for an elite audience in the imperial and patriarchal palaces for the re-inauguration of Hagia Sophia in 562. This poetry shows how the medieval audience was trained to perceive the fleeting appearances on the surfaces of marble and gold as manifestations of the descent of the Holy Spirit in matter, transforming the inert into an animate empsychos eikon (in-spirited icon).  Finally, the soundtrack includes the Prokeimenon for January 1, which is based on Ps. 48 (49):1-4, and opens with the statement “my mouth utters Wisdom” accompanying the circular movement of the camera trained at the dome.


This excerpt from Paul the Silentiary’s poetry, used in the film, expresses the Byzantine liquescent aesthetic of polymorphy and reverberation (Paul the Silentiary, Descriptio Sanctae Sophiae, vv. 664–70.):


The peak of Prokonnesos soothingly spreading over the entire pavement,
has gladly given its back to the life-giving mistress [the Mother of God],
the radiance of the Bosporos softly ruffling
transmutes from the deepest darkness of swollen waters to the soft whiteness of radiant metal.
The ceiling encompasses gold-inlaid tesserae,
whose pouring down in glittering (marmairousa) gold-streaming rayirresistibly bounces off the faces of the faithful (tr. Bissera V. Pentcheva)

Cappella Romana’s Concert at Stanford, February 1, 2013

A prokeimenon, Psalm 32 (33): 22, for Sunday (Patmos, MS Gr. 221, dated to 1162–1179) sung by Cappella Romana during their concert at Stanford’s Bing Hall and auralized live with Hagia Sophia’s acoustic signature.

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